Multidecadal grassland fractional cover time series retrieval for Germany from the Landsat and Sentinel-2 archives

Abstract

Time series data provided by the Sentinel-2 and Landsat satellite missions offer manifold opportunities for grassland monitoring. The high intra-annual observation density of Sentinel-2 combined with the continuous long-term data record of Landsat enable analyses at seasonal, annual, and decadal scales. Fractional cover estimates of photosynthetic vegetation (PV), non-photosynthetic vegetation (NPV), and soil provide essential information to describe grassland conditions and processes. Yet, retrieving consistent grassland fractional cover time series from Landsat and Sentinel-2 imagery represents a major challenge. In this study, we implemented a multisensor spectral unmixing approach for retrieving multidecadal (i.e., 1984 to 2021) fractional cover time series of PV, NPV, and soil for Germany's permanent grasslands from the Landsat and Sentinel-2 archives. The spectral consistency of Landsat 5/7/8 and Sentinel-2A/B imagery as well as the coherency of a Sentinel-2-based spectral library to be used across Landsat and Sentinel-2 sensors served as the foundation for implementing the unmixing approach. We then employed regression-based unmixing using synthetic training data from spectral libraries for developing spatially and temporally generalized models. Applying these models to the Landsat and Sentinel-2 data facilitated multidecadal fractional cover mapping at a national-scale. We evaluated the quality of our multidecadal grassland fractional cover time series using statistical validation and linear correspondence analysis. The statistical validation was based on a multitemporal reference dataset spanning 2017 to 2021, derived from very high-resolution (VHR) imagery. Landsat 7/8- and Sentinel-2A/B-derived fractions showed similar Mean Absolute Errors (MAEs), i.e., 0.067 and 0.08 for PV, 0.149 and 0.15 for NPV, and 0.135 and 0.129 for soil. Linear correspondence analysis confirmed consistent PV and NPV fractional cover estimates among Landsat and Sentinel-2 sensors, suggesting similar errors beyond the statistical validation period. However, higher errors and weaker linear correspondence pointed to remaining uncertainties in soil fractional cover estimates. We further showed that the differences in spatial and spectral resolutions, i.e., the pixel size and the number of spectral bands, between Landsat and Sentinel-2 had a minor effect and were well mitigated by the spectral unmixing approach. We finally illustrated the value of the dense time series available for more recent years for describing seasonal trajectories of grassland conditions and land use intensities, as well as the use of the entire time series for analyzing long-term grassland dynamics based on annual fraction anomalies. Our study emphasizes the efficacy of generalized multisensor spectral unmixing approaches for retrieving consistent PV, NPV, and soil cover fractions across space, time, and sensors, providing a valuable means for grassland monitoring.

Publication
Remote Sensing of Environment
Shawn Schneidereit
Shawn Schneidereit
Student Assistant
Patrick Hostert
Patrick Hostert
Principal Investigator