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Remote sensing and land cover area estimation

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This article gives an overview of different ways to use satellite images for land cover area estimation. Approaches are grouped into three categories. (1) Estimates coming essentially from remote sensing. Ground data, are used as an auxiliary tool, mainly as training data for image classification, or sub-pixel analysis. Area estimates from pixel counting are sometimes used without a solid statistical justification. (2) Methods, such as regression, calibration and small area estimators, combining exhaustive but inaccurate information (from satellite images) with accurate information on a sample (most often ground surveys). (3) Satellite images can support area frame surveys in several ways: to define sampling units, for stratification; as graphic documents for the ground survey, or for quality control.

Cost-efficiency is discussed. Operational use of remote sensing is easier now with cheaper Landsat Thematic Mapper images and computing, but many administrations are reluctant to integrate remote sensing in the production of area statistics.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Institute of Environment and Sustainability Joint Research Centre of the EC, tp 262 21020 Ispra (Va) Italy, Email:

Publication date: August 1, 2004

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