Forest cover estimation in Ireland using radar remote sensing: a comparative analysis of forest cover assessment methodologies

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Devaney, John
Barrett, Brian
Barrett, Frank
Redmond, John
O'Halloran, John
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Quantification of spatial and temporal changes in forest cover is an essential component of forest monitoring programs. Due to its cloud free capability, Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) is an ideal source of information on forest dynamics in countries with near-constant cloud-cover. However, few studies have investigated the use of SAR for forest cover estimation in landscapes with highly sparse and fragmented forest cover. In this study, the potential use of L-band SAR for forest cover estimation in two regions (Longford and Sligo) in Ireland is investigated and compared to forest cover estimates derived from three national (Forestry2010, Prime2, National Forest Inventory), one pan-European (Forest Map 2006) and one global forest cover (Global Forest Change) product. Two machine-learning approaches (Random Forests and Extremely Randomised Trees) are evaluated. Both Random Forests and Extremely Randomised Trees classification accuracies were high (98.1-98.5%), with differences between the two classifiers being minimal (<0.5%). Increasing levels of post classification filtering led to a decrease in estimated forest area and an increase in overall accuracy of SAR-derived forest cover maps. All forest cover products were evaluated using an independent validation dataset. For the Longford region, the highest overall accuracy was recorded with the Forestry2010 dataset (97.42%) whereas in Sligo, highest overall accuracy was obtained for the Prime2 dataset (97.43%), although accuracies of SAR-derived forest maps were comparable. Our findings indicate that spaceborne radar could aid inventories in regions with low levels of forest cover in fragmented landscapes. The reduced accuracies observed for the global and pan-continental forest cover maps in comparison to national and SAR-derived forest maps indicate that caution should be exercised when applying these datasets for national reporting.
Land cover , Alos-Palsar , Tropical deforestation , Mapping deforestation , Brazilian Amazonia , Boreal forests , Spatial data , Classification , Backscatter , Biomass
Devaney J, Barrett B, Barrett F, Redmond J, O`Halloran J (2015) Forest Cover Estimation in Ireland Using Radar Remote Sensing: A Comparative Analysis of Forest Cover Assessment Methodologies. PLoS ONE 10(8): e0133583. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0133583
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