Skip to Main Content
U.S. Forest Service
Caring for the land and serving people

United States Department of Agriculture

Home > Search > Publication Information

  1. Share via EmailShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on Twitter
    Dislike this pubLike this pub
    Author(s): Xiaolin Zhu; Eileen H. Helmer
    Date: 2018
    Source: Remote Sensing of Environment
    Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)
    Station: International Institute of Tropical Forestry
    PDF: Download Publication  (7.0 MB)

    Related Research Highlights

    Automated monitoring of tropical deforestation made easier


    Clouds and cloud shadows block land surface information in optical satellite images. Accurate detection of clouds and cloud shadows can help exclude these contaminated pixels in further applications. Existing cloud screening methods are challenged by cloudy regions where most of satellite images are contaminated by clouds. To solve this problem for landscapes where the typical frequency of cloud-free observations of a pixel is too small to use existing methods to mask clouds and shadows, this study presents a new Automatic Time-Series Analysis (ATSA) method to screen clouds and cloud shadows in multi-temporal optical images. ATSA has five main steps: (1) calculate cloud and shadow indices to highlight cloud and cloud shadow information; (2) obtain initial cloud mask by unsupervised classifiers; (3) refine initial cloud mask by analyzing time series of a cloud index; (4) predict the potential shadow mask using geometric relationships; and (5) refine the potential shadow mask by analyzing time series of a shadow index. Compared with existing methods, ATSA needs fewer predefined parameters, does not require a thermal infrared band, and is more suitable for areas with persistent clouds. The performance of ATSA was tested with Landsat-8 OLI images, Landsat-4 MSS images, and Sentinel-2 images in three sites. The results were compared with a popular method, Function of Mask (Fmask), which has been adopted by USGS to produce Landsat cloud masks. These tests show that ATSA and Fmask can get comparable cloud and shadow masks in some of the tested images. However, ATSA can consistently obtain high accuracy in all images, while Fmask has large omission or commission errors in some images. The quantitative accuracy was assessed using manual cloud masks of 15 images. The average cloud producer's accuracy of these 15 images is as high as 0.959 and the average shadow producer's accuracy reaches 0.901. Given that it can be applied to old satellite sensors and it is capable for cloudy regions, ATSA is a valuable supplement to the existing cloud screening methods.

    Publication Notes

    • We recommend that you also print this page and attach it to the printout of the article, to retain the full citation information.
    • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.


    Zhu, Xiaolin; Helmer, Eileen H. 2018. An automatic method for screening clouds and cloud shadows in optical satellite image time series in cloudy regions. Remote Sensing of Environment. 214: 135-153.


    Google Scholar


    cloud detection, cloud shadow, mask, optical satellite images, time series, Automatic Time-Series Analysis.

    Related Search

    XML: View XML
Show More
Show Fewer
Jump to Top of Page