Land | Free Full-Text | Spatial Prediction and Mapping of Gully Erosion Susceptibility Using Machine Learning Techniques in a Degraded Semi-Arid Region of Kenya

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This study aimed at (i) developing, evaluating and comparing the performance of support vector machines (SVM), boosted regression trees (BRT), random forest (RF) and logistic regression (LR) models in mapping gully erosion susceptibility, and (ii) determining the important gully erosion conditioning factors (GECFs) in a Kenyan semi-arid landscape. A total of 431 geo-referenced gully erosion points were gathered through a field survey and visual interpretation of high-resolution satellite imagery on Google Earth, while 24 raster-based GECFs were retrieved from the existing geodatabases for spatial modeling and prediction. The resultant models exhibited excellent performance, although the machine learners outperformed the benchmark LR technique. Specifically, the RF and BRT models returned the highest area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUC = 0.89 each) and overall accuracy (OA = 80.2%; 79.7%, respectively), followed by the SVM and LR models (AUC = 0.86; 0.85 & OA = 79.1%; 79.6%, respectively). In addition, the importance of the GECFs varied among the models. The best-performing RF model ranked the distance to a stream, drainage density and valley depth as the three most important GECFs in the region. The output gully erosion susceptibility maps can support the efficient allocation of resources for sustainable land management in the area.