Forest inventory stand height estimates from very high spatial resolution satellite imagery calibrated with lidar plots

Mora, B.; Wulder, M.A.; Hobart, G.W.; White, J.C.; Bater, C.W.; Gougeon, F.A.; Varhola, A.; Coops, N.C.


Many areas of forest across northern Canada are challenging to monitor on a regular basis as a result of their large extent and remoteness. Although no forest inventory data typically exist for these northern areas, detailed and timely forest information for these areas is required to support national and international reporting obligations. We developed and tested a sample-based approach that could be used to estimate forest stand height in these remote forests using panchromatic Very High Spatial Resolution (VHSR, <1 m) optical imagery and light detection and ranging (lidar) data. Using a study area in central British Columbia, Canada, to test our approach, we compared four different methods for estimating stand height using stand-level and crown-level metrics generated from the VHSR imagery. 'Lidar plots' (voxel-based samples of lidar data) are used for calibration and validation of the VHSR-based stand height estimates, similar to the way that field plots are used to calibrate photogrammetric estimates of stand height in a conventional forest inventory or to make empirical attribute estimates from multispectral digital remotely sensed data. A k-nearest neighbours (k-NN) method provided the best estimate of mean stand height (R-2 = 0.69; RMSE = 2.3 m, RMSE normalized by the mean value of the estimates (RMSE-%) = 21) compared with linear regression, random forests, and regression tree methods. The approach presented herein demonstrates the potential of VHSR panchromatic imagery and lidar to provide robust and representative estimates of stand height in remote forest areas where conventional forest inventory approaches are either too costly or are not logistically feasible. While further evaluation of the methods is required to generalize these results over Canada to provide robust and representative estimation, VHSR and lidar data provide an opportunity for monitoring in areas for which there is no detailed forest inventory information available.