Deep Learning of High-Resolution Aerial Imagery for Coastal Marsh Change Detection: A Comparative Study

Grayson R. Morgan, Cuizhen Wang, Zhenlong Li, Steven R. Schill, Daniel R. Morgan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Deep learning techniques are increasingly being recognized as effective image classifiers. Aside from their successful performance in past studies, the accuracies have varied in complex en-vironments, in comparison with the popularly of applied machine learning classifiers. This study seeks to explore the feasibility of using a U-Net deep learning architecture to classify bi-temporal, high-resolution, county-scale aerial images to determine the spatial extent and changes of land cover classes that directly or indirectly impact tidal marsh. The image set used in the analysis is a collection of a 1-m resolution collection of National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP) tiles from 2009 and 2019, covering Beaufort County, South Carolina. The U-Net CNN classification results were compared with two machine learning classifiers, the random trees (RT) and support vector machine (SVM). The results revealed a significant accuracy advantage in using the U-Net classifier (92.4%), as opposed to the SVM (81.6%) and RT (75.7%) classifiers, for overall accuracy. From the perspective of a GIS analyst or coastal manager, the U-Net classifier is now an easily accessible and powerful tool for mapping large areas. Change detection analysis indicated little areal change on marsh ex-tent, though increased land development throughout the county has the potential to negatively impact the health of the marshes. Future work should explore applying the constructed U-Net classi-fier to coastal environments in large geographic areas, while also implementing other data sources (e.g., LIDAR and multispectral data) to enhance classification accuracy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100
JournalISPRS International Journal of Geo-Information
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Computers in Earth Sciences
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)

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