Using LiDAR and normalized difference vegetation index to remotely determine LAI and percent canopy cover at varying scales
Griffin, Alicia Marie Rutledge
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The use of airborne LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) as a direct method to evaluate forest canopy parameters is vital in addressing both forest management and ecological concerns. The overall goal of this study was to develop the use of airborne LiDAR in evaluating canopy parameters such as percent canopy cover (PCC) and leaf area index (LAI) for mixed pine and hardwood forests (primarily loblolly pine, Pinus taeda, forests) of the southeastern United States. More specific objectives were to: (1) Develop scanning LiDAR and multispectral imagery methods to estimate PCC and LAI over both hardwood and coniferous forests; (2) investigate whether a LiDAR and normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) data fusion through linear regression improve estimates of these forest canopy characteristics; (3) generate maps of PCC and LAI for the study region, and (4) compare local scale LiDAR-derived PCC and regional scale MODIS-based PCC and investigate the relationship. Scanning LiDAR data was used to derive local scale PCC estimates, and TreeVaW, a LiDAR software application, was used to locate individual trees to derive an estimate of plot-level PCC. A canopy height model (CHM) was created from the LiDAR dataset and used to determine tree heights per plot. QuickBird multispectral imagery was used to calculate the NDVI for the study area. LiDAR- and NDVI-derived estimates of plot-level PCC and LAI were compared to field observations for 53 plots over 47 square kilometers. Linear regression analysis resulted in models explaining 84% and 78% of the variability associated with PCC and LAI, respectively. For these models to be of use in future studies, LiDAR point density must be 2.5 m. The relationship between regional scale PCC and local scale PCC was investigated by resizing the local scale LiDAR-derived PCC map to lower resolution levels, then determining a regression model relating MODIS data to the local values of PCC. The results from this comparison showed that MODIS PCC data is not very accurate at local scales. The methods discussed in this paper show great potential for improving the speed and accuracy of ecological studies and forest management.