Raster Resampling for Discrete and Continuous Data

How do you decide what interpolation method to use?

Resampling Methods in GIS

Last Updated: Feb 1, 2017

Resampling Techniques in GIS

When you go from a 5-meter cell size to a 10-meter cell size, cell size will be different in the output raster grid. When converting raster data between different coordinate systems, cell centers don’t match. In both situations, a resampling approach must be taken to specify how the output grid will take shape.

But it’s not always an easy choice which resampling method to use because there’s more than one way to recalculate cell values. There are four common ways to resample raster grids in GIS.

We’ll highlight which resampling technique it is appropriate to use in given scenarios. We’ll also touch on how the following methods of resampling are used in a GIS environment.

  • Nearest Neighbor
  • Bilinear
  • Cubic Convolution
  • Majority

1 Nearest Neighbor Resampling

The nearest neighbor technique doesn’t change any of the values from the input raster data set. It takes the cell center from the input raster data set to determine the closest cell center of the output raster. For processing speed, it’s generally the fastest because of its simplicity.

Because no values are altered in the output raster data set, nearest neighbor resampling is ideal for categorical, nominal and ordinal data.

Nearest Neighbor Interpolation
Nearest Neighbor Interpolation

When is nearest neighbor resampling used?

Discrete data like land cover classification, buildings and soil types have distinct boundaries and their limits are considered discrete. When you resample this type of data, you should use nearest neighbor resampling.

For example – if you have a land cover classification raster grid, nearest neighbor will take the cell center value. If agriculture has the discrete value of 7, the nearest neighbor method will never assign it a value of 7.2. It simply involves taking the output value from the nearest input layer cell center.

Discrete Raster
Discrete Raster

2 Bilinear Interpolation

Bilinear interpolation is a technique for calculating values of a grid location based on four nearby grid cells. It assigns the output cell value by taking the weighted average of the four neighboring cells in an image to generate new values.

It smoothes the output raster grid, but not as much as cubic convolution. It’s useful when working with continuous data sets that don’t have distinct boundaries.

Bilinear Interpolation
Bilinear Interpolation

When is bilinear resampling used?

Temperature gradients rasters, digital elevation models, annual precipitation grids, noise distance raster – these are all examples of when bilinear interpolation is used to resample images. Notice how each of these types of data vary continuously cell-to-cell to form a surface.

Continuous raster
Continuous raster

3 Cubic Convolution Interpolation

Cubic convolution interpolation is similar to bilinear interpolation in that it takes the average of surrounding cells. Instead of using the four nearest cells, the output value is based on averaging the 16 nearest cells. As a result, processing time tends to increase for this method.

This method is generally used for continuous surfaces where much noise exists. Because it takes more neighboring cells compared to bilinear resampling, it’s good for smoothing data from the input raster grid.

Cubic Convolution Interpolation
Cubic Convolution Interpolation

When is cubic convolution interpolation used?

Cubic convolution is used much less than bilinear interpolation. It’s good for noise reduction. For example, a radar image might benefit from cubic convolution interpolation technique because it reduces noise which is commonly seen in radar.

Panchromatic Image

4 Majority Resampling

While nearest neighbor resampling takes the cell center from the input raster data, the majority algorithm is based on the most common values found within the filter window.

Similar to the nearest neighbor algorithm, this technique is commonly used for discrete data like land cover classification and other types of raster grids with distinct boundaries.

Nearest Neighbor Interpolation
Nearest Neighbor Interpolation

When is majority resampling used?

It’s most often used for discrete data. For example, if the filter window finds 3 cells of agriculture land cover and 2 cells of road, the output data set will be classified as agriculture. This is because the agriculture land cover class is the most popular cell within the filter window. When compared with nearest neighbor resampling, the resulting data set will often be smoother.

Discrete Raster
Discrete Raster

The Main Takeaway

Image processing has become more and more important to create images at different resolutions and coordinate system conversions. This is why image resampling techniques are being used such as nearest neighbor, bilinear interpolation, cubic convolution and majority interpolation.

In GIS, nearest neighbor resampling does not change any of the values of the output cells from the input raster dataset. This makes nearest neighbor suitable for discrete data like land cover classification maps. While nearest neighbor resampling took the cell center from the input raster data set, majority resampling is based on the most common values found within the filter window.

The bilinear interpolation technique works best for continuous data. This is because output cells are calculated based on the relative position of the four nearest values from the input grid. When you have even more noise in the input raster grid, this is when cubic convolution can be more advantageous. It smooths out the output grid because it takes the 16 nearest cells from the input data set.

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