Supervised Image Classification

Here we explore supervised classification. Various supervised classification algorithms exist, and the choice of algorithm can affect the results. Here we explore two related algorithms (CART and RandomForest).

In supervised classification, we have prior knowledge about some of the land-cover types through, for example, fieldwork, reference spatial data or interpretation of high resolution imagery (such as available on Google maps). Specific sites in the study area that represent homogeneous examples of these known land-cover types are identified. These areas are commonly referred to as training sites because the spectral properties of these sites are used to train the classification algorithm.

The following examples uses a Classification and Regression Trees (CART) classifier (Breiman et al. 1984) (further reading to predict land use land cover classes in the study area.

We will perform the following steps:

  • Generate sample sites based on a reference raster
  • Extract cell values from Landsat data for the sample sites
  • Train the classifier using training samples
  • Classify the Landsat data using the trained model
  • Evaluate the accuracy of the model

Reference data

The National Land Cover Database 2011 (NLCD 2011) is a land cover product for the USA. NLCD is a 30-m Landsat-based land cover database spanning 4 epochs (1992, 2001, 2006 and 2011). NLCD 2011 is based primarily on a decision-tree classification of circa 2011 Landsat data.

You can find the class names in NCLD 2011 (here)[]. It has two pairs of classvalues and classnames that correspond to the levels of land use and land cover classification system. These levels usually represent the level of complexity, level I being the simplest with broad land use land cover categories. Read this report by Anderson et al to learn more about this land use and land cover classification system for use with Remote Sensor data.

nlcd <- brick('data/rs/nlcd-L1.tif')
names(nlcd) <- c("nlcd2001", "nlcd2011")
# The class names and colors for plotting
nlcdclass <- c("Water", "Developed", "Barren", "Forest", "Shrubland", "Herbaceous", "Planted/Cultivated", "Wetlands")
classdf <- data.frame(classvalue1 = c(1,2,3,4,5,7,8,9), classnames1 = nlcdclass)
# Hex codes of colors
classcolor <- c("#5475A8", "#B50000", "#D2CDC0", "#38814E", "#AF963C", "#D1D182", "#FBF65D", "#C8E6F8")
# Now we ratify (RAT = "Raster Attribute Table") the ncld2011 (define RasterLayer as a categorical variable). This is helpful for plotting.
nlcd2011 <- nlcd[[2]]
nlcd2011 <- ratify(nlcd2011)
rat <- levels(nlcd2011)[[1]]
rat$landcover <- nlcdclass
levels(nlcd2011) <- rat

We did a lot of things here. Take a step back and read more about ratify.

Note There is no class with value 6.

Generate sample sites

As we discussed in the class, training and/or validation data can come from a variety of sources. In this example we will generate the training and validation sample sites using the NLCD reference RasterLayer. Alternatively, you can use predefined sites that you may have collected from other sources. We will generate the sample sites following a stratified random sampling to ensure samples from each LULC class.

# Load the training sites locations
# Set the random number generator to reproduce the results
# Sampling
samp2011 <- sampleStratified(nlcd2011, size = 200, na.rm = TRUE, sp = TRUE)
## class       : SpatialPointsDataFrame
## features    : 1600
## extent      : -121.9257, -121.4207, 37.85415, 38.18536  (xmin, xmax, ymin, ymax)
## crs         : +proj=longlat +datum=WGS84 +no_defs +ellps=WGS84 +towgs84=0,0,0
## variables   : 2
## names       :    cell, nlcd2011
## min values  :     829,        1
## max values  : 2308569,        9
# Number of samples in each class
##   1   2   3   4   5   7   8   9
## 200 200 200 200 200 200 200 200

You can see there are two variables in samp2011. The cell column contains cell numbers of nlcd2011 sampled. nlcd2011 column contains the class values (1-9). We will drop the cell column later.

Here nlcd has integer values between 1-9. You will often find classnames are provided as string labels (e.g. water, crop, vegetation). You will need to ‘relabel’ class names to integer or factors if only string labels are supplied before using them as response variable in the classification. There are several approaches that could be used to convert these classes to integer codes. We can make a function that will reclassify the character strings representing land cover classes into integers based on the existing factor levels.

Let’s plot the training sites over the nlcd2011 RasterLayer to visualize the distribution of sampling locations.

plt <- levelplot(nlcd2011, col.regions = classcolor, main = 'Distribution of Training Sites')
print(plt + layer(sp.points(samp2011, pch = 3, cex = 0.5, col = 1)))


rasterVis offers more advanced (trellis/lattice) plotting of Raster* objects. Please install the package if it is not available for your machine.

Extract cell values for the sample sites

landsat5 <- stack('data/rs/centralvalley-2011LT5.tif')
names(landsat5) <- c('blue', 'green', 'red', 'NIR', 'SWIR1', 'SWIR2')

Once we have the sites, we can extract the cell values from landsat5 RasterStack. These band values will be the predictor variables and “classvalues” from nlcd2011 will be the response variable.

# Extract the layer values for the locations
sampvals <- extract(landsat5, samp2011, df = TRUE)
# sampvals no longer has the spatial information. To keep the spatial information you use `sp = TRUE` argument in `extract` function.
# drop the ID column
sampvals <- sampvals[, -1]
# combine the class information with extracted values
sampdata <- data.frame(classvalue = samp2011@data$nlcd2011, sampvals)

Train the classifier using training samples

Now we will train the classification algorithm using training2011 dataset.

# Train the model
cart <- rpart(as.factor(classvalue)~., data=sampdata, method = 'class', minsplit = 5)
# print(model.class)
# Much cleaner way is to plot the trained classification tree
plot(cart, uniform=TRUE, main="Classification Tree")
text(cart, cex = 0.8)


In the classification tree plot classvalues are printed at the leaf node. You can find the corresponding land use land cover names from the classdf dataframe.

See ?rpart.control to set different parameters for building the model.

You can print/plot more about the cart model created in the previous example. E.g. you can use plotcp(cart) to learn about the cost-complexity (cp argument in rpart).


Now we have our trained classification model (cart), we can use it to make predictions, that is, to classify all cells in the landsat5 RasterStack.

Important The names in the Raster object to be classified should exactly match those expected by the model. This will be the case if the same Raster object was used (via extract) to obtain the values to fit the model (previous example).

# Now predict the subset data based on the model; prediction for entire area takes longer time
pr2011 <- predict(landsat5, cart, type='class')
## class      : RasterLayer
## dimensions : 1230, 1877, 2308710  (nrow, ncol, ncell)
## resolution : 0.0002694946, 0.0002694946  (x, y)
## extent     : -121.9258, -121.42, 37.85402, 38.1855  (xmin, xmax, ymin, ymax)
## crs        : +proj=longlat +datum=WGS84 +no_defs +ellps=WGS84 +towgs84=0,0,0
## source     : memory
## names      : layer
## values     : 1, 9  (min, max)
## attributes :
##        ID value
##  from:  1     1
##   to :  8     9

Now plot the classification result using rasetrVis. See will set the classnames for the classvalues.

pr2011 <- ratify(pr2011)
rat <- levels(pr2011)[[1]]
rat$legend <- classdf$classnames
levels(pr2011) <- rat
levelplot(pr2011, maxpixels = 1e6,
          col.regions = classcolor,
          main = "Decision Tree classification of Landsat 5")


Exercise 1 Plot nlcd2011 and pr2011 side-by-side and comment about the accuracy of the prediction (e.g. mixing between cultivated crops, pasture, grassland and shrubs).

You may need to select more samples and use additional predictor variables. The choice of classifier also plays an important role.

Model evaluation

Now let’s assess the accuracy of the model to get an idea of how accurate the classified map might be. Two widely used measures in remote sensing community are “overall accuracy” and “kappa”. You can perform the accuracy assessment using the independent samples (validation2011).

To evaluate any model, you can use k-fold cross-validation. In this technique the data used to fit the model is split into k groups (typically 5 groups). In turn, one of the groups will be used for model testing, while the rest of the data is used for model training (fitting).

j <- kfold(sampdata, k = 5, by=sampdata$classvalue)
## j
##   1   2   3   4   5
## 320 320 320 320 320

Now we train and test the model five times, each time computing a confusion matrix that we store in a list.

x <- list()
for (k in 1:5) {
    train <- sampdata[j!= k, ]
    test <- sampdata[j == k, ]
    cart <- rpart(as.factor(classvalue)~., data=train, method = 'class', minsplit = 5)
    pclass <- predict(cart, test, type='class')
    # create a data.frame using the reference and prediction
    x[[k]] <- cbind(test$classvalue, as.integer(pclass))

Now combine the five list elements into a single data.frame, using and compute a confusion matrix.

y <-, x)
y <- data.frame(y)
colnames(y) <- c('observed', 'predicted')
conmat <- table(y)
# change the name of the classes
colnames(conmat) <- classdf$classnames
rownames(conmat) <- classdf$classnames
##                     predicted
## observed             Water Developed Barren Forest Shrubland Herbaceous
##   Water                172         6      1      3         3          1
##   Developed              8        93     22     10         8         37
##   Barren                 6        54     52      6         8         62
##   Forest                 0         3      2    102        49          8
##   Shrubland              0         8      1     52       105         12
##   Herbaceous             1        16     24      4        16        121
##   Planted/Cultivated     2        20      5     24        37         24
##   Wetlands              14        12      1     32        25         16
##                     predicted
## observed             Planted/Cultivated Wetlands
##   Water                               1       13
##   Developed                          20        2
##   Barren                              5        7
##   Forest                             13       23
##   Shrubland                          17        5
##   Herbaceous                         17        1
##   Planted/Cultivated                 81        7
##   Wetlands                           32       68

Exercise 2 Comment on the miss-classification between different classes.

Exercise 3 Can you think of ways to to improve the accuracy.

Compute overall accuracy and Kappa statistics.

Overall accuray

# number of cases
n <- sum(conmat)
## [1] 1600
# number of correctly classified cases per class
diag <- diag(conmat)
# Overall Accuracy
OA <- sum(diag) / n
## [1] 0.49625


# observed (true) cases per class
rowsums <- apply(conmat, 1, sum)
p <- rowsums / n
# predicted cases per class
colsums <- apply(conmat, 2, sum)
q <- colsums / n
expAccuracy <- sum(p*q)
kappa <- (OA - expAccuracy) / (1 - expAccuracy)
## [1] 0.4242857

Producer and user accuracy

# Producer accuracy
PA <- diag / colsums
# User accuracy
UA <- diag / rowsums
outAcc <- data.frame(producerAccuracy = PA, userAccuracy = UA)
##                    producerAccuracy userAccuracy
## Water                     0.8472906        0.860
## Developed                 0.4386792        0.465
## Barren                    0.4814815        0.260
## Forest                    0.4377682        0.510
## Shrubland                 0.4183267        0.525
## Herbaceous                0.4306050        0.605
## Planted/Cultivated        0.4354839        0.405
## Wetlands                  0.5396825        0.340

Exercise 4 Perform the classification using Random Forest classifiers from the package `randomForest <>`__. For help see this discussion.

Exercise 5 Plot the results of rpart and ’rf` classifier side-by-side.

Exercise 6 (optional) Please repeat the steps for the year 2001 using rpart. You will use cloud-free composite image from Landsat 7 with 6-bands. The reference data will be the National Land Cover Database 2001 (NLCD 2001) for the subset of the Central Valley regions.

Exercise 7 (optional) You have been training your classifiers using 160 samples for each class. Now we want to see the effect of sample size on classification. Please repeat the steps with different subset of the sample size (e.g. 120, 100). Use the same holdout samples for accuracy assessment.