Cropland distributions from temporal unmixing of MODIS data

David B. Lobell, Gregory P. Asner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

289 Scopus citations


Knowledge of the distribution of crop types is important for land management and trade decisions, and is needed to constrain remotely sensed estimates of variables, such as crop stress and productivity. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) offers a unique combination of spectral, temporal, and spatial resolution compared to previous global sensors, making it a good candidate for large-scale crop type mapping. However, because of subpixel heterogeneity, the application of traditional hard classification approaches to MODIS data may result in significant errors in crop area estimation. We developed and tested a linear unmixing approach with MODIS that estimates subpixel fractions of crop area based on the temporal signature of reflectance throughout the growing season. In this method, termed probabilistic temporal unmixing (PTU), endmember sets were constructed using Landsat data to identify pure pixels, and uncertainty resulting from endmember variability was quantified using Monte Carlo simulation. This approach was evaluated using Landsat classification maps in two intensive agricultural regions, the Yaqui Valley (YV) of Mexico and the Southern Great Plains (SGP). Performance of the mixture model varied depending on the scale of comparison, with R 2 ranging from roughly 50% for estimating crop area within individual pixels to greater than 80% for crop cover within areas over 10 km 2. The results of this study demonstrate the importance of subpixel heterogeneity in cropland systems, and the potential of temporal unmixing to provide accurate and rapid assessments of land cover distributions using coarse resolution sensors, such as MODIS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)412-422
Number of pages11
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 15 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Agriculture
  • Croplands
  • Decision tree
  • Landsat
  • Mixture modeling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Geology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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