Introducing APiC for Regionalised Land Cover Mapping on the National Scale Using Sentinel-2A Imagery


Overcoming the obstacle of frequent cloud coverage in optical remote sensing data is essential for monitoring dynamic land surface processes from space. APiC, a novel adaptable pixel-based compositing and classification approach, is especially designed to use high resolution spatio-temporal space-borne data. Here, pixel-based compositing is used separately for training data and prediction data. First, cloud-free pixels covered by reference data are used within adapted composite periods to compile a training dataset. The compiled training dataset contains samples of spectral reflectances for respective land cover classes at each composite period. For land cover prediction, pixel-based compositing is then applied region-wide. Multiple prediction models are used based on temporal subsets of the compiled training dataset to dynamically account for cloud coverage at pixel level. Thus we present a data-driven classification approach which is applicable in regions with different weather conditions, species composition and phenology. The capability of our method is demonstrated by mapping 19 land cover classes across Germany for the year 2016 based on Sentinel-2A data. Since climatic conditions and thus plant phenology change on a large scale, the classification was carried out separately in six landscape regions of different biogeographical characteristics. The study drew on extensive ground validation data provided by the federal states of Germany. For each landscape region, composite periods of different lengths have been established, which differ regionally in their temporal arrangement as well as in their total number, emphasising the advantage of a flexible regionalised classification procedure. Using a random forest classifier and evaluating outcomes with independent reference data, an overall accuracy of 88% was achieved, with particularly high classification accuracy of around 90% for the major land cover types. We found that class imbalances have significant influence on classification accuracy. Based on multiple temporal subsets of the compiled training dataset, over 10,000 random forest models were calculated and their performance varied considerably across and within landscape regions. The calculated importance of composite periods show that a high temporal resolution of the compiled training dataset is necessary to better capture the different phenology of land cover types. In this study we demonstrate that APiC, due to its data-driven nature, is a very flexible compositing and classification approach making efficient use of dense satellite time series in areas with frequent cloud coverage. Hence, regionalisation can be given greater focus in future broad-scale classifications in order to facilitate better integration of small-scale biophysical conditions and achieve even better results in detailed land cover mapping.

Remote Sensing of Environment