In developing countries, there is a high correlation between the dependence of oil exports and violent conflicts. Furthermore, even in countries which experienced a peaceful development of their oil industry, land use and environmental issues occur. Therefore, independent monitoring of oil field infrastructure may support problem solving. Earth observation data enables fast monitoring of large areas which allows comparing the real amount of land used by the oil exploitation and the companies’ contractual obligations. The target feature of this monitoring is the infrastructure of the oil exploitation, oil well pads—rectangular features of bare land covering an area of approximately 50–60 m × 100 m. This article presents an automated feature extraction procedure based on the combination of a pixel-based unsupervised classification of polarimetric synthetic aperture radar data (PolSAR) and an object-based post-classification. The method is developed and tested using dual-polarimetric TerraSAR-X imagery acquired over the Doba basin in south Chad. The advantages of PolSAR are independence of the cloud coverage (vs
. optical imagery) and the possibility of detailed land use classification (vs
. single-pol SAR). The PolSAR classification uses the polarimetric Wishart probability density function based on the anisotropy/entropy/alpha decomposition. The object-based post-classification refinement, based on properties of the feature targets such as shape and area, increases the user’s accuracy of the methodology by an order of a magnitude. The final achieved user’s and producer’s accuracy is 59%–71% in each case (area based accuracy assessment). Considering only the numbers of correctly/falsely detected oil well pads, the user’s and producer’s accuracies increase to even 74%–89%. In an iterative training procedure the best suited polarimetric speckle filter and processing parameters of the developed feature extraction procedure are determined. The high transferability of the methodology is proved by an application to a second SAR acquisition.
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