Land cover and land use classification performance of machine learning algorithms in a boreal landscape using Sentinel-2 data
In recent years, the data science and remote sensing communities have started to align due to user-friendly programming tools, access to high-end consumer computing power, and the availability of free satellite data. In particular, publicly available data from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel missions have been used in various remote sensing applications. However, there is a lack of studies that utilize these data to assess the performance of machine learning algorithms in complex boreal landscapes. In this article, I compare the classification performance of four non-parametric algorithms: support vector machines (SVM), random forests (RF), extreme gradient boosting (Xgboost), and deep learning (DL). The study area chosen is a complex mixed-use landscape in south-central Sweden with eight land-cover and land-use (LCLU) classes. The satellite imagery used for the classification were multi-temporal scenes from Sentinel-2 covering spring, summer, autumn and winter conditions. Using stratified random sampling, each LCLU class was allocated 1477 samples, which were divided into training (70%) and evaluation (30%) subsets. Accuracy was assessed through metrics derived from an error matrix, but primarily overall accuracy was used in allocating algorithm hierarchy. A two-proportion Z-test was used to compare the proportions of correctly classified pixels of the algorithms and a McNemar’s chi-square test was used to compare class-wise predictions. The results show that the highest overall accuracy was produced by support vector machines (0.758 ± 0.017), closely followed by extreme gradient boosting (0.751 ± 0.017), random forests (0.739 ± 0.018), and finally deep learning (0.733 ± 0.0023). The Z-test comparison of classifiers showed that a third of algorithm pairings were statistically different. On a class-wise basis, McNemar’s test results showed that 62% of class-wise predictions were significant from one another at the 5% level or less. Variable importance metrics show that nearly half of the top twenty Sentinel-2 bands belonged to the red edge (25%) and shortwave infrared (23%) portions of the electromagnetic spectrum, and were dominated by scenes from spring (38%) and summer (40%). The results are discussed within the scope of recent studies involving machine learning and Sentinel-2 data and key knowledge gaps identified. The article concludes with recommendations for future research.