A Remote Sensing Based Method to Detect Soil Erosion in Forests

Hanqiu Xu, Xiujuan Hu, Huade Guan, Bobo Zhang, Meiya Wang, Shanmu Chen, Minghua Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
10 Downloads (Pure)


Rainwater-induced soil erosion occurring in the forest is a special phenomenon of soil erosion in many red soil areas. Detection of such soil erosion is essential for developing land management to reduce soil loss in areas including southern China and other red soil regions of the world. Remotely sensed canopy cover is often used to determine the potential of soil erosion over a large spatial scale, which, however, becomes less useful in forest areas. This study proposes a new remote sensing method to detect soil erosion under forest canopy and presents a case study in a forest area in southern China. Five factors that are closely related to soil erosion in forest were used as discriminators to develop the model. These factors include fractional vegetation coverage, nitrogen reflectance index, yellow leaf index, bare soil index and slope. They quantitatively represent vegetation density, vegetation health status, soil exposure intensity and terrain steepness that are considered relevant to forest soil erosion. These five factors can all be derived from remote sensing imagery based on related thematic indices or algorithms. The five factors were integrated to create the soil erosion under forest model (SEUFM) through Principal Components Analysis (PCA) or a multiplication method. The case study in the forest area in Changting County of southern China with a Landsat 8 image shows that the first principal component-based SEUFM achieves an overall accuracy close to 90%, while the multiplication-based model reaches 81%. The detected locations of soil erosion in forest provide the target areas to be managed from further soil loss. The proposed method provides a tool to understand more about soil erosion in forested areas where soil erosion is usually not considered an issue. Therefore, the method is useful for soil conservation in forest.

Original languageEnglish
Article number513
Number of pages19
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019


  • Detection model
  • Fractional vegetation coverage
  • Principal components analysis
  • Red-soil erosion
  • Vegetation health
  • Yellow leaf index


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