Estimating canopy structure in an Amazon forest from laser range finder and IKONOS satellite observations

Gregory P. Asner, Michael Palace, Michael Keller, Rodrigo Pereira, Jose N.M. Silva, Johan C. Zweede

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

100 Scopus citations


Canopy structural data can be used for biomass estimation and studies of carbon cycling, disturbance, energy balance, and hydrological processes in tropical forest ecosystems. Scarce information on canopy dimensions reflects the difficulties associated with measuring crown height, width, depth, and area in tall, humid tropical forests. New field and spaceborne observations provide an opportunity to acquire these measurements, but the accuracy and reliability of the methods are unknown. We used a handheld laser range finder to estimate tree crown height, diameter, and depth in a lowland tropical forest in the eastern Amazon, Brazil, for a sampling of 300 trees stratified by diameter at breast height (DBH). We found significant relationships between DBH and both tree height and crown diameter derived from the laser measurements. We also quantified changes in crown shape between tree height classes, finding a significant but weak positive trend between crown depth and width. We then compared the field-based measurements of crown diameter and area to estimates derived manually from panchromatic 0.8 m spatial resolution IKONOS satellite imagery. Median crown diameter derived from satellite observations was 78 percent greater than that derived from field-based laser measurements. The statistical distribution of crown diameters from IKONOS was biased toward larger trees, probably due to merging of smaller tree crowns, underestimation of understory trees, and overestimation of individual crown dimensions. The median crown area derived from IKONOS was 65 percent higher than the value modeled from field-based measurements. We conclude that manual interpretation of IKONOS satellite data did not accurately estimate distributions of tree crown dimensions in a tall tropical forest of eastern Amazonia. Other methods will be needed to more accurately estimate crown dimensions from high spatial resolution satellite imagery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)483-492
Number of pages10
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Allometry
  • Amazon
  • Biomass
  • Brazil
  • Canopy dimensions
  • Forest canopy
  • IKONOS laser

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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