Limiting the Collection of Ground Truth Data for Land Use and Land Cover Maps with Machine Learning Algorithms

Usman Ali, Travis J. Esau, Aitazaz A. Farooque, Qamar U. Zaman, Farhat Abbas, Mathieu F. Bilodeau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Land use and land cover (LULC) classification maps help understand the state and trends of agricultural production and provide insights for applications in environmental monitoring. One of the major downfalls of the LULC technique is inherently linked to its need for ground truth data to cross-validate maps. This paper aimed at evaluating the efficiency of machine learning (ML) in limiting the use of ground truth data for LULC maps. This was accomplished by (1) extracting reliable LULC information from Sentinel-2 and Landsat-8 s images, (2) generating remote sensing indices used to train ML algorithms, and (3) comparing the results with ground truth data. The remote sensing indices that were tested include the difference vegetation index (DVI), the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), the normalized built-up index (NDBI), the urban index (UI), and the normalized bare land index (NBLI). Extracted vegetation indices were evaluated on three ML algorithms, namely, random forest (RF), k-nearest neighbour (K-NN), and k dimensional-tree (KD-Tree). The accuracy of these algorithms was assessed with standard statistical measures and ground truth data randomly collected in Prince Edward Island, Canada. Results showed that high kappa coefficient values were achieved by K-NN (82% and 74%), KD-Tree (80% and 78%), and RF (83% and 73%) for Sentinel-2A and Landsat-8 imagery, respectively. RF was a better classifier than K-NN and KD-Tree and had the highest overall accuracy with Sentinel-2A satellite images (92%). This approach provides the basis for limiting the collection of ground truth data and thus reduces the labour cost, time, and resources needed to collect ground truth data for LULC maps.

Original languageEnglish
Article number333
JournalISPRS International Journal of Geo-Information
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • LULC mapping
  • ground truth data
  • machine learning
  • remote sensing indices
  • satellite imagery


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