In 2017, Hurricane Harvey caused substantial loss of life and property in the swiftly urbanizing region of Houston, TX. Now in its wake, researchers are tasked with investigating how to plan for and mitigate the impact of similar events in the future, despite expectations of increased
storm intensity and frequency as well as accelerating urbanization trends. Critical to this task is the development of automated workflows for producing accurate and consistent land cover maps of sufficiently fine spatio-temporal resolution over large areas and long timespans. In this study,
we developed an innovative automated classification algorithm that overcomes some of the traditional trade-offs between fine spatio-temporal resolution and extent – to produce a multi-scene, 30m annual land cover time series characterizing 21 years of land cover dynamics in the
35,000 km2 Greater Houston area. The ensemble algorithm takes advantage of the synergistic value of employing all acceptable Landsat imagery in a given year, using aggregate votes from the posterior predictive distributions of multiple image composites to mitigate against misclassifications
in any one image, and fill gaps due to missing and contaminated data, such as those from clouds and cloud shadows. The procedure is fully automated, combining adaptive signature generalization and spatio-temporal stabilization for consistency across sensors and scenes. The land cover time
series is validated using independent, multi-temporal fine-resolution imagery, achieving crisp overall accuracies between 78–86% and fuzzy overall accuracies between 91–94%. Validated maps and corresponding areal cover estimates corroborate what census and economic data from the
Greater Houston area likewise indicate: rapid growth from 1997–2017, demonstrated by the conversion of 2,040 km2 (± 400 km2) to developed land cover, 14% of which resulted from the conversion of wetlands. Beyond its implications for urbanization
trends in Greater Houston, this study demonstrates the potential for automated approaches to quantifying large extent, fine resolution land cover change, as well as the added value of temporally-dense time series for characterizing higher-order spatio-temporal dynamics of land cover, including
periodicity, abrupt transitions, and time lags from underlying demographic and socio-economic trends.
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Document Type: Research Article
Department of Statistics, Rice University, Houston, TX, USA
Department of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, USA
Department of Geography, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, USA
Publication date: January 17, 2019
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