Extensibility of U-Net Neural Network Model for Hydrographic Feature Extraction and Implications for Hydrologic Modeling

Lawrence V. Stanislawski, Ethan J. Shavers, Shaowen Wang, Zhe Jiang, E. Lynn Usery, Evan Moak, Alexander Duffy, Joel Schott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Accurate maps of regional surface water features are integral for advancing ecologic, atmospheric and land development studies. The only comprehensive surface water feature map of Alaska is the National Hydrography Dataset (NHD). NHD features are often digitized representations of historic topographic map blue lines and may be outdated. Here we test deep learning methods to automatically extract surface water features from airborne interferometric synthetic aperture radar (IfSAR) data to update and validate Alaska hydrographic databases. U-net artificial neural networks (ANN) and high-performance computing (HPC) are used for supervised hydrographic feature extraction within a study area comprised of 50 contiguous watersheds in Alaska. Surface water features derived from elevation through automated flow-routing and manual editing are used as training data. Model extensibility is tested with a series of 16 U-net models trained with increasing percentages of the study area, from about 3 to 35 percent. Hydrography is predicted by each of the models for all watersheds not used in training. Input raster layers are derived from digital terrain models, digital surface models, and intensity images from the IfSAR data. Results indicate about 15 percent of the study area is required to optimally train the ANN to extract hydrography when F1-scores for tested watersheds average between 66 and 68. Little benefit is gained by training beyond 15 percent of the study area. Fully connected hydrographic networks are generated for the U-net predictions using a novel approach that constrains a D-8 flow-routing approach to follow U-net predictions. This work demonstrates the ability of deep learning to derive surface water feature maps from complex terrain over a broad area.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • machine learning
  • hydrography
  • feature extraction
  • U-net
  • neural network


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