Mapping Small-Scale Irrigation Areas Using Expert Decision Rules and the Random Forest Classifier in Northern Ethiopia

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The mapping of small-scale irrigation areas is essential for food security and water resource management studies. The identification of small-scale irrigation areas is a challenge, but it can be overcome using expert knowledge and satellite-derived high-spatial-resolution multispectral information in conjunction with monthly normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) time series, and additional terrain information. This paper presents a novel approach to characterize small-scale irrigation schemes that combine expert knowledge, multi-temporal NDVI time series, multispectral high-resolution satellite images, and the random forest classifier in the Zamra catchment, North Ethiopia. A fundamental element of the approach is mapping small-scale irrigation areas using expert decision rules to incorporate the available water resources. We apply expert decision rules to monthly NDVI composites from September 2020 to August 2021 along with the digital elevation model (DEM) data on the slope, drainage order, and distance maps to derive the sample set. The samples were
based on the thresholds obtained by expert knowledge from field surveys. These data, along with the four spectral bands of a cloud-free Planet satellite image composite, 12 NDVI monthly composites, slope, drainage order, and distance map were used as input into a random forest classifier which was trained to classify pixels as either irrigated or non-irrigated. The results show that the analysis allows the mapping of small-scale irrigation areas with high accuracy. The classification accuracy for identifying irrigated areas showed a user accuracy ranging from 81% to 87%, along with a producer accuracy ranging from 64% to 79%. Furthermore, the classification accuracy and the kappa coefficient for the classified irrigation schemes were 80% and 0.70, respectively. As a result, these findings highlight a substantial level of agreement between the classification results and the reference data. The use of different expert knowledge-based decision rules, as a method, can be applied to extract small-scale and larger irrigation areas with similar agro-ecological characteristics.
Original languageEnglish
Article number5647
Pages (from-to)5647
Number of pages22
JournalRemote sensing
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - 6 Dec 2023


  • DEM;
  • expert knowledge
  • NDVI-sum
  • Planet NICFI
  • Random forest
  • Zamra catchment


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