An assessment of the effectiveness of a random forest classifier for land-cover classification
Land cover monitoring using remotely sensed data requires robust classification methods which allow for the accurate mapping of complex land cover and land use categories. Random forest (RF) is a powerful machine learning classifier that is relatively unknown in land remote sensing and has not been evaluated thoroughly by the remote sensing community compared to more conventional pattern recognition techniques. Key advantages of RF include: their non-parametric nature; high classification accuracy; and capability to determine variable importance. However, the split rules for classification are unknown, therefore RF can be considered to be black box type classifier. RF provides an algorithm for estimating missing values; and flexibility to perform several types of data analysis, including regression, classification, survival analysis, and unsupervised learning.In this paper, the performance of the RF classifier for land cover classification of a complex area is explored. Evaluation was based on several criteria: mapping accuracy, sensitivity to data set size and noise. Landsat-5 Thematic Mapper data captured in European spring and summer were used with auxiliary variables derived from a digital terrain model to classify 14 different land categories in the south of Spain. Results show that the RF algorithm yields accurate land cover classifications, with 92% overall accuracy and a Kappa index of 0.92. RF is robust to training data reduction and noise because significant differences in kappa values were only observed for data reduction and noise addition values greater than 50 and 20%, respectively. Additionally, variables that RF identified as most important for classifying land cover coincided with expectations. A McNemar test indicates an overall better performance of the random forest model over a single decision tree at the 0.00001 significance level. © 2011 International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, Inc. (ISPRS).
ISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing
Rodriguez-Galiano, V. F.; Ghimire, B.; Rogan, J.; Chica-Olmo, M.; and Rigol-Sanchez, J. P., "An assessment of the effectiveness of a random forest classifier for land-cover classification" (2012). Geography. 666.