A comparison of lidar, radar, and field measurements of canopy height in pine and hardwood forests of southeastern North America

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Forest canopy height is essential information for many forest management activities and is a critical parameter in models of ecosystem processes. Several methods are available to measure canopy height from single-tree to regional and global scales, but the methods vary widely in their sensitivities, leading to different height estimates even for identical stands. We compare four technologies for estimating canopy height in pine and hardwood forests of the Piedmont region of North Carolina, USA: (1) digital elevation data from the global Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) C-band radar interferometry, (2) X- and P-band radar interferometry from the recently developed airborne Geographic Synthetic Aperture Radar (GeoSAR) sensor, (3) small footprint lidar measurements (in pine only), and (4) field measurements acquired by in situ forest mensuration. Differences between measurements were smaller in pine than in hardwood forests, with biases ranging from 5.13 to 12.17m in pine (1.60-13.77m for lidar) compared to 6.60-15.28m in hardwoods and RMSE from 8.40 to 14.21m in pine (4.73-14.92m for lidar) compared to 9.54-16.84 in hardwood. GeoSAR measurements of canopy height were among the most comparable measurements overall and showed potential for successful calibration, with R ² =0.87 in pine canopies and R ² =0.38 in hardwood canopies from simple linear regression. An improved calibration based on differential canopy penetration is presented and applied to SRTM measurements, resulting in canopy height estimates in pine forests with RMSE and standard error <4.00m. Each of the remotely sensed methods studied produces reasonable and consistent depictions of canopy height that can be compared with data of similar provenance, but due to differences in underlying sensitivities between the methods, comparisons between measurements from various sources require cross-calibration and will be most useful at broad scales.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Sexton, JOSEPHO; Bax, TYLER; Siqueira, PAUL; Swenson, JENNIFERJ; Hensley, SCOTT

Published Date

  • February 2009

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 257 / 3

Start / End Page

  • 1136 - 1147

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0378-1127

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/j.foreco.2008.11.022


  • eng