PROGRESS IN GEOGRAPHY ›› 2018, Vol. 37 ›› Issue (11): 1463-1472.doi: 10.18306/dlkxjz.2018.11.003

• Special Column: South China Sea and "the Belt and Road Initiative" • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Development of a geomorphic classification scheme for coral reefs in the South China Sea based on high-resolution satellite images

Xiuling ZUO1,2,3(), Fenzhen SU1,*(), Huanting ZHAO4, Yue FANG1, Juan YANG1   

  1. 1. State Key Laboratory of Resources and Environmental Information System, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
    2. Guangxi Laboratory on the Study of Coral Reefs in the South China Sea, Nanning 530004, China
    3. School of Marine Sciences, Guangxi University, Nanning 530004, China
    4. Key Laboratory of Marginal Sea Geology, South China Sea Institute of Oceanology, CAS, Guangzhou 510301, China
  • Received:2016-10-09 Revised:2017-07-09 Online:2018-11-28 Published:2018-11-28
  • Contact: Fenzhen SU;
  • Supported by:
    Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, No.XDA13010400;National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41801341


Coral reef geomorphic classification scheme plays an important role in coral reef geomorphic mapping based on remote sensing images. At present, there are various problems in the coral reef geomorphic classification schemes for remote sensing, such as inconsistent construction standards, unreasonable levels of some important geomorphic types, and incomplete geomorphic type coverage, which limit the application of geomorphic mapping for coral reef science and management. This articel advocates a systematic and hierarchical geomorphic classification scheme for reefs in the South China Sea for remote sensing, which concludes three levels and 19 classes from the sea to the lagoon or island. It is constructed based on high-resolution satellite images (WorldView-2, Quickbird) of 46 reefs (atolls, table reefs) and field survey data of 15 reefs in the Xisha Islands. Geomorphic types are derived and described according to the criteria of reef location, hydrodynamic characteristics, exposure degree and sediments. Geomorphic types are placed at the same level when they possess similar scale and importance. Cay and island are placed in the first level to show their importance. The scheme has consistent standardization, the highest hierarchical structure, and the largest number of geomorphic types. In the scheme, biotic sparse zone of the inner reef flat, biotic dense zone of the inner reef flat are named; submerged reef ridge, intertidal sand zone, and shallow reef pond are supplemented. The classification scheme facilitates the intuitive understanding and inference of the processes and importance of marine ecological interaction across different scales. This hierarchical geomorphic classification scheme with multi-scale characteristic is applicable to the coral reef geomorphic mapping from low-resolution to high-resolution satellite images, contributing to the change analysis, management, and protection of China’s coral reefs in the South China Sea.

Key words: remote sensing, high resolution, coral reef, geomorphology, classification scheme, South China Sea