Polar grid fraction as an estimator of montane tropical forest canopy structure using airborne lidar

Nicholas R. Vaughn, Gregory P. Asner, Christian P. Giardina

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The structure of a forest canopy is the key determinant of light transmission, use and understory availability. Airborne light detection and ranging (LiDAR) has been used successfully to measure multiple canopy structural properties, thereby greatly reducing the fieldwork required to map spatial variation in structure. However, lidar metrics to date do not reflect the full extent of the three-dimensional information available from the data. To this end, we developed a new metric, the polar grid fraction (GRID), based on gridding lidar returns in polar coordinates, in order to more closely match measurements provided by field instruments on leaf area index (LAI), gap fraction (GF) and percentage photosynthetically active radiation transmittance (tPAR). The metric summarizes the arrangement of lidar point returns for a single ground location rather than to an area surrounding the location.Compared with more traditional proportion-based and height percentile-based estimators, the GRID estimator increased validation R2 by 14.5% for GF and 6.0% for tPAR over the next best estimator. LAI was still best estimated with the more traditional statistic based on the proportion of ground returns in 14 m × 14 m moving kernels. By applying the models to a 2 × 2 m grid across the lidar coverage area, extreme values occurred in the estimations of all three response variables when using proportion-based and height percentile-based estimators. However, no extreme values were estimated by models using the GRID estimator, indicating that models based on GRID may be less influenced by spurious data. These results suggest that the GRID estimator is a strong candidate for any project requiring estimates of canopy metrics for large areas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7464-7473
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Remote Sensing
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 2013
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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