Improved wetland remote sensing in Yellowstone National Park using classification trees to combine TM imagery and ancillary environmental data

Chris Wright, Alisa Gallant

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

184 Scopus citations


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service uses the term palustrine wetland to describe vegetated wetlands traditionally identified as marsh, bog, fen, swamp, or wet meadow. Landsat TM imagery was combined with image texture and ancillary environmental data to model probabilities of palustrine wetland occurrence in Yellowstone National Park using classification trees. Model training and test locations were identified from National Wetlands Inventory maps, and classification trees were built for seven years spanning a range of annual precipitation. At a coarse level, palustrine wetland was separated from upland. At a finer level, five palustrine wetland types were discriminated: aquatic bed (PAB), emergent (PEM), forested (PFO), scrub-shrub (PSS), and unconsolidated shore (PUS). TM-derived variables alone were relatively accurate at separating wetland from upland, but model error rates dropped incrementally as image texture, DEM-derived terrain variables, and other ancillary GIS layers were added. For classification trees making use of all available predictors, average overall test error rates were 7.8% for palustrine wetland/upland models and 17.0% for palustrine wetland type models, with consistent accuracies across years. However, models were prone to wetland over-prediction. While the predominant PEM class was classified with omission and commission error rates less than 14%, we had difficulty identifying the PAB and PSS classes. Ancillary vegetation information greatly improved PSS classification and moderately improved PFO discrimination. Association with geothermal areas distinguished PUS wetlands. Wetland over-prediction was exacerbated by class imbalance in likely combination with spatial and spectral limitations of the TM sensor. Wetland probability surfaces may be more informative than hard classification, and appear to respond to climate-driven wetland variability. The developed method is portable, relatively easy to implement, and should be applicable in other settings and over larger extents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)582-605
Number of pages24
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 30 2007


  • Ancillary data
  • Classification trees
  • Landsat Thematic Mapper
  • National Wetlands Inventory
  • Palustrine wetlands
  • Wetland mapping
  • Yellowstone National Park

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