Object-Based Image Classification of Floating Ice Used as Habitat for Harbor Seals in a Tidewater Glacier Fjord in Alaska

Robert McNabb, Jamie N Womble, Anupma Prakash, Rudiger Gens, Jay Ver Hoef

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Tidewater glaciers play an important role in many landscape and ecosystem processes in fjords, terminating in the sea and calving icebergs and discharging meltwater directly into the ocean. Tidewater glaciers provide floating ice for use as habitat for harbor seals (Phoca vitulina richardii) for resting, pupping, nursing, molting, and avoiding predators. Tidewater glaciers are found in high concentrations in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska; currently, many of these glaciers are retreating or have stabilized in a retracted state, raising questions about the future availability of ice in these fjords as habitat for seals. Our primary objective is to investigate the relationship between harbor seal distribution and ice availability at an advancing tidewater glacier in Johns Hopkins Inlet, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska. To this end, we use a combination of visible and infrared aerial photographs, object-based image analysis (OBIA), and statistical modeling techniques. We have developed a workflow to automate the processing of the imagery and the classification of the fjordscape (e.g., individual icebergs, brash ice, and open water), providing quantitative information on ice coverage as well as properties not typically found in traditional pixel-based classification techniques, such as block angularity and seal density across the fjord. Reflectance variation in the red channel of the optical images has proven to be the most important first-level criterion to separate open water from floating ice. This first-level criterion works well in areas without dense brash ice, but tends to misclassify dense brash ice as single icebergs. Isolating these large misclassified regions and applying a higher reflectance threshold as a second-level criterion helps to isolate individual ice blocks surrounded by dense brash ice. We present classification results from surveys taken during June and August, 2007-2013, as well as preliminary results from statistical modeling of the spatio-temporal distribution of seals and ice. OBIA is a powerful method of habitat classification and offers an effective approach to compare the spatio-temporal distribution and availability of glacial ice habitats for harbor seals in tidewater glacial fjords.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 2014
EventAmerican Geophysical Union Fall Meeting - San Francisco, United States
Duration: 15 Dec 201419 Dec 2014


ConferenceAmerican Geophysical Union Fall Meeting
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySan Francisco


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