A comparison of land unit delineation techniques for land evaluation in the Western Cape, South Africa
The original publication is available at www.elsevier.com
Land evaluation, an integral part of land use planning, has been established as one of the preferred methods to support sustainable land use management. In essence, land evaluation aims to compare and match each potential land use with the properties of individual parcels of land, also called land units. A land unit is an area that is, according to predetermined properties, different from the surrounding land and can be assumed to have homogeneous land properties (e.g. climate, soils, cover). Land components (also called landform elements, terrain units or land surface segments) are often used as land units, mainly because their boundaries frequently coincide with transitions in environmental conditions. Although land components have traditionally been delineated by studying topographical maps, interpreting aerial photographs and making field measurements, such manual mapping techniques are very time-consuming and subjective. Land component maps can be generated more objectively and faster by using computer algorithms. This paper compares the maps produced by three algorithms, namely the automated land component mapper (ALCoM), the iterative self-organizing data analysis technique algorithm (ISODATA) and multi-resolution image segmentation (MRS), to determine which technique produces the most homogenous and morphologically representative land components for an area in the Western Cape province of South Africa. The results revealed that the three methods produced significantly different land component maps. While ISODATA's units were relatively homogenous, their boundaries rarely followed morphological discontinuities. ALCoM performed better in delineating land components along terrain discontinuities, but produced relatively heterogeneous land components. Overall, MRS performed consistently well and was significantly more sensitive to morphological discontinuities than the other two methods tested. Land use managers should, however, use MRS with care as more research is needed to determine what effect its different input parameters have on land unit boundaries.