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Continental scale mapping of tidal flats across East Asia using the Landsat archive

Murray, N.J., Phinn, S.R., Clemens, R.S., Roelfsema, C.M. & Fuller, R.A. 2012. Continental scale mapping of tidal flats across East Asia using the Landsat archive. Remote Sensing, 4, 3417-3426.

Tidal flats provide habitat for biodiversity, protection from storm surges and sea level rise, and a range of other ecosystem services. However, no simple method exists for mapping tidal flats over large (>1,000 km) extents, and consequently their global status and distribution remain poorly understood. Existing mapping methods are restricted to small areas with known tidal regimes because tidal flats are only fully exposed for a brief period around low tide. Here we present a method for mapping tidal flats over very large areas and demonstrate its utility by mapping the tidal flats of China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea. We (i) generated tide height predictions at the acquisition time of all Landsat Archive images of our study area using a validated regional tide model, (ii) selected suitable images acquired in the upper and lower 10% of the tidal range, (iii) converted high and low tide images to a land and water class image derived from the Normalized Differenced Water Index (NDWI) and, (iv) subtracted the high tide classified image from the low tide classified image, resulting in delineation of the tidal flat. Using this method, we mapped the tidal flats for 86.8% of the study area coastline (13,800 km). A confusion matrix for error assessment indicated an accuracy of >85% for the resulting tidal flat map. Our method enables coastal morphology to be mapped and monitored at continental scales, providing critical data to inform coastal adaptation measures for sea level rise, for monitoring coastal habitat loss and for developing ecosystem-based coastal conservation measures.

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