Landsat-Based Estimation of Seasonal Water Cover and Change in Arid and Semi-Arid Central Asia (2000–2015)
Surface water is of great importance to ecosystems and economies. Crucial to understanding hydrological variability and its relationships to human activities at large scales, open-access satellite datasets and big-data computational methods are now enabling the global mapping of the distribution and changes of inland water over time. A machine-learning algorithm, previously used only to map water at single points in time, was applied over 16 years of the USGS Landsat archive to detect and map
... to detect and map surface water over central Asia from 2000 to 2015 at a 30-m, monthly resolution. The resulting dataset had an overall classification accuracy of 99.59% (± 0.32% standard error), 98.24% (± 1.02%) user's accuracy, and 87.12% (± 3.21%) producer's accuracy for water class. This study describes the temporal extension of the algorithm and the application of the dataset to present patterns of regional surface water cover and change. The findings indicate that smaller water bodies are dramatically changing in two specific ecological zones: the Kazakh Steppe and the Tian Shan Montane Steppe and Meadows. Both the maximum and minimum extent of water bodies have decreased over the 16-year period, but the rate of decrease of the maxima was double that of the minima. Coverage decreased in each month from April to October, and a significant decrease in water area was found in April and May. These results indicate that the dataset can provide insights into the behavior of surface water across central Asia through time, and that the method can be further developed for regional and global applications.