Modern advances in cloud computing and machine-leaning algorithms are shifting the manner in which Earth-observation (EO) data are used for environmental monitoring, particularly as we settle into the era of free, open-access satellite data streams. Wetland delineation represents a particularly worthy application of this emerging research trend, since wetlands are an ecologically important yet chronically under-represented component of contemporary mapping and monitoring programs, particularly at the regional and national levels. Exploiting Google Earth Engine and R Statistical software, we developed a workflow for predicting the probability of wetland occurrence using a boosted regression tree machine-learning framework applied to digital topographic and EO data. Working in a 13,700 km2
study area in northern Alberta, our best models produced excellent results, with AUC (area under the receiver-operator characteristic curve) values of 0.898 and explained-deviance values of 0.708. Our results demonstrate the central role of high-quality topographic variables for modeling wetland distribution at regional scales. Including optical and/or radar variables into the workflow substantially improved model performance, though optical data performed slightly better. Converting our wetland probability-of-occurrence model into a binary Wet
classification yielded an overall accuracy of 85%, which is virtually identical to that derived from the Alberta Merged Wetland Inventory (AMWI): the contemporary inventory used by the Government of Alberta. However, our workflow contains several key advantages over that used to produce the AMWI, and provides a scalable foundation for province-wide monitoring initiatives.
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