Integrating intensity and context for improved supervised river ice classification from dual-pol Sentinel-1 SAR data

S. de Roda Husman, Joost Van der Sanden, S.L.M. Lhermitte, M.A. Eleveld

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River ice is a major contributor to flood risk in cold regions due to the physical impediment of flow caused by ice jamming. Although a variety of classifiers have been developed to distinguish ice types using HH or VV intensity of SAR data, mostly based on data from RADARSAT-1 and -2, these classifiers still experience problems with breakup classification, because meltwater development causes overlap in co-polarization backscatter intensities of open water and sheet ice pixels. In this study, we develop a Random Forest classifier based on multiple features of Sentinel-1 data for three main classes generally present during breakup: rubble ice, sheet ice and open water, in a case study over the Athabasca River in Canada. For each ice stage, intensity of the VV and VH backscatter, pseudo-polarimetric decomposition parameters and Grey Level Co-occurrence Matrix texture features were computed for 70 verified sample areas. Several classifiers were developed, based on i) solely intensity features or on ii) a combination of intensity, pseudo-polarimetric and texture features and each classifier was evaluated based on Recursive Feature Elimination with Cross-Validation and pair-wise correlation of the studied features. Results show improved classifier performance when including GLCM mean of VV intensity, and VH intensity features instead of the conventional classifier based solely on intensity. This highlights the complementary nature of texture and intensity for the classification of breaking river ice. GLCM mean incorporates spatial patterns of the co-polarized intensity and sensitivity to context, while VH intensity introduces cross-polarized surface and volume scattering signals and is less sensitive to wind than the commonly used co-polarized intensity. We conclude that the proposed method based on the combination of texture and intensity features is suitable for and performs well in physically complex situations such as breakup, which are hard to classify otherwise. This method has a high potential for classifying river ice operationally, also for data from other SAR missions. Since it is a generic approach, it also has potential to classify river ice along other rivers globally.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102359
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • River ice
  • Classification
  • SAR
  • Sentinel-1
  • Random Forest
  • GLCM texture

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