Classification of Landsat images based on spectral and topographic variables for land-cover change detection in Zagros forests

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Detection of land-cover changes through time can be complicated because of sensor-specific differences in spatial and spectral resolutions; classified land-cover changes can be due to either real changes on the ground or a switch in sensors used to collect data. This study focused on two objectives: (1) selecting the best predictor variables for the classification of semi-arid Zagros forests given the characteristics of the study area and available data sets and (2) evaluating the application of the random forest (RF) algorithm as a unified technique for the classification of data sets acquired from different sensors. Three images of the same study area were acquired from the Landsat-5 Thematic Mapper (TM) sensor in 2009, the Landsat-7 Enhanced Thematic Mapper (ETM+) sensor with Scan Line Corrector (SLC) in 1999 and the Landsat-2 Multispectral Scanner (MSS) sensor in 1975. Following image preprocessing, the RF algorithm was applied for variable selection and classification. A test of equivalence was used to compare the overall accuracy of the classified maps from the three sensors. Slope, normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) and elevation were determined to be the most important predictor variables for all three images. High overall classification accuracies were achieved for all three images (97.90% for MSS, 95.43% for TM and 95.29% for ETM). The ETM- and TM-derived maps had equivalent overall accuracy and even significantly higher overall accuracy was obtained for the MSS-derived map. The post-classification comparison showed an increase in agriculture and a decrease in forest cover. The selected predictor variables were consistent with ecological reality and showed more details on the changes of the land-cover classes across biophysical variables of the study area through time.

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© 2012 Taylor & Francis. Publisher’s version of record: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01431161.2012.695095

Publication Title

International Journal of Remote Sensing