Applying a weighted random forests method to extract karst sinkholes from LiDAR data


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February 2016


Detailed mapping of sinkholes provides critical information for mitigating sinkhole hazards and understanding groundwater and surface water interactions in karst terrains. LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) measures the earth’s surface in high-resolution and high-density and has shown great potentials to drastically improve locating and delineating sinkholes. However, processing LiDAR data to extract sinkholes requires separating sinkholes from other depressions, which can be laborious because of the sheer number of the depressions commonly generated from LiDAR data. In this study, we applied the random forests, a machine learning method, to automatically separate sinkholes from other depressions in a karst region in central Kentucky. The sinkhole-extraction random forest was grown on a training dataset built from an area where LiDAR-derived depressions were manually classified through a visual inspection and field verification process. Based on the geometry of depressions, as well as natural and human factors related to sinkholes, 11 parameters were selected as predictive variables to form the dataset. Because the training dataset was imbalanced with the majority of depressions being non-sinkholes, a weighted random forests method was used to improve the accuracy of predicting sinkholes. The weighted random forest achieved an average accuracy of 89.95% for the training dataset, demonstrating that the random forest can be an effective sinkhole classifier. Testing of the random forest in another area, however, resulted in moderate success with an average accuracy rate of 73.96%. This study suggests that an automatic sinkhole extraction procedure like the random forest classifier can significantly reduce time and labor costs and makes its more tractable to map sinkholes using LiDAR data for large areas. However, the random forests method cannot totally replace manual procedures, such as visual inspection and field verification.


Sinkhole, Lidar, Weighted Random Forests, Karst, Machine Learning

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