Nearshore Benthic Mapping in the Great Lakes: A Multi-Agency Data Integration Approach in Southwest Lake Michigan

Molly K. Reif, Brandon S. Krumwiede, Steven E. Brown, Ethan J Theuerkauf, Joseph H. Harwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Laurentian Great Lakes comprise the largest assemblage of inland waterbodies in North America, with vast geographic, environmentally complex nearshore benthic substrate and associated habitat. The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, originally signed in 1972, aims to help restore and protect the basin, and ecosystem monitoring is a primary objective to support adaptive management, environmental policy, and decision making. Yet, monitoring ecosystem trends remains challenging, potentially hindering progress in lake management and restoration. Consistent, high-resolution maps of nearshore substrate and associated habitat are fundamental to support management needs, and the nexus of high-quality remotely sensed data with improvements to analytical methods are increasing opportunities for large-scale nearshore benthic mapping at project-relevant spatial resolutions. This study attempts to advance the integration of high-fidelity data (airborne imagery and lidar, satellite imagery, in situ observations, etc.) and machine learning to identify and classify nearshore benthic substrate and associated habitat using a case study in southwest Lake Michigan along Illinois Beach State Park, Illinois, USA. Data inputs and analytical methods were evaluated to better understand their implications with respect to the Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS) classification hierarchy, resulting in an approach that could be easily applied to other shallow coastal environments. Classification of substrate and biotic components were iteratively classified in two Tiers in which classes with increasing specificity were identified using different combinations of airborne and satellite data inputs. Classification accuracy assessments revealed that for the Tier 1 substrate component (3 classes), average overall accuracy was 90.10 ± 0.60% for 24 airborne data combinations and 89.77 ± 1.02% for 12 satellite data combinations, whereas the Tier 1 biotic component (2 classes) average overall accuracy was 93.58 ± 0.91% for 24 airborne data combinations and 92.67 ± 0.71% for 11 satellite data combinations. The Tier 2 result for the substrate component (2 classes) was 93.28% for 2 airborne data combinations and 95.25% for the biotic component (2 classes). The study builds on foundational efforts to move towards a more integrated data approach, whereby data strengths and limitations for mapping nearshore benthic substrate and associated habitat, expressed through classification accuracy, were evaluated within the context of the CMECS classification hierarchy, and has direct applicability to critical monitoring needs in the Great Lakes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3026
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number15
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • Airborne hyperspectral imagery
  • Benthic mapping
  • Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS)
  • Coastal Zone Mapping and Imaging Lidar (CZMIL) System
  • Illinois Beach State Park
  • Machine learning
  • Sentinel-2 imagery
  • Southwest Lake Michigan

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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