Water bodies are a fundamental element of urban ecosystems, and water mapping is critical for urban and landscape planning and management. Remote sensing has increasingly been used for water mapping in rural areas; however, when applied to urban areas, this spatially- explicit approach is a challenging task due to the fact that the water bodies are often of a small size and spectral confusion is common between water and the complex features in the urban environment. Water indexes are the most common method of water extraction at the pixel level. More recently, spectral mixture analysis (SMA) has been widely employed in analyzing the urban environment at the subpixel level. The objective of this study is to develop an automatic subpixel water mapping method (ASWM) which can achieve a high accuracy in urban areas. Specifically, we first apply a water index for the automatic extraction of mixed land-water pixels, and the pure water pixels that are generated in this process are exported as the final result. Secondly, the SMA technique is applied to the mixed land-water pixels for water abundance estimation. As for obtaining the most representative endmembers, we propose an adaptive iterative endmember selection method based on the spatial similarity of adjacent ground surfaces. One classical water index method (the modified normalized difference water index (MNDWI)), a pixel-level target detection method (constrained energy minimization (CEM)), and two widely used SMA methods (fully constrained least squares (FCLS) and multiple endmember spectral mixture analysis (MESMA)) were chosen for the water mapping comparison in the experiments. The results indicate that the proposed ASWM was able to detect water pixels more efficiency than other unsupervised water extraction methods, and the water fractions estimated by the proposed ASWM method correspond closely to the reference fractions with the slopes of 0.97, 1.02, 1.04, and 0.98 and the R-squared values of 0.9454, 0.9486, 0.9665, and 0.9607 in regression analysis corresponding to different test regions. In the quantitative accuracy assessment, the ASWM method shows the best performance in water mapping with the mean kappa coefficient of 0.862, mean producer’s accuracy of 82.8%, and mean user’s accuracy of 91.8% for test regions.
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