Comparing Deep Learning and Shallow Learning for Large-Scale Wetland Classification in Alberta, Canada

Evan DeLancey
John Simms
Masoud Mahdianpari
Brian Brisco
Craig Mahoney
Jahan Kariyeva
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Advances in machine learning have changed many fields of study and it has also drawn attention in a variety of remote sensing applications. In particular, deep convolutional neural networks (CNNs) have proven very useful in fields such as image recognition; however, the use of CNNs in large-scale remote sensing landcover classifications still needs further investigation. We set out to test CNN-based landcover classification against a more conventional XGBoost shallow learning algorithm for mapping a notoriously difficult group of landcover classes, wetland class as defined by the Canadian Wetland Classification System. We developed two wetland inventory style products for a large (397,958 km2) area in the Boreal Forest region of Alberta, Canada, using Sentinel-1, Sentinel-2, and ALOS DEM data acquired in Google Earth Engine. We then tested the accuracy of these two products against three validation data sets (two photo-interpreted and one field). The CNN-generated wetland product proved to be more accurate than the shallow learning XGBoost wetland product by 5%. The overall accuracy of the CNN product was 80.2% with a mean F1-score of 0.58. We believe that CNNs are better able to capture natural complexities within wetland classes, and thus may be very useful for complex landcover classifications. Overall, this CNN framework shows great promise for generating large-scale wetland inventory data and may prove useful for other landcover mapping applications.