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Improved classification of Landsat Thematic Mapper data using modified prior probabilities in large and complex landscapes

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The use of modified prior probabilities to exploit ancillary data and increase classification accuracy has been proposed before. However, this method has not been widely applied because it has heavy computing requirements and because obtaining prior probability estimates has presented practical problems. This article presents a procedure that generates large sets of prior probability estimates from class frequencies modelled with ancillary data and a Mahalanobis Distance selection of previously classified pixels. The method produces a pixel sample size that is large enough to estimate class frequencies in numerous strata, which is particularly desirable for the study of large and complex landscapes.

A case study is presented in which the procedure made it possible to estimate 537 sets of prior probabilities for an entire Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) scene of central Costa Rica. After modifying the class prior probabilities, the overall classification consistency of the training sites improved from 74.6% to 91.9%, while the overall classification accuracy of sites controlled in the field by independent studies improved from 68.7% to 89.0%. The classification accuracy was most improved for spectrally similar classes. The method improves classification accuracy in large and complex landscapes with spectrally mixed land-cover categories.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE), 7170 Turrialba, Costa Rica; e-mail:

Publication date: January 1, 2003

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