Remotely sensed ground cover maps are routinely validated using field data collected by observers who classify ground cover into defined categories such as photosynthetic vegetation (PV), non-photosynthetic vegetation (NPV), bare soil (BS), and rock. There is an element of subjectivity to the classification of PV and NPV, and classifications may differ between observers. An alternative is to estimate ground cover based on in situ hyperspectral reflectance measurements (HRM). This study examines observer consistency when classifying vegetation samples of wheat (Triticum aestivum
var. Gladius) covering the full range of photosynthetic activity, from completely senesced (0% PV) to completely green (100% PV), as photosynthetic or non-photosynthetic. We also examine how the classification of spectra of the same vegetation samples compares to the observer results. We collected HRM and photographs, over two months, to capture the transition of wheat leaves from 100% PV to 100% NPV. To simulate typical field methodology, observers viewed the photographs and classified each leaf as either PV or NPV, while spectral unmixing was used to decompose the HRM of the leaves into proportions of PV and NPV. The results showed that when a leaf was ≤25% or ≥75% PV observers tended to agree, and assign the leaf to the expected category. However, as leaves transitioned from PV to NPV (i.e., PV ≥ 25% but ≤ 75%) observers’ decisions differed more widely and their classifications showed little agreement with the spectral proportions of PV and NPV. This has significant implications for the reliability of data collected using binary methods in areas containing a significant proportion of vegetation in this intermediate range such as the over/underestimation of PV and NPV vegetation and how reliably this data can then be used to validate remotely sensed products.
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