While machine learning techniques have been increasingly applied to land cover classification problems, these techniques have not focused on separating exposed bare rock from soil covered areas. Therefore, we built a convolutional neural network (CNN) to differentiate exposed bare rock (rock
) from soil cover (other
). We made a training dataset by mapping exposed rock at eight test sites across the Sierra Nevada Mountains (California, USA) using USDA’s 0.6 m National Aerial Inventory Program (NAIP) orthoimagery. These areas were then used to train and test the CNN. The resulting machine learning approach classifies bare rock in NAIP orthoimagery with a 0.95
score. Comparatively, the classical OBIA approach gives only a 0.84
score. This is an improvement over existing land cover maps, which underestimate rock by almost 90%. The resulting CNN approach is likely scalable but dependent on high-quality imagery and high-performance algorithms using representative training sets informed by expert mapping. As image quality and quantity continue to increase globally, machine learning models that incorporate high-quality training data informed by geologic, topographic, or other topical maps may be applied to more effectively identify exposed rock in large image collections.
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