Coastal Change Patterns from Time Series Clustering of Permanent Laser Scan Data

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Sandy coasts are constantly changing environments governed by complex, interacting processes. Permanent laser scanning is a promising technique to monitor such coastal areas and to support analysis of geomorphological deformation processes. This novel technique delivers 3-D representations of the coast at hourly temporal and centimetre spatial resolution and allows us to observe small-scale changes in elevation over extended periods of time. These observations have the potential to improve understanding and modelling of coastal deformation processes. However, to be of use to coastal researchers and coastal management, an efficient way to find and extract deformation processes from the large spatiotemporal data set is needed. To enable automated data mining, we extract time series of surface elevation and use unsupervised learning algorithms to derive a partitioning of the observed area according to change patterns. We compare three well-known clustering algorithms (k-means clustering, agglomerative clustering and density-based spatial clustering of applications with noise; DBSCAN), apply them on the set of time series and identify areas that undergo similar evolution during 1 month.We test if these algorithms fulfil our criteria for suitable clustering on our exemplary data set. The three clustering methods are applied to time series over 30 d extracted from a data set of daily scans covering about 2 km of coast in Kijkduin, the Netherlands. A small section of the beach, where a pile of sand was accumulated by a bulldozer, is used to evaluate the performance of the algorithms against a ground truth. The k-means algorithm and agglomerative clustering deliver similar clusters, and both allow us to identify a fixed number of dominant deformation processes in sandy coastal areas, such as sand accumulation by a bulldozer or erosion in the intertidal area. The level of detail found with these algorithms depends on the choice of the number of clusters k. The DBSCAN algorithm finds clusters for only about 44% of the area and turns out to be more suitable for the detection of outliers, caused, for example, by temporary objects on the beach. Our study provides a methodology to efficiently mine a spatiotemporal data set for predominant deformation patterns with the associated regions where they occur.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-103
Number of pages15
JournalEarth Surface Dynamics (ESurf)
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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