Removing bias from LiDAR-based estimates of canopy height: Accounting for the effects of pulse density and footprint size

Airborne laser scanning (LiDAR) is used in forest inventories to quantify stand structure with three dimensional point clouds. However, the structure of point clouds depends not only on stand structure, but also on the LiDAR instrument, its settings, and the pattern of flight. The resulting variation between and within datasets (particularly variation in pulse density and footprint size) can induce spurious variation in LiDAR metrics such as maximum height (hmax) and mean height of the canopy surface model (Cmean). In this study, we first compare two LiDAR datasets acquired with different parameters, and observe that hmax and Cmean are 56 cm and 1.0 m higher, respectively, when calculated using the high-density dataset with a small footprint. Then, we present a model that explains the observed bias using probability theory, and allows us to recompute the metrics as if the density of pulses were infinite and the size of the two footprints were equivalent. The model is our first step in developing methods for correcting various LiDAR metrics that are used for area-based prediction of stand structure. Such methods may be particularly useful for monitoring forest growth over time, given that acquisition parameters often change between inventories.

Jean-Romain Roussel, John Caspersen, Martin Béland, Sean Thomas, &Alexis Achima
Remote Sensing of Environment