Detecting and monitoring long-term landslides in urbanized areas with nighttime light data and multi-seasonal Landsat imagery across Taiwan from 1998 to 2017

Tzu Hsin Karen Chen, Alexander V. Prishchepov, Rasmus Fensholt, Clive E. Sabel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)
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Monitoring long-term landslide activity is of importance for risk assessment and land management. Daytime airborne drones or very high-resolution optical satellites are often used to create landslide maps. However, such imagery comes at a high cost, making long-term risk analysis cost-prohibitive. Despite the widespread use of open-access 30 m Landsat imagery, their utility for landslide detection is often limited due to low classification accuracy. One of the major challenges is to separate landslides from other anthropogenic disturbances. Here, we produce landslide maps retrospectively from 1998 to 2017 for landslide-prone and highly populated Taiwan (35,874 km 2 ). To improve classification accuracy of landslides, we integrate nighttime light imagery from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) and the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), with multi-seasonal daytime optical Landsat time-series, and digital elevation data from the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER). We employed a non-parametric machine-learning classifier, random forest, to classify the satellite imagery. The classifier was trained with data from three years (2005, 2010, and 2015), and was validated with an independent reference sample from twelve years. Our results demonstrated that combining nighttime light data and multi-seasonal imagery significantly improved the classification (p < 0.001), compared to conventional methods based on single-season optical imagery. The results confirmed that the developed classification model enabled mapping of landslides across Taiwan over a long period with annual overall accuracy varying between 96% and 97%, user's and producer's accuracies between 73% and 86%. Spatiotemporal analysis of the landslide inventories from 1998 to 2017 revealed different temporal patterns of landslide activities, showing those areas where landslides were persistent and other areas where landslides tended to reoccur after vegetation regrowth. In sum, we provide a robust method to detect long-term landslide activities based on freely available satellite imagery, which can be applied elsewhere. Our mapping effort of landslide spatiotemporal patterns is expected to be of high importance in developing effective landslide remediation strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)317-327
Number of pages11
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Publication statusPublished - May 2019
Externally publishedYes


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