Canadian Forest Service Publications

Estimating forest canopy height and terrain relief from GLAS waveform metrics. 2010. Duncanson, L.; Niemann, K.O.; Wulder, M.A. Remote Sensing of Environment 114(1): 138-154.

Year: 2010

Issued by: Pacific Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 31916

Language: English

Availability: Not available through the CFS (click for more information).

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1016/j.rse.2009.08.018

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Quantifying aboveground biomass in forest ecosystems is required for carbon stock estimation, aspects of forest management, and further developing a capacity for monitoring carbon stocks over time. Airborne Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR) systems, of all remote sensing technologies, have been demonstrated to yield the most accurate estimates of aboveground biomass for forested areas over a wide range of biomass values. However, these systems are limited by considerations including large data volumes and high costs. Within the constraints imposed by the nature of the satellite mission, the GeoScience Laser Altimeter System (GLAS) aboard ICESat has provided data conferring information regarding forest vertical structure for large areas at a low end user cost. GLAS data have been demonstrated to accurately estimate forest height and aboveground biomass especially well in topographically smooth areas with homogeneous forested conditions. However in areas with dense forests, high relief, or heterogeneous vegetation cover, GLAS waveforms are more complex and difficult to consistently characterize. We use airborne discrete return LiDAR data to simulate GLAS waveforms and to subsequently deconstruct coregistered GLAS waveforms into vegetation and ground returns. A series of waveform metrics was calculated and compared to topography and vegetation information gleaned from the airborne data. A model to estimate maximum relief directly from waveform metrics was developed with an R2 of 0.76 (n = 110), and used for the classification of the maximum relief of the areas sensed by GLAS. Discriminant analysis was also conducted as an alternative classification technique. A model was also developed estimating forest canopy height from waveform metrics for all of the data (R2 = 0.81, n = 110) and for the three separate relief classes; maximum relief 0–7 m (R2 = 0.83, n = 44), maximum relief 7–15 m (R2 = 0.88, n = 41) and maximum relief > 15 m (R2 = 0.75, n = 25). The moderate relief class model yielded better predictions of forest height than the low relief class model which is attributed to the increasing variability of waveform metrics with terrain relief. The moderate relief class model also yielded better predictions than the high relief class model because of the mixing of vegetation and terrain signals in waveforms from high relief footprints. This research demonstrates that terrain can be accurately modeled directly from GLAS waveforms enabling the inclusion of terrain relief, on a waveform specific basis, as supplemental model input to improve estimates of canopy height.