Mapping land cover of large regions often requires processing of satellite images collected from several time periods at many spectral wavelength channels. However, manipulating and processing large amounts of image data increases the complexity and time, and hence the cost, that it takes to produce a land cover map. Very few studies have evaluated the importance of individual Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) channels for discriminating cover types, especially the thermal channels (channels 3, 4 and 5). Studies rarely perform a multi-year analysis to determine the impact of inter-annual variability on the classification results. We evaluated 5 years of AVHRR data using combinations of the original AVHRR spectral channels (1-5) to determine which channels are most important for cover type discrimination, yet stabilize inter-annual variability. Particular attention was placed on the channels in the thermal portion of the spectrum. Fourteen cover types over the entire state of Colorado were evaluated using a supervised classification approach on all two-, three-, four- and five-channel combinations for seven AVHRR biweekly composite datasets covering the entire growing season for each of 5 years. Results show that all three of the major portions of the electromagnetic spectrum represented by the AVHRR sensor are required to discriminate cover types effectively and stabilize inter-annual variability. Of the two-channel combinations, channels 1 (red visible) and 2 (near-infrared) had, by far, the highest average overall accuracy (72.2%), yet the inter-annual classification accuracies were highly variable. Including a thermal channel (channel 4) significantly increased the average overall classification accuracy by 5.5% and stabilized inter-annual variability. Each of the thermal channels gave similar classification accuracies; however, because of the problems in consistently interpreting channel 3 data, either channel 4 or 5 was found to be a more appropriate choice. Substituting the thermal channel with a single elevation layer resulted in equivalent classification accuracies and inter-annual variability.
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AVHRR channel selection for land cover classification