Mapping crop types in complex farming areas using SAR imagery with dynamic time warping

G.W. Gella*, W. Bijker, M. Belgiu

*Corresponding author for this work

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Crop type information is essential for many practical applications, yet its mapping is often constrained by inherent characteristics of most farming areas, such as fragmentation and small farm plots, changes in crop morphology across the season, and cloud cover. This study investigated whether these limitations could be overcome by using time-series of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and crop phenological information combined with different Dynamic Time Warping implementation strategies. Focusing on a fragmented landscape with small farm plots in the Netherlands, we used Sentinel-1 dual polarimetry (VV + VH) and TerraSAR-X single polarimetry (HH) images and the Dutch Basic Registration of Crop Plots (BRP) dataset for training and validation. Image pre-processing was followed by the generation of radar vegetation indices and polarimetric decomposition. Crop-specific responses to incident radar signal were analyzed, as well as the accuracy of the crop classification by Time-Weighted Dynamic Time Warping (twDTW) using either backscatter bands only or backscatter bands in combination with derived indices and polarimetric decomposition features. In addition, two further modified Dynamic Time Warping strategies, namely Variable Time Weight Dynamic Time Warping (vtwDTW) and Angular Metric for Shape Similarity (AMSS), were tested for their performance. Furthermore, we investigated the accuracy performance of a decision level fusion of TerraSAR-X and Sentinel-1 classification outputs. Results show that even in a fragmented landscape with relatively small plots (around 0.08 ha), crop types can be successfully mapped by using decision level fusion of the twDTW results of both sensors, reaching an accuracy of 77.1%. When using twDTW on Sentinel-1 (VV + VH) only, including Ratio, MRVI, and DPSVI indices, overall accuracy reached 69.5%; without those indices, accuracy was slightly lower (67.5%). Merging six different grain crops with similar leaf geometry into winter grains and summer grains improved classification accuracy to 80.6%. Our findings demonstrate that twDTW on SAR imagery allows to map crop types in fragmented landscapes with relatively small farm plots, offering potential for crop type mapping in areas with smallholder farming.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)171-183
Number of pages12
JournalISPRS journal of photogrammetry and remote sensing
Early online date21 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - May 2021


  • Crop type mapping
  • Decision level fusion
  • Sentinel-1
  • TerraSAR-X
  • Time Weighted Dynamic Time Warping
  • UT-Hybrid-D

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