Tracking land surface dynamics over cloud-prone areas with complex mountainous terrain and a landscape that is heterogeneous at a scale of approximately 10 m, is an important challenge in the remote sensing of tropical regions in developing nations, due to the small plot sizes. Persistent monitoring of natural resources in these regions at multiple spatial scales requires development of tools to identify emerging land cover transformation due to anthropogenic causes, such as agricultural expansion and climate change. Along with the cloud cover and obstructions by topographic distortions due to steep terrain, there are limitations to the accuracy of monitoring change using available historical satellite imagery, largely due to sparse data access and the lack of high quality ground truth for classifier training. One such complex region is the Lake Kivu region in Central Africa.

This work addressed these problems to create an effective process for monitoring the Lake Kivu region located in Central Africa. The Lake Kivu region is a biodiversity hotspot with a complex and heterogeneous landscape and intensive agricultural development, where individual plot sizes are often at the scale of 10m. Procedures were developed that use optical data from satellite and aerial observations at multiple scales to tackle the monitoring challenges. First, a novel processing chain was developed to systematically monitor the spatio-temporal land cover dynamics of this region over the years 1988, 2001, and 2011 using Landsat data, complemented by ancillary data. Topographic compensation was performed on Landsat reflectances to avoid the strong illumination angle impacts and image compositing was used to compensate for frequent cloud cover and thus incomplete annual data availability in the archive. A systematic supervised classification, using the state-of-the-art machine learning classifier Random Forest, was applied to the composite Landsat imagery to obtain land cover thematic maps with overall accuracies of 90% and higher. Subsequent change analysis between these years found extensive conversions of the natural environment as a result of human related activities. The gross forest cover loss for 1988-2001 and 2001- 2011 periods was 216.4 and 130.5 thousand hectares, respectively, signifying significant deforestation in the period of civil war and a relatively stable and lower deforestation rate later, possibly due to conservation and reforestation efforts in the region. The other dominant land cover changes in the region were aggressive subsistence farming and urban expansion displacing natural vegetation and arable lands. Despite limited data availability, this study fills the gap of much needed detailed and updated land cover change information for this biologically important region of Central Africa.

While useful on a regional scale, Landsat data can be inadequate for more detailed studies of land cover change. Based on an increasing availability of high resolution imagery and light detection and ranging (LiDAR) data from manned and unmanned aerial platforms (<1m >resolution), a study was performed leading to a novel generic framework for land cover monitoring at fine spatial scales. The approach fuses high spatial resolution aerial imagery and LiDAR data to produce land cover maps with high spatial detail using object-based image analysis techniques. The classification framework was tested for a scene with both natural and cultural features and was found to be more than 90 percent accurate, sufficient for detailed land cover change studies.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Optical radar--Data processing; Land cover--Remote sensing; Remote-sensing images--Data processing; Optical pattern recognition

Publication Date


Document Type


Student Type


Degree Name

Imaging Science (Ph.D.)

Department, Program, or Center

Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science (COS)


Anthony Vodacek

Advisor/Committee Member

Jan Van Aardt

Advisor/Committee Member

Brian Tomaszewski


Physical copy available from RIT's Wallace Library at TA1637 .B376 2015


RIT – Main Campus

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