Soil organic matter (SOM) is a crucial indicator for evaluating soil quality and an important component of soil carbon pools, which play a vital role in terrestrial ecosystems. Rapid, non-destructive and accurate monitoring of SOM content is of great significance for the environmental management and ecological restoration of mining areas. Visible-near-infrared (Vis-NIR) spectroscopy has proven its applicability in estimating SOM over the years. In this study, 168 soil samples were collected from the Zhundong coal field of Xinjiang Province, Northwest China. The SOM content (g kg−1
) was determined by the potassium dichromate external heating method and the soil reflectance spectra were measured by the spectrometer. Two spectral feature extraction strategies, namely, principal component analysis (PCA) and the optimal band combination algorithm, were introduced to choose spectral variables. Linear models and random forests (RF) were used for predictive models. The coefficient of determination (R2
), root mean square error (RMSE), and the ratio of the performance to the interquartile distance (RPIQ) were used to evaluate the predictive performance of the model. The results indicated that the variables (2DI and 3DI) derived from the optimal band combination algorithm outperformed the PCA variables (1DV) regardless of whether linear or RF models were used. An inherent gap exists between 2DI and 3DI, and the performance of 2DI is significantly poorer than that of 3DI. The accuracy of the prediction model increases with the increasing number of spectral variable dimensions (in the following order: 1DV < 2DI < 3DI). This study proves that the 3DI is the first choice for the optimal band combination algorithm to derive sensitive parameters related to SOM in the coal mining area. Furthermore, the optimal band combination algorithm can be applied to hyperspectral or multispectral images and to convert the spectral response into image pixels, which may be helpful for a soil property spatial distribution map.
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