Prediction of Canopy Heights over a Large Region Using Heterogeneous Lidar Datasets: Efficacy and Challenges
Thomas, Valerie A.
Coulston, John W.
Wynne, Randolph H.
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Generating accurate and unbiased wall-to-wall canopy height maps from airborne lidar data for large regions is useful to forest scientists and natural resource managers. However, mapping large areas often involves using lidar data from different projects, with varying acquisition parameters. In this work, we address the important question of whether one can accurately model canopy heights over large areas of the Southeastern US using a very heterogeneous dataset of small-footprint, discrete-return airborne lidar data (with 76 separate lidar projects). A unique aspect of this effort is the use of nationally uniform and extensive field data (~1800 forested plots) from the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program of the US Forest Service. Preliminary results are quite promising: Over all lidar projects, we observe a good correlation between the 85th percentile of lidar heights and field-measured height (r = 0.85). We construct a linear regression model to predict subplot-level dominant tree heights from distributional lidar metrics (R2 = 0.74, RMSE = 3.0 m, n = 1755). We also identify and quantify the importance of several factors (like heterogeneity of vegetation, point density, the predominance of hardwoods or softwoods, the average height of the forest stand, slope of the plot, and average scan angle of lidar acquisition) that influence the efficacy of predicting canopy heights from lidar data. For example, a subset of plots (coefficient of variation of vegetation heights <0.2) significantly reduces the RMSE of our model from 3.0–2.4 m (~20% reduction). We conclude that when all these elements are factored into consideration, combining data from disparate lidar projects does not preclude robust estimation of canopy heights.