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This repository stores the code for the Google Earth Engine Mangrove Mapping Methodology. It is best used by following the links located in the ReadMe file. The GEM is owned and managed by Blue Ventures Conservation.

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GEM_v1.3

Google Earth Engine

Mangrove Mapping Methodology v1.3


INTRODUCTION

The Google Earth Engine Mangrove Mapping Methodology (GEM) provides an intuitive, accessible and replicable tool which caters to a wide audience of non-specialist coastal managers and decision makers. This tool reflects a thorough review and incorporation of relevant mangrove remote sensing literature, and harnesses the power of cloud computing, including a simplified image-based tidal calibration approach. The GEM is freely accessible for non-profit use and runs on comprehensive and thoroughly commented code within GEE.

The GEM is designed specifically to map multi-date mangrove distributions and quantify dynamics anywhere in their global distribution. Currently available tools and methods fall short of fully utilizing the wealth of local expertise typically held by coastal managers - the GEM works towards filling this gap, helping to combine local expertise with GEE’s cloud computing capabilities. While not requiring advanced skills in remote sensing, geospatial analysis, or coding, the tool is designed with the assumption that users have basic computer skills and are familiar with the key steps in mapping mangroves and assessing dynamics.

A pilot study (i.e., Yancho et al. 2020) published in a special issue on “Remote Sensing in Mangroves” in the journal Remote Sensing demonstrates an application of the GEM for the entire coast of Myanmar (Burma) - a global mangrove loss hotspot. The published manuscript not only demonstrates one application for GEM, but also describes in detail the various parameters, options, outputs, and user-interface features included in the tool. The manuscript walks potential users, step-by-step, through the three modules which comprise the tool:

Module 1: Defining the Region of Interest (ROI) and Compositing Imagery

This module helps the user to define customized Region of Interest (ROI) boundaries, and select the input imagery to make multi-date (i.e., historical and contemporary) composites. The user adjusts several parameters according to their specific project requirements and preferences (e.g. years of interest, months of interest, cloud cover, etc.). It is in Module 1 that the user can choose to calculate a number of mangrove and non-mangrove specific spectral indices. All imagery is sourced from the Landsat archives (Missions 4, 5, 7, 8, & 9).

Module 2: Spectral Separability, Classifications, and Accuracy Assessment

This module enables the user to choose from the calculated spectral indices (from Module 1) to use as classification inputs, explore the spectral relationships within and between user-defined map classes, undertakes multi-date (i.e., historical and contemporary) supervised classifications, and assesses land cover map accuracies. Exploring spectral relationships is very interactive, and includes the option to examine correlation between potential spectral indices and separability of classification reference areas (CRAs) across all potential classification inputs. Following classification, accuracy assessments are automatically produced for each output map.

Module 3: Dynamics and Qualitative Accuracy Assessment (QAA)

This module uses multi-date mangrove maps to automatically calculate and subsequently explore mangrove dynamics (i.e., loss, persistence and gain), and provides an optional qualitative accuracy assessment (QAA) tool. The QAA goes above and beyond standard accuracy metrics.

Separate from the three modules of the GEM, there is also a ‘Functions’ folder which contains some of the back-end support code used by the tool. None of the scripts in this folder will produce any outputs or maps if run independently in GEE. These scripts have been included for potentially interested users to understand how certain intermediate products are generated or statistics calculated. The inclusion of these scripts is further discussed in the ‘OPERATION’ section of this document (below), which also provides further detail on how to best run the GEM for your own personal use. The most convenient way will be to follow the three hyper-links and use the captured code. However, this Git repository can also be copied and saved as scripts in your own personal GEE script library. The latter of these two options is more complicated, but would allow the user to more comprehensively understand GEM functionality - this is not required to actually use the tool.

For new users to GEE, there are several sources available to learn how the service works. The GEM has been designed to minimize knowledge requirements for coding as much as possible, but it may be useful to familiarize oneself with the Earth Engine Javascript interface before use. The best resources available to new users are the ‘JavaScript and Python Guides’ provided by the GEE team. These guides walk the user through the basic elements of GEE. The Earth Engine API documents also provide further information on GEE specific functions, and their associated variables and inputs. GEE also has a large spatial data library available to users wherein users can find specific datasets they wish to use in the GEM, or learn more about default datasets available to GEM users. Another valuable resource for GEE users, new or experienced, is the GEE group, “Google Earth Engine Developers”. It is likely that most casual users of the GEM will not encounter issues that require the GEE community’s support, but the Google group is a useful resource if users begin to develop their own code. There are several common server-side errors which users may encounter while using the GEM. Please read the ‘KNOWN ISSUES’ section of this document before contacting the developers.

The development of the GEM was undertaken using the latest versions of both Google Chrome (v98.0.4758.82) and Mozilla Firefox (v97.0) web browsers, on both macOS (v10.13.6) and Windows (v10.0.19042.610) operating systems. The functionality of the GEM on Linux systems or other web browsers is unknown at this time. There have been some documented time-out errors related to non-Chrome based GEE execution; more information on this problem can be found below in the 'Known Issues' section of this document.

Additionally, the GEM is designed to be universally applicable to any location, globally, where mangroves occur. However, it should be noted that the pilot study, and subsequently the default parameters currently associated with the GEM, focused on the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar (Burma). While some of these parameters are location-agnostic, such as the percentage of allowable cloud cover, others, like the coastal tidal zone, are very location-specific. The code is well commented to help aid in the determination of the optimal parameters to set before running, but it is important to remember how the default parameters were selected. Importantly, all parameters can be changed by the user to meet their needs - the Myanmar pilot serves as a beginning-to-end demonstration of how the tool works.

OPERATION

Before the GEM can be used, the user must request developer access to GEE. This can be done by following this link and filling out a simple request form. Approval typically takes 1-2 business days. Once your Google account has been granted access to GEE, you can use the GEM.

GEE is free to use for academic and not for profit enterprises. For commercial applications, GEE offers paid commercial licenses: details here. At this time, the GEM is not available for commercial use - interested parties should contact the authors to confirm this status.

There are two methods to run the GEM:

  1. Click on the links below and run the scripts. Clear instructions are provided in the comments within each script; or
  2. Copy the entire tool into your personal GEE Script library.

The first option is the easiest to execute, and least likely to generate any errors.

The three links below are associated with each of the three modules discussed above. Run them in order, and save the exports for each script (ideally to your personal Earth Engine ‘Asset’ folder).

Module 1: Defining the Region of Interest (ROI) and Compositing Imagery

https://code.earthengine.google.com/46cd8ffd04f0e3f08e1352a86f4e88a2?noload=true

Module 2: Spectral Separability, Classifications, and Accuracy Assessment

https://code.earthengine.google.com/ce93943ff8ac5f2bfeb44459f5736597?noload=true

Module 3: Dynamics and Qualitative Accuracy Assessment (QAA)

https://code.earthengine.google.com/55f47a2859a84b9d80af317e7e54f4f8?noload=true

The second option for using the GEM is to copy each of the three Module scripts, and each of the function scripts into individual scripts saved to your GEE script library. The complicated part in this method is maintaining the script dependencies’ locations. If the user chooses to run the GEM in this manner, they will also need to change the paths for each of the ‘require()’ functions, located near the top of each module’s script.

Example:

//The code will look like this
var known_ext =  require('users/yanchojo/GEM_LS9/:modules/known_mangroves');
var coastline =  require('users/yanchojo/GEM_LS9/:modules/coastline');

//Once you have copied and saved your version of the GEM code
// It will look like this

var known_ext =  require('users/**YourUserName**/**TheNameYouSavedItAs1**');
var coastline =  require('users/**YourUserName**/**TheNameYouSavedItAs2**');

It will be important that you do not change the variable name and that you associate the correct script path with the corresponding variable. If this is not done for all 13 function scripts the GEM will not work properly, likely producing errors. The names of each function script are close to the variable names that they were written for. If there is a mix up, look back at the GitHub page and reference the three module scripts.

After you have opened the links or saved the GEM locally, there are detailed code-comment instructions at the beginning of each module and above each distinct section and step of each module. Be sure to carefully read, in full, the instructions for each module. It is in these instructions where the user must identify input datasets, determine impactful variables, and understand how certain functions within the GEM will operate. Throughout each module, there are comments at the end of each distinct section and step identifying the end of the user inputs/instruction.

The data inputs for the GEM have both internal and external source options, however, to perform the classification in Module 2, classification reference areas (CRAs) must be provided. CRAs are points or polygons that represent target map classes across the region of interest (ROI), offering a representative sample of how the user would like the classifier to sort the input imagery’s pixels into map classes. For example, a typical mangrove map may contain water, mangroves, bare soil, and non-mangrove vegetation. The user-defined CRAs should comprise points or small polygon areas that represent each of these classes in the input imagery, which will then be used as training (and validation) data for the multi-date classifications. An overview of how to create CRAs in GEE is provided here by Google; however, users may also create CRAs in stand-alone (GIS) software of their choice, and subsequently point the GEM towards these data. Whether using the GEE interface or importing from elsewhere, coastal managers can capitalize on their intimate first-hand knowledge to derive representative CRAs.

KNOWN ISSUES

The most common errors that may occur (outside of user variable/input errors) are server-side memory issues. While GEE is a free service, it does have its limits, chiefly the allocation of server space for user-initiated tasks. These will often be expressed as time-out or memory capacity errors. Errors which occur while trying to visualize a layer in the GUI can often be overridden by zooming in/out and/or panning the frame slightly to reload the map layers. The visualization errors are typically non-critical errors. Below is a short list of common server-side errors:

“Tile Error: Too many concurrent aggregations”
“Tile Error: Earth Engine Capacity Exceeded”

Anecdotally, the issues that produce these errors are usually associated with processing large areas. While developing the GEM it was determined that GEE works more effectively when dealing with smaller extents, i.e. regional rather than national areas of interest. When exporting large areas it is possible that the user may run into a 12-hour timeout limit. If this happens, the exporting task will fail at 12 hours and produce an error message stating:

“Error: Computation timed out”

Coupled with the upper limits of GEE, internet connectivity can also present a stability and run-time challenge when using the GEM; however, it remains much faster than standalone workstations, and once one portion of the GEM initiates it will continue even if internet connectivity is temporarily lost. This means that intermediate data products - and the user’s progress - is effectively saved, to an extent.

The selected web-browser is known to have an impact on time-out errors. Google Chrome has proven to be the fastest and most reliable web browser to use with the GEM. It has been documented that Firefox will have trouble loading calculated objects before producing a time-out error. However, this problem can typically be resolved by simply re-running the script.

FUNDING

GEM was funded by Blue Ventures Conservation (BVC), with support from the UK Government’s International Climate Fund, part of the UK commitment to developing countries to help them address the challenges presented by climate change and benefit from the opportunities.

You may learn more about BVC at: https://blueventures.org/

And more about the GEM at: https://blueventures.org/what-we-do/climate-solutions/blue-forests/gem/

CONTACT

If there are discovered bugs or issues with the code, or with the directions on how to use the tool, you can contact the GEM team at Blue Ventures: gem@blueventures.org

Please be sure to read the KNOWN ISSUES section of this document before contacting the developers.

LICENSING

The included software in this package is distributed under the GNU General Public License v3.0. See License document included in this package.

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This repository stores the code for the Google Earth Engine Mangrove Mapping Methodology. It is best used by following the links located in the ReadMe file. The GEM is owned and managed by Blue Ventures Conservation.

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