Original article

Journal of Geographical Systems

, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 119-130

First online:

What is the difference between two maps? A remote senser’s view

  • Giles M. FoodyAffiliated withSchool of Geography, University of Southampton Email author 

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In remote sensing, thematic map comparison is often undertaken on a per-pixel basis and based upon measures of classification agreement. Here, the degree of agreement between two thematic maps, and so the difference between the pair, was evaluated through visual and quantitative analyses for two scenarios. Quantitative assessments were based on basic site-specific measures of agreement that are used widely in accuracy assessment (e.g. the overall percentage of pixels with the same class label in each of the two maps and the kappa coefficient of agreement) as well as an information theory based approach that allows the degree of mutual or shared information to be assessed even if different classification schemes have been used to produce the maps. The results indicated that in the first map comparison scenario, focused on labelling, there was a fair degree of correspondence between the maps but with an overall difference in information content of ∼42%. In the second comparison scenario, focused on change in time, considerable change had occurred with a change in class label for ∼42% of the pixels. It was also apparent that global assessments masked local scale changes.


Accuracy Agreement Mutual information Classification Kappa coefficient Confusion matrix