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Effects of satellite image spatial aggregation and resolution on estimates of forest land area

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Satellite imagery is being used increasingly in association with national forest inventories (NFIs) to produce maps and enhance estimates of forest attributes. We simulated several image spatial resolutions within sparsely and heavily forested study areas to assess resolution effects on estimates of forest land area, independent of other sensor characteristics. We spatially aggregated 30 m datasets to coarser spatial resolutions (90, 150, 210, 270, 510 and 990 m) and produced estimates of forest proportion for each spatial resolution using both model- and design-based approaches. Average-based aggregation had no effect on per-image estimates of forest proportion; image variability decreased with increasing spatial resolution and local variability peaked between 210 and 270 m. Majority-based aggregation resulted in overestimation of forest land in a heavily forested landscape and underestimation of forest land in a sparsely forested landscape, with both trends following a natural log distribution. Of the spatial resolutions tested, 30 m was superior for obtaining estimates using model-based approaches. However, standard errors of design-based inventory estimates of forest proportion were smallest when accompanying stratification maps which were aggregated to between 90 and 150 m spatial resolutions and strata thresholds were optimized by study area. These results suggest that spatially aggregating existing 30 m land cover datasets can provide NFIs with gains in precision of their estimates of forest land area, while reducing image storage size and processing times; land cover datasets derived from coarser spatial resolution sensors may provide similar benefits.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station, St Paul, MN, USA 2: US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Cibola National Forest, Albuquerque, NM, USA 3: University of Minnesota, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, St Paul, MN, USA

Publication date: 2009-04-01

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