Mapping wetland characteristics using temporally dense Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 data: A case study in the St. Lucia wetlands, South Africa

Slagter, Bart; Tsendbazar, Nandin-Erdene; Vollrath, Andreas; Reiche, Johannes


Wetlands have been determined as one of the most valuable ecosystems on Earth and are currently being lost at alarming rates. Large-scale monitoring of wetlands is of high importance, but also challenging. The Sentinel-1 and -2 satellite missions for the first time provide radar and optical data at high spatial and temporal detail, and with this a unique opportunity for more accurate wetland mapping from space arises. Recent studies already used Sentinel-1 and -2 data to map specific wetland types or characteristics, but for comprehensive wetland characterisations the potential of the data has not been researched yet. The aim of our research was to study the use of the high-resolution and temporally dense Sentinel-1 and -2 data for wetland mapping in multiple levels of characterisation. The use of the data was assessed by applying Random Forests for multiple classification levels including general wetland delineation, wetland vegetation types and surface water dynamics. The results for the St. Lucia wetlands in South Africa showed that combining Sentinel-1 and -2 led to significantly higher classification accuracies than for using the systems separately. Accuracies were relatively poor for classifications in high-vegetated wetlands, as subcanopy flooding could not be detected with Sentinel-1’s C-band sensors operating in VV/VH mode. When excluding high-vegetated areas, overall accuracies were reached of 88.5% for general wetland delineation, 90.7% for mapping wetland vegetation types and 87.1% for mapping surface water dynamics. Sentinel-2 was particularly of value for general wetland delineation, while Sentinel-1 showed more value for mapping wetland vegetation types. Overlaid maps of all classification levels obtained overall accuracies of 69.1% and 76.4% for classifying ten and seven wetland classes respectively.