In this paper we evaluate the potential of ENVISAT–Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS) fused images for land-cover mapping and vegetation status assessment in heterogeneous landscapes. A series of MERIS fused images (15 spectral bands; 25 m pixel size) is created using the linear mixing model and a Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) image acquired over the Netherlands. First, the fused images are classified to produce a map of the eight main land-cover types of the Netherlands. Subsequently, the maps are validated using the Dutch land-cover/ land-use database as a reference. Then, the fused image with the highest overall classification accuracy is selected as the best fused image. Finally, the best fused image is used to compute three vegetation indices: the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) and two indices specifically designed to monitor vegetation status using MERIS data: the MERIS terrestrial chlorophyll index (MTCI) and the MERIS global vegetation index (MGVI).
Results indicate that the selected data fusion approach is able to downscale MERIS data to a Landsat-like spatial resolution. The spectral information in the fused images originates fully from MERIS and is not influenced by the TM data. Classification results for the TM and for the best fused image are similar and, when comparing spectrally similar images (i.e. TM with no short-wave infrared bands), the results of the fused image outperform those of TM. With respect to the vegetation indices, a good correlation was found between the NDVI computed from TM and from the best fused image (in spite of the spectral differences between these two sensors). In addition, results show the potential of using MERIS vegetation indices computed from fused images to monitor individual fields. This is not possible using the original MERIS full resolution image. Therefore, we conclude that MERIS–TM fused images are very useful to map heterogeneous landscapes.