Linking Terrestrial LiDAR Scanner and Conventional Forest Structure Measurements with Multi-Modal Satellite Data

Mulatu, Kalkidan; Decuyper, Mathieu; Brede, Benjamin; Kooistra, Lammert; Reiche, Johannes; Mora, Brice; Herold, Martin


Obtaining information on vertical forest structure requires detailed data acquisition and analysis which is often performed at a plot level. With the growing availability of multi-modal satellite remote sensing (SRS) datasets, their usability towards forest structure estimation is increasing. We assessed the relationship of PlanetScope-, Sentinel-2-, and Landsat-7-derived vegetation indices (VIs), as well as ALOS-2 PALSAR-2- and Sentinel-1-derived backscatter intensities with a terrestrial laser scanner (TLS) and conventionally measured forest structure parameters acquired from 25 field plots in a tropical montane cloud forest in Kafa, Ethiopia. Results showed that canopy gap-related forest structure parameters had their highest correlation (|r| = 0.4 − 0.48) with optical sensor-derived VIs, while vegetation volume-related parameters were mainly correlated with red-edge- and short-wave infrared band-derived VIs (i.e., inverted red-edge chlorophyll index (IRECI), normalized difference moisture index), and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) backscatters (|r| = −0.57 − 0.49). Using stepwise multi-linear regression with the Akaike information criterion as evaluation parameter, we found that the fusion of different SRS-derived variables can improve the estimation of field-measured structural parameters. The combination of Sentinel-2 VIs and SAR backscatters was dominant in most of the predictive models, while IRECI was found to be the most common predictor for field-measured variables. The statistically significant regression models were able to estimate cumulative plant area volume density with an R2 of 0.58 and with the lowest relative root mean square error (RRMSE) value (0.23). Mean gap and number of gaps were also significantly estimated, but with higher RRMSE (R2 = 0.52, RRMSE = 1.4, R2 = 0.68, and RRMSE = 0.58, respectively). The models showed poor performance in predicting tree density and number of tree species (R2 = 0.28, RRMSE = 0.41, and R2 = 0.21, RRMSE = 0.39, respectively). This exploratory study demonstrated that SRS variables are sensitive to retrieve structural differences of tropical forests and have the potential to be used to upscale biodiversity relevant field-based forest structure estimates.