Peer reviewed journal articles


Remote sensing in urban planning: Contributions towards ecologically sound policies?

Landscape and Urban Planning 204 (2020)
Thilo Wellmann, Angela Lausch, Erik Andersson, SonjaKnapp, Chiara Cortinovis, Jessica Jache, Sebastian Scheuer, Peleg Kremer, André Mascarenhas, Roland Kraemer, Annegret Haase, Franz Schug, Dagmar Haase

See full article at the journal of Landscape and Urban Planning

Remote sensing has evolved to become a key tool for various fields of environmental analysis, thus actively informing policy across areas and domains. To evaluate the degree to which remote sensing is contributing to the science of ecologically-oriented urban planning, we carried out a systematic literature review using the SCOPUS database, searching for articles integrating knowledge in urban planning, remote sensing and ecology. We reviewed 186 articles, analysing various issues in urban environments worldwide. Key findings include that the level of integration between the three disciplines is limited, with only 12% of the papers fully integrating ecology, remote sensing and planning while 24% of the studies use specific methods from one domain only. The vast majority of studies is oriented towards contributing to the knowledge base or monitoring the impacts of existing policies. Few studies are directly policy relevant by either contributing to direct issues in planning and making specific design suggestions or evaluations. The accessibility of the scientific findings remains limited, as the majority of journal articles are not open access and proprietary software and data are frequently used. To overcome these issues, we suggest three future avenues for science as well as three potential entry points for remote sensing into applied urban planning. By doing so, remote sensing data could become a vital tool actively contributing to policies, civil engagement and concrete planning measures by providing independent and cost effective environmental analyses.


Keywords: Earth observation; Urban ecology; Systematic literature review; Open science; Ecosystem services; Science policy interface

Green growth? On the relation between population density, land use and vegetation cover fractions in a city using a 30-years Landsat time series.

Landscape and Urban Planning 202 (2020)
Thilo Wellmann, Franz Schug, Dagmar Haase, Dirk Pflugmacher, Sebastian van der Linden

See full article at the journal of Landscape and Urban Planning
Read and download the full accepted manuscript as .pdf file here. (This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license)

Both compact and dispersed green cities are considered sustainable urban forms, yet some developments accompanied with these planning paradigms seem problematic in times of urban growth. A compact city might lose urban green spaces due to infill and a dispersed-green city might lose green in its outskirts through suburbanisation. To study these storylines, we introduce an operationalised concept of contrasting changes in population density (shrinkage or growth) with vegetation density (sealing or greening) over time. These trends are ascribed to different land use classes and single urban development projects, to quantify threads and pathways for urban green in a densifying city. We mapped the development in vegetation density over 30 years as subpixel fractions based on a Landsat time series (for 2015: MAE 0.12). The case study city Berlin, Germany, developed into a city that is both gaining in vegetation―greening―and population―growing―in recent years but featured highly diverse trends for both compact and green city districts before that. Pathways to achieve a greening-growing scenario in a compact city include green roofs, brownfield and industrial revitalisation, and bioswales in predominantly green city districts. A threat for compact cities pose infill developments without greening measures. A threat for dispersed-green cities is microsealing in private residential gardens―gravel gardens―or car parking infrastructure. We conclude that neither a compact nor a dispersed-green city form concept logically leads to a development towards more environmental quality―here vegetation density―in times of densification but rather context specific urban planning.


Keywords: Compact city; Dispersed green city; Remote sensing; Spectral unmixing; Landsat; Berlin 

Neighbourhood character affects the spatial extent and magnitude of the functional footprint of urban green infrastructure

Landscape Ecology (2020)
Erik Andersson, Dagmar Haase, Sebastian Scheuer, Thilo Wellmann

See full article at the journal of Landscape Ecology or here


Context Urban densification has been argued to increase the contrast between built up and open green space. This contrast may offer a starting point for assessing the extent and magnitude of the positive influences urban green infrastructure is expected to have on its surroundings.

Objectives Drawing on insights from landscape ecology and urban geography, this exploratory study investigates how the combined properties of green and grey urban infrastructures determine the influence of urban green infrastructure on the overall quality of the urban landscape.

Methods This article uses distance rise-or-decay functions to describe how receptive different land uses are to the influence of  neighbouring green spaces, and does this based on integrated information on urban morphology, land surface temperature and habitat use by breeding birds.

Results Our results show how green space has a nonlinear and declining cooling influence on adjacent urban land uses, extending up to 300–400 m in densely built up areas and up to 500 m in low density areas. Further, we found a statistically significant declining impact of green space on bird species richness up to 500 m outside its boundaries.

Conclusions Our focus on land use combinations and interrelations paves the way for a number of new joint landscape level assessments of direct and indirect accessibility to different ecosystem services. Our early results reinforce the challenging need to retain more green space in densely built up part of cities.

Keywords: Urban green infrastructure (UGI), Ecological flows,  Rise-and-decay functions, Neighbouring effects, Breeding birds, Land surface temperature

Earth observation based indication for avian species distribution models using the spectral trait concept and machine learning in an urban setting

Ecological Indicators 111 (2020)
Thilo Wellmann, Angela Lausch, Sebastian Scheuer, Dagmar Haase

See full article at the journal of Ecological Indicators
Read and download the full accepted manuscript as .pdf file here. (This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license)

Birds respond strongly to vegetation structure and composition, yet typical species distribution models (SDMs) that incorporate Earth observation (EO) data use discrete land-use/cover data to model habitat suitability. Since this neglects factors of internal spatial composition and heterogeneity of EO data, we suggest a novel scheme deriving continuous indicators of vegetation heterogeneity from high-resolution EO data.

The deployed concepts encompass vegetation fractions for determining vegetation density and spectral traits for the quantification of vegetation heterogeneity. Both indicators are derived from RapidEye data, thus featuring a continuous spatial resolution of 6.5 m. Using these indicators as predictors, we model breeding bird habitats using a random forest (RF) classifier for the city of Leipzig, Germany using a single EO image.

SDMs are trained for the breeding sites of 44 urban bird species, featuring medium to very high accuracies (59–90%). Analysing similarities between the models regarding variable importance of single predictors allows species groups to be determined based on their preferences and dependencies regarding the amount of vegetation and its spatial and structural heterogeneity. When combining the SDMs, models of urban bird species richness can be derived.

The combination of high-resolution EO data paired with the RF machine learning technique creates very detailed insights into the ecology of the urban avifauna, opening up opportunities of optimising greenspace management schemes or urban development in densifying cities concerning overall bird species richness or single species under threat of local extinction.

Keywords: Front and back yard green, Remote sensing, RapidEye, Delineation, Urban green space availability, Spectral unmixing, Sub-pixel mapping, Urban planning


Front and back yard green analysis with subpixel vegetation fractions from earth observation data in a city

Landscape and Urban Planning 182 (2019)
Dagmar Haase, Clemens Jänicke, Thilo Wellmann

See full article at the journal of Landscape and urban planning
Read and download the full accepted manuscript as .pdf file here. (This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license)

This paper introduces a novel approach to green space availability in cities that includes the thus-far mostly neglected urban front and backyard green space around residential buildings on privately owned ground. To quantify the full spatial scope of urban green space, we calculated subpixel vegetation fractions from RapidEye remote-sensing data for the entire city with a spectral unmixing technique that enabled us to model the extent of urban vegetation with a high degree of confidence (MAE 7%, R2 0.92). We then applied a new ‘urban front and back yard green space derivation algorithm’, namely, a masking of the fractional vegetation data using GIS vector data of land cover, in order to delineate the front and backyard greenspace of residential houses in a city with an accuracy of 96%. Combining these two approaches, we can calculate the area of urban front and back yard green space for the entire city (including different residential structure types) and compare this data to the area of public (parks, urban forests) and semi-public (allotment gardens) green spaces that have been used for prevailing per capita green space availability analyses. The new method is exemplified at the city of Leipzig, Germany, which provides different residential structures concerning house types and the surrounding green that are characteristic of many European cities. Key findings include that the total amount of urban front and back yard green space is almost 2000 ha, which is ∼40% of the amount of public green space (4768 ha). In 15 out of the 63 total districts, there is more front and backyard than public green space, which highlights the importance of these urban front and back yard green space for the analysis of urban livelihoods and a tool for detailed ecosystem services-oriented urban planning.

Keywords: Front and back yard green, Remote sensing, RapidEye, Delineation, Urban green space availability, Spectral unmixing, Sub-pixel mapping, Urban planning

DOI: 10.1016/j.landurbplan.2018.10.010


Urban land use intensity assessment: The potential of spatio-temporal spectral traits with remote sensing

Ecological Indicators 85 (2018) 190–203
Thilo Wellmann, Dagmar Haase, Sonja Knapp, Christoph Salbach, Peter Selsam, Angela Lausch

See full article at the journal Ecological Indicators or on Researchgate

By adding attributes of space and time to the spectral traits (ST) concept we developed a completely new way of quantifying and assessing land use intensity and the hemeroby of urban landscapes. Calculating spectral traits variations (STV) from remote sensing data and regressing STV against hemeroby, we show how to estimate human land use intensity and the degree of hemeroby for large spatial areas with a dense temporal resolution for an urban case study. We found a linear statistical significant relationship (p =0.01) between the annual amplitude in spectral trait variations and the degree of hemeroby. It was thereof possible to separate the different types of land use cover according to their degree of hemeroby and land use intensity, respectively. Moreover, since the concept of plant traits is a functional framework in which each trait can be assigned to one or more ecosystem functions, the assessment of STV is a promising step towards assessing the diversity of spectral traits in an ecosystem as a proxy of functional diversity.

Keywords: Spectral traits (ST), Spectral trait variations (STV), Urban land-use-intensity (U-LUI), Human-use-intensity, Remote sensing, Hemeroby, NDVI, GLCM

DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2017.10.029

Conference contributions


Wellmann, T., Haase, D., Knapp, S. and Lausch, A. Urban land use intensity assessment – the potential of remote sensing. Poster presentation delivered at the 2nd international TERENO conference. Berlin, October 2018

Wellmann, T., Scheuer S., Lausch, A. and Haase, D. Modelling urban bird breeding ranges with remotely sensed heterogeneity in plant traits using a random forest. Oral presentation delivered at the 10th International Conference on Ecological Informatics (ICEI). Jena, September 2018


Wellmann, T., Haase, D., Knapp, S. and Lausch, A. Urban land use intensity assessment – the potential of remote sensing. Oral presentation delivered at the European congress of the International association of landscape ecology (IALE). Ghent, September, 2017


Wellmann, T., Haase, D. and Lausch, A. Spatio-temporal spectral traits of earth observation for quantifying and assessing urban land use intensity. Oral presentation delivered at the annual meeting of the German chapter of IALE. Prora (Rügen), October 2016