Impervious surfaces are important environmental indicators and are related to many environmental issues, such as water quality, stream health and the urban heat island effect. Therefore, detailed impervious surface information is crucial for urban planning and environment management. To extract impervious surfaces from remote sensing imagery, many algorithms and techniques have been developed. However, there are still debates over the strengths and limitations of linear versus nonlinear algorithms in handling mixed pixels in the urban landscapes. In the meantime, although many previous studies have compared various techniques, few comparisons were made between linear and nonlinear techniques. The objective of this study is to compare the performance between nonlinear and linear methods for impervious surface extraction from medium spatial resolution imagery. A linear spectral mixture analysis (LSMA) and a fuzzy classifier were applied to three Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) images acquired on 5 April 2004, 16 June 2001 and 3 October 2000, which covered Marion County, Indiana, United States. An aerial photo of Marion County with a spatial resolution of 0.14 m was used for validation of estimation results. Six impervious surface maps were yielded, and an accuracy assessment was performed. The root mean square error (RMSE), the mean average error (MAE), and the coefficient of determination (R(2)) were calculated to indicate the accuracy of impervious surface maps. The results show that the fuzzy classification outperformed LSMA in impervious surface estimation in all seasons. For the June image, LSMA yielded a result with an RMSE of 13.2%, while the fuzzy classifier yielded an RMSE of 12.4%. For the April image, LSMA yielded an accuracy of 21.1% and the fuzzy classifier yielded 17.0%. For the October image, LSMA yielded a result with an RMSE of 19.8%, but the fuzzy classifier yielded an RMSE of 17.5%. Moreover, a subset image of the commercial, high-density and low-density residential areas was selected in order to compare the effectiveness of the developed algorithms for estimating impervious surfaces of different land use types. The result shows that the fuzzy classification was more effective than LSMA in both high-density and low-density residential areas. These areas prevailed with mixed pixels in the medium resolution imagery, such as ASTER. The results from the tested commercial area had a very high RMSE value due to the prevalence of shade in the area. It is suggested that the fuzzy classifier based on the nonlinear assumption can handle mixed pixels more effectively than LSMA.
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