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Martinis, Sandro (2010): Automatic near real-time flood detection in high resolution X-band synthetic aperture radar satellite data using context-based classification on irregular graphs. Dissertation, LMU München: Fakultät für Geowissenschaften



This thesis is an outcome of the project “Flood and damage assessment using very high resolution SAR data” (SAR-HQ), which is embedded in the interdisciplinary oriented RIMAX (Risk Management of Extreme Flood Events) programme, funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). It comprises the results of three scientific papers on automatic near real-time flood detection in high resolution X-band synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite data for operational rapid mapping activities in terms of disaster and crisis-management support. Flood situations seem to become more frequent and destructive in many regions of the world. A rising awareness of the availability of satellite based cartographic information has led to an increase in requests to corresponding mapping services to support civil-protection and relief organizations with disaster-related mapping and analysis activities. Due to the rising number of satellite systems with high revisit frequencies, a strengthened pool of SAR data is available during operational flood mapping activities. This offers the possibility to observe the whole extent of even large-scale flood events and their spatio-temporal evolution, but also calls for computationally efficient and automatic flood detection methods, which should drastically reduce the user input required by an active image interpreter. This thesis provides solutions for the near real-time derivation of detailed flood parameters such as flood extent, flood-related backscatter changes as well as flood classification probabilities from the new generation of high resolution X-band SAR satellite imagery in a completely unsupervised way. These data are, in comparison to images from conventional medium-resolution SAR sensors, characterized by an increased intra-class and decreased inter-class variability due to the reduced mixed pixel phenomenon. This problem is addressed by utilizing multi-contextual models on irregular hierarchical graphs, which consider that semantic image information is less represented in single pixels but in homogeneous image objects and their mutual relation. A hybrid Markov random field (MRF) model is developed, which integrates scale-dependent as well as spatio-temporal contextual information into the classification process by combining hierarchical causal Markov image modeling on automatically generated irregular hierarchical graphs with noncausal Markov modeling related to planar MRFs. This model is initialized in an unsupervised manner by an automatic tile-based thresholding approach, which solves the flood detection problem in large-size SAR data with small a priori class probabilities by statistical parameterization of local bi-modal class-conditional density functions in a time efficient manner. Experiments performed on TerraSAR-X StripMap data of Southwest England and ScanSAR data of north-eastern Namibia during large-scale flooding show the effectiveness of the proposed methods in terms of classification accuracy, computational performance, and transferability. It is further demonstrated that hierarchical causal Markov models such as hierarchical maximum a posteriori (HMAP) and hierarchical marginal posterior mode (HMPM) estimation can be effectively used for modeling the inter-spatial context of X-band SAR data in terms of flood and change detection purposes. Although the HMPM estimator is computationally more demanding than the HMAP estimator, it is found to be more suitable in terms of classification accuracy. Further, it offers the possibility to compute marginal posterior entropy-based confidence maps, which are used for the generation of flood possibility maps that express that the uncertainty in labeling of each image element. The supplementary integration of intra-spatial and, optionally, temporal contextual information into the Markov model results in a reduction of classification errors. It is observed that the application of the hybrid multi-contextual Markov model on irregular graphs is able to enhance classification results in comparison to modeling on regular structures of quadtrees, which is the hierarchical representation of images usually used in MRF-based image analysis. X-band SAR systems are generally not suited for detecting flooding under dense vegetation canopies such as forests due to the low capability of the X-band signal to penetrate into media. Within this thesis a method is proposed for the automatic derivation of flood areas beneath shrubs and grasses from TerraSAR-X data. Furthermore, an approach is developed, which combines high resolution topographic information with multi-scale image segmentation to enhance the mapping accuracy in areas consisting of flooded vegetation and anthropogenic objects as well as to remove non-water look-alike areas.