There are growing demands for detailed and accurate land cover maps in land system research and planning. Macro-scale land cover maps normally cannot satisfy the studies that require detailed land cover maps at micro scales. In the meantime, applying conventional pixel-based classification methods in classifying high-resolution aerial imagery is ineffective to develop high accuracy land-cover maps, especially in spectrally heterogeneous and complicated urban areas. Here we present an object-based approach that identifies land-cover types from 1-meter resolution aerial orthophotography and a 5-foot DEM. Our study area is Tippecanoe County in the State of Indiana, USA, which covers about a 1300 km2
land area. We used a countywide aerial photo mosaic and normalized digital elevation model as input datasets in this study. We utilized simple algorithms to minimize computation time while maintaining relatively high accuracy in land cover mapping at a county scale. The aerial photograph was pre-processed using principal component transformation to reduce its spectral dimensionality. Vegetation and non-vegetation were separated via masks determined by the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index. A combination of segmentation algorithms with lower calculation intensity was used to generate image objects that fulfill the characteristics selection requirements. A hierarchical image object network was formed based on the segmentation results and used to assist the image object delineation at different spatial scales. Finally, expert knowledge regarding spectral, contextual, and geometrical aspects was employed in image object identification. The resultant land cover map developed with this object-based image analysis has more information classes and higher accuracy than that derived with pixel-based classification methods.
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