Assessing the robustness of Random Forests to map land cover with high resolution satellite image time series over large areas

Charlotte Pelletier, Silvia Valero, Jordi Inglada, Nicolas Champion, Gérard Dedieu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

152 Citations (Scopus)


New remote sensing sensors will acquire High spectral, spatial and temporal Resolution Satellite Image Time Series (HR-SITS). These new data are of great interest to map land cover thanks to the combination of the three high resolutions that will allow a depiction of scene dynamics. However, their efficient exploitation involves new challenges, especially for adapting traditional classification schemes to data complexity. More specifically, it requires: (1) to determine which classifier algorithms can handle the amount and the variability of data; (2) to evaluate the stability of classifier parameters; (3) to select the best feature set used as input data in order to find the good trade-off between classification accuracy and computational time; and (4) to establish the classifier accuracy over large areas. This work aims at studying these different issues, and more especially at demonstrating the ability of state-of-the-art classifiers, such as Random Forests (RF) or Support Vector Machines (SVM), to classify HR-SITS. For this purpose, several studies are carried out by using SPOT-4 and Landsat-8 HR-SITS in the south of France. Firstly, the choice of the classifier is discussed by comparing RF and SVM algorithms on HR-SITS. Both classifiers show their ability to tackle the classification problem with an Overall Accuracy (OA) of 83.3 % for RF and 77.1 % for SVM. But RF have some advantages such as a small training time, and an easy parameterization. Secondly, the stability of RF parameters is appraised. RF parameters appear to cause little influence on the classification accuracy, about 1% OA difference between the worst and the best parameter configuration. Thirdly, different input data – composed of spectral bands with or without spectral and/or temporal features – are proposed in order to enhance the characterization of land cover. The addition of features improves the classification accuracy, but the gain in OA is weak compared with the increase in the computational cost. Eventually, the classifier accuracy is assessed on a larger area where the landscape variabilities affect the classification performances.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)156-168
Number of pages13
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • High resolution
  • Land cover mapping
  • Random forest
  • Satellite image time series
  • Sentinel-2
  • Temporal features

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