Cropland classification using Sentinel-1 time series: Methodological performance and prediction uncertainty assessment

Erkki Tomppo, Oleg Antropov, Jaan Praks

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

    24 Citations (Scopus)


    Methods based on Sentinel-1 data were developed to monitor crops and fields to facilitate the distribution of subsidies. The objectives were to (1) develop a methodology to predict individual crop species or or management regimes; (2) investigate the earliest time point in the growing season when the species predictions are satisfactory; and (3) to present a method to assess the uncertainty of the predictions at an individual field level. Seventeen Sentinel-1 synthetic aperture radar (SAR) scenes (VV and VH polarizations) acquired in interferometric wide swath mode from 14 May through to 30 August 2017 in the same geometry, and selected based on the weather conditions, were used in the study. The improved k nearest neighbour estimation, ik-NN, with a genetic algorithm feature optimization was tailored for classification with optional Sentinel-1 data sets, species groupings, and thresholds for the minimum parcel area. The number of species groups varied from 7 to as large as 41. Multinomial logistic regression was tested as an optional method. The Overall Accuracies (OA) varied depending on the number of species included in the classification, and whether all or not field parcels were included. OA with nine species groups was 72% when all parcels were included, 81% when the parcels area threshold (for incorporating parcels into classification) was 0.5 ha, and around 90% when the threshold was 4 ha. The OA gradually increased when adding extra Sentinel-1 scenes up until the early August, and the initial scenes were acquired in early June or mid-May. After that, only minor improvements in the crop recognition accuracy were noted. The ik-NN method gave greater overall accuracies than the logistic regression analysis with all data combinations tested. The width of the 95% confidence intervals with ik-NN for the estimate of the probability of the species with the largest probability on an individual parcel varied depending on the species, the area threshold of the parcel and the number of the Sentinel-1 scenes used. The results ranged between 0.06-0.08 units (6-8% points) for the most common species when the Sentinel-1 scenes were between 1 June and 12 August. The results were well-received by the authorities and encourage further research to continue the study towards an operational method in which the space-borne SAR data are a part of the information chain.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number2480
    JournalRemote Sensing
    Issue number21
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019
    MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


    • Boreal region
    • C-band
    • Classification
    • Crops
    • ESA Sentinel-1
    • Genetic algorithm
    • K-NN
    • Multinomial logistic regression
    • Synthetic aperture radar


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