Spatially explicit representations of vegetation canopy height over large regions are necessary for a wide variety of inventory, monitoring, and modeling activities. Although airborne lidar data has been successfully used to develop vegetation canopy height maps in many regions, for vast, sparsely populated regions such as the boreal forest biome, airborne lidar is not widely available. An alternative approach to canopy height mapping in areas where airborne lidar data is limited is to use spaceborne lidar measurements in combination with multi-angular and multi-spectral remote sensing data to produce comprehensive canopy height maps for the entire region. This study uses spaceborne lidar data from the Geosciences Laser Altimeter System (GLAS) as training data for regression tree models that incorporate multi-angular and multi-spectral data from the Multi-Angle Imaging Spectroradiometer (MISR) and the Moderate Resolution Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MODIS) to map vegetation canopy height across a 1,300,000 km2 swath of boreal forest in Interior Alaska. Results are compared to in situ height measurements as well as airborne lidar data. Although many of the GLAS-derived canopy height estimates are inaccurate, applying a series of filters incorporating both data associated with the GLAS shots as well as ancillary data such as land cover can identify the majority of height estimates with significant errors, resulting in a filtered dataset with much higher accuracy. Results from the regression tree models indicate that late winter MISR imagery acquired under snow-covered conditions is effective for mapping canopy heights ranging from 5 to 15 m, which includes the vast majority of forests in the region. It appears that neither MISR nor MODIS imagery acquired during the growing season is effective for canopy height mapping, although including summer multi-spectral MODIS data along with winter MISR imagery does appear to provide a slight increase in the accuracy of resulting height maps. The finding that winter, snow-covered MISR imagery can be used to map canopy height is important because clear sky days are nearly three times as common during the late winter period as during the growing season. The increased odds of acquiring cloud-free imagery during the target acquisition period make regularly updated forest height inventories for Interior Alaska much more feasible. A major advantage of the GLAS–MISR–MODIS canopy height mapping methodology described here is that this approach uses only data that is freely available worldwide, making the approach potentially applicable across the entire circumpolar boreal forest region.
Additional publication details
A multi-sensor lidar, multi-spectral and multi-angular approach for mapping canopy height in boreal forest regions