Implementation of BFASTmonitor Algorithm on Google Earth Engine to Support Large-Area and Sub-Annual Change Monitoring Using Earth Observation Data

Published on
September 14, 2020

An article of Eliakim Hamunyela, Sabina Rosca, Andrei Mirt, Eric Engle, Martin Herold, Fabian Gieseke and Jan Verbesselt: Implementation of BFASTmonitor Algorithm on Google Earth Engine to Support Large-Area and Sub-Annual Change Monitoring Using Earth Observation Data, has been published in Remote Sensing.


Monitoring of abnormal changes on the earth’s surface (e.g., forest disturbance) has improved greatly in recent years because of satellite remote sensing. However, high computational costs inherently associated with processing and analysis of satellite data often inhibit large-area and sub-annual monitoring. Normal seasonal variations also complicate the detection of abnormal changes at sub-annual scale in the time series of satellite data. Recently, however, computationally powerful platforms, such as the Google Earth Engine (GEE), have been launched to support large-area analysis of satellite data. Change detection methods with the capability to detect abnormal changes in time series data while accounting for normal seasonal variations have also been developed but are computationally intensive. Here, we report an implementation of BFASTmonitor (Breaks For Additive Season and Trend monitor) on GEE to support large-area and sub-annual change monitoring using satellite data available in GEE. BFASTmonitor is a data-driven unsupervised change monitoring approach that detects abnormal changes in time series data, with near real-time monitoring capabilities. Although BFASTmonitor has been widely used in forest cover loss monitoring, it is a generic change monitoring approach that can be used to monitor changes in a various time series data. Using Landsat time series for normalised difference moisture index (NDMI), we evaluated the performance of our GEE BFASTmonitor implementation (GEE BFASTmonitor) by detecting forest disturbance at three forest areas (humid tropical forest, dry tropical forest, and miombo woodland) while comparing it to the original R-based BFASTmonitor implementation (original BFASTmonitor). A map-to-map comparison showed that the spatial and temporal agreements on forest disturbance between the original and our GEE BFASTmonitor implementations were high. At each site, the spatial agreement was more than 97%, whereas the temporal agreement was over 94%. The high spatial and temporal agreement show that we have properly translated and implemented the BFASTmonitor algorithm on GEE. Naturally, due to different numerical solvers being used for regression model fitting in R and GEE, small differences could be observed in the outputs. These differences were most noticeable at the dry tropical forest and miombo woodland sites, where the forest exhibits strong seasonality. To make GEE BFASTmonitor accessible to non-technical users, we developed a web application with simplified user interface. We also created a JavaScript-based GEE BFASTmonitor package that can be imported as a module. Overall, our GEE BFASTmonitor implementation fills an important gap in large-area environmental change monitoring using earth observation data.

Keywords: Google Earth Engine; BFASTmonitor; forest disturbance; sub-annual; Landsat