Producing consistent visually interpreted land cover reference data: learning from feedback

Tarko, Agnieszka; Tsendbazar, Nandin-Erdene; Bruin, Sytze de; Bregt, Arnold K.


Reference data for large-scale land cover map are commonly acquired by visual interpretation of remotely sensed data. To assure consistency, multiple images are used, interpreters are trained, sites are interpreted by several individuals, or the procedure includes a review. But little is known about important factors influencing the quality of visually interpreted data. We assessed the effect of multiple variables on land cover class agreement between interpreters and reviewers. Our analyses concerned data collected for validation of a global land cover map within the Copernicus Global Land Service project. Four cycles of visual interpretation were conducted, each was followed by review and feedback. Each interpreted site element was labelled according to dominant land cover type. We assessed relationships between the number of interpretation updates following feedback and the variables grouped in personal, training, and environmental categories. Variable importance was assessed using random forest regression. Personal variable interpreter identifier and training variable timestamp were found the strongest predictors of update counts, while the environmental variables complexity and image availability had least impact. Feedback loops reduced updating and hence improved consistency of the interpretations. Implementing feedback loops into the visually interpreted data collection increases the consistency of acquired land cover reference data.