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Thenkabail, PS, Biradar, CM, Noojipady, P, Cai, XL, Dheeravath, V, Li, YJ, Velpuri, M, Gumma, M, Pandey, S (2007). Sub-pixel area calculation methods for estimating irrigated areas. SENSORS, 7(11), 2519-2538.

The goal of this paper was to develop and demonstrate practical methods for computing sub-pixel areas (SPAs) from coarse-resolution satellite sensor data. The methods were tested and verified using: (a) global irrigated area map (GIAM) at 10-km resolution based, primarily, on AVHRR data, and (b) irrigated area map for India at 500-m based, primarily, on MODIS data. The sub-pixel irrigated areas (SPIAs) from coarse-resolution satellite sensor data were estimated by multiplying the full pixel irrigated areas (FPIAs) with irrigated area fractions (IAFs). Three methods were presented for IAF computation: (a) Google Earth Estimate (IAF-GEE); (b) High resolution imagery (IAF-HRI); and (c) Sub-pixel de-composition technique (IAF-SPDT). The IAF-GEE involved the use of zoom-in-views of sub-meter to 4-meter very high resolution imagery (VHRI) from Google Earth and helped determine total area available for irrigation (TAAI) or net irrigated areas that does not consider intensity or seasonality of irrigation. The IAF-HRI is a well known method that uses finer-resolution data to determine SPAs of the coarser-resolution imagery. The IAF-SPDT is a unique and innovative method wherein SPAs are determined based on the precise location of every pixel of a class in 2-dimensional brightness-greenness-wetness (BGW) feature-space plot of red band versus near-infrared band spectral reflectivity. The SPIAs computed using IAF-SPDT for the GIAM was within 2% of the SPIA computed using well known IAF-HRI. Further the fractions from the 2 methods were significantly correlated. The IAF-HRI and IAF-SPDT help to determine annualized or gross irrigated areas (AIA) that does consider intensity or seasonality (e.g., sum of areas from season 1, season 2, and continuous year-round crops). The national census based irrigated areas for the top 40 irrigated nations (which covers about 90% of global irrigation) was significantly better related (and had lesser uncertainties and errors) when compared to SPIAs than FPIAs derived using 10-km and 500-m data. The SPIAs were closer to actual areas whereas FPIAs grossly over-estimate areas. The research clearly demonstrated the value and the importance of sub-pixel areas as opposed to full pixel areas and presented 3 innovative methods for computing the same.



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