Gaussian processes for temporal and spatial pattern analysis in the MISR satellite land-surface data

Cuthbertson, Adrian John
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The Multi-Angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) is an Earth observation instrument operated by NASA on its Terra satellite. The instrument is unique in imaging the Earth’s surface from nine cameras at different angles. An extended system MISR-HR, has been developed by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission (JRC) and NASA, which derives many values describing the interaction between solar energy, the atmosphere and different surface characteristics. It also generates estimates of data at the native resolution of the instrument for 24 of the 36 camera bands for which on-board averaging has taken place prior to downloading of the data. MISR-HR data potentially yields high value information in agriculture, forestry, environmental studies, land management and other fields. The MISR-HR system and the data for the African continent have also been provided by NASA and the JRC to the South African National Space Agency (SANSA). Generally, satellite remote-sensing of the Earth’s surface is characterised by irregularity in the time-series of data due to atmospheric, environmental and other effects. Time-series methods, in particular for vegetation phenology applications, exist for estimating missing data values, filling gaps and discerning periodic structure in the data. Recent evaluations of the methods established a sound set of requirements that such methods should satisfy. Existing methods mostly meet the requirements, but choice of method would largely depend on the analysis goals and on the nature of the underlying processes. An alternative method for time-series exists in Gaussian Processes, a long established statistical method, but not previously a common method for satellite remote-sensing time-series. This dissertation asserts that Gaussian Process regression could also meet the aforementioned set of time-series requirements, and further provide benefits of a consistent framework rooted in Bayesian statistical methods. To assess this assertion, a data case study has been conducted for data provided by SANSA for the Kruger National Park in South Africa. The requirements have been posed as research questions and answered in the affirmative by analysing twelve years of historical data for seven sites differing in vegetation types, in and bordering the Park. A further contribution is made in that the data study was conducted using Gaussian Process software which was developed specifically for this project in the modern open language Julia. This software will be released in due course as open source.
A dissertation submitted to the Faculty of Science, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science. Johannesburg, 30th May 2014.