Consistent metropolitan boundaries for the remote sensing of urban land

Michiel N. Daams*, Alexandre Banquet, Paul Delbouve, Paolo Veneri

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
31 Downloads (Pure)


This paper introduces an internationally consistent definition of metropolitan areas to the literature regarding the remote sensing of urban land use or land cover. In the cross-comparison of land use or land cover for explicitly bounded urban areas, the observed ‘economic’ definition is argued to hold distinct potential merits over administrative or agglomeration-based boundaries, which typically underpin other studies. To illustrate the proposed merits as well as their implications for the remote sensing literature, the empirical analysis considers the case of 687 European metropolitan areas. Across these metropolitan areas, whose boundaries are defined jointly by the OECD and the European Commission, land cover and land use are segmented in a fusion of imagery from radar and optical sensors in Sentinel satellites. Segmentation is achieved using deep learning in a well-established model architecture. The analytical focus is on built-up areas that are in a residential use or in a commercial or industrial use. Map classifications and accuracy measures are obtained for cities as well as their respective commuting zones as these together embody metropolitan areas. The results underline that not only land use area estimates but also map classification accuracy vary widely across individual metropolitan areas. Whereas classification accuracy to some degree varies for metropolitan areas within as well as between countries, classification accuracy is positively associated with population size and built-up area density as regression analysis confirms. Additionally, the extent of built-up areas in distinct uses is shown to vary across different types of metropolitan (sub-)areas. This study's findings highlight the typically unobserved role that study area definition and selection may play in affecting outcomes in remote sensing studies in urban settings, as relevant to both studies of single as well as multiple urban areas. The consistent comparison of remote sensing outcomes across metropolitan areas may further promote generalization in a growing and global field and potentially supports better-informed policy making processes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113789
Number of pages17
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Publication statusPublished - 1-Nov-2023


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