Mapping Brazilian savanna vegetation gradients with Landsat time series


Global change has tremendous impacts on savanna systems around the world. Processes related to climate change or agricultural expansion threaten the ecosystem’s state, function and the services it provides. A prominent example is the Brazilian Cerrado that has an extent of around 2 million km2 and features high biodiversity with many endemic species. It is characterized by landscape patterns from open grasslands to dense forests, defining a heterogeneous gradient in vegetation structure throughout the biome. While it is undisputed that the Cerrado provides a multitude of valuable ecosystem services, it is exposed to changes, e.g. through large scale land conversions or climatic changes. Monitoring of the Cerrado is thus urgently needed to assess the state of the system as well as to analyze and further understand ecosystem responses and adaptations to ongoing changes. Therefore we explored the potential of dense Landsat time series to derive phenological information for mapping vegetation gradients in the Cerrado. Frequent data gaps, e.g. due to cloud contamination, impose a serious challenge for such time series analyses. We synthetically filled data gaps based on Radial Basis Function convolution filters to derive continuous pixel-wise temporal profiles capable of representing Land Surface Phenology (LSP). Derived phenological parameters revealed differences in the seasonal cycle between the main Cerrado physiognomies and could thus be used to calibrate a Support Vector Classification model to map their spatial distribution. Our results show that it is possible to map the main spatial patterns of the observed physiognomies based on their phenological differences, whereat inaccuracies occurred especially between similar classes and data-scarce areas. The outcome emphasizes the need for remote sensing based time series analyses at fine scales. Mapping heterogeneous ecosystems such as savannas requires spatial detail, as well as the ability to derive important phenological parameters for monitoring habitats or ecosystem responses to climate change. The open Landsat and Sentinel-2 archives provide the satellite data needed for improved analyses of savanna ecosystems globally.

International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation
Patrick Hostert
Patrick Hostert
Principal Investigator