Multispectral models from bare soil composites for mapping topsoil properties over Europe

José Lucas Safanelli, Sabine Chabrillat, Eyal Ben-Dor, José A.M. Demattê

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Reflectance of light across the visible, near-infrared and shortwave infrared (VIS-NIR-SWIR, 0.4-2.5 μm) spectral region is very useful for investigating mineralogical, physical and chemical properties of soils, which can reduce the need for traditionalwet chemistry analyses. Asmany collections of multispectral satellite data are available for environmental studies, a large extent with medium resolution mapping could be benefited from the spectral measurements made from remote sensors. In this paper, we explored the use of bare soil composites generated from the large historical collections of Landsat images for mapping cropland topsoil attributes across the European extent. For this task, we used the Geospatial Soil Sensing System (GEOS3) for generating two bare soil composites of 30 m resolution (named synthetic soil images, SYSI), which were employed to represent the median topsoil reflectance of bare fields. The first (framed SYSI) was made with multitemporal images (2006-2012) framed to the survey time of the Land-Use/Land-Cover Area Frame Survey (LUCAS) soil dataset (2009), seeking to be more compatible to the soil condition upon the sampling campaign. The second (full SYSI) was generated from the full collection of Landsat images (1982-2018), which although displaced to the field survey, yields a higher proportion of bare areas for soil mapping. For evaluating the two SYSIs, we used the laboratory spectral data as a reference of topsoil reflectance to calculate the Spearman correlation coeffcient. Furthermore, both SYSIs employed machine learning for calibrating prediction models of clay, sand, soil organic carbon (SOC), calcium carbonates (CaCO3), cation exchange capacity (CEC), and pH determined in water, using the gradient boosting regression algorithm. The original LUCAS laboratory spectra and a version of the data resampled to the Landsat multispectral bands were also used as reference of prediction performance using VIS-NIR-SWIR multispectral data. Our results suggest that generating a bare soil composite displaced to the survey time of soil observations did not improve the quality of topsoil reflectance, and consequently, the prediction performance of soil attributes. Despite the lower spectral resolution and the variability of soils in Europe, a SYSI calculated from the full collection of Landsat images can be employed for topsoil prediction of clay and CaCO3 contents with a moderate performance (testing R2, root mean square error (RMSE) and ratio of performance to interquartile range (RPIQ) of 0.44, 9.59, 1.77, and 0.36, 13.99, 1.54, respectively). Thus, this study shows that although there exist some constraints due to the spatial and temporal variation of soil exposures and among the Landsat sensors, it is possible to use bare soil composites for mapping key soil attributes of croplands across the European extent.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1369
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1 May 2020


  • Digital soil mapping
  • Google earth engine
  • LUCAS topsoil data
  • Landsat
  • Machine learning
  • Remote sensing


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