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Pilot project to calibrate ICESat satellite laser data

with airborne LiDAR.

Developing a new dataset for forest height and cover across Australia
Alex Lee1,
Peter Scarth2, Adam Gerrand3.

1. The Fenner School, Australian National University and DIGO

2. Queensland government SLATS team, QDNRW.
3. Bureau of Rural Sciences
Pilot Project Aims

 To investigate the Australian use of ICESat satellite laser data for the
National Forest Inventory, to improve forest sampling of height and
cover, national reporting and monitoring.

 Collaboration between the Queensland government Statewide Land

and Tree Survey (SLATS) team, ANU, BRS, and CSIRO.

 SLATS investigating ICESat data to help improve their Foliage

Projective Cover (FPC) and vegetation change detection processes

 CSIRO looking at ICESat data to improve continental DEM derived

from satellite radar, with potential for vegetation height layer.
What is ICESat?

 ICESat (Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite) is a spaceborne LIDAR

platform, primarily used to measure ice change at the poles, using the
Geoscience Laser Altimeter System (GLAS)
 The laser transmits very short pulses of infrared light and visible
green light
 Photons reflected back to spacecraft from Earth and from the
atmosphere, including the inside of clouds, collected in a 1 metre
diameter telescope.
 Laser pulses at 40 times per second will illuminate spots (footprints)
approximately 70 meters in diameter, spaced at 170-meter intervals
 Data is free to download from NASA ~ ICESat website:
What does the data look like?
 GLAS received waveform (below, red) typical of returns from tree cover on flat ground
 transmit pulse waveform is 7 ns (1 m) wide at half the maximum amplitude (black), and
alternate threshold (dotted line),
 alternate signal start & end (horizontal blue lines) and centroid (horizontal dashed blue line),
 ‘‘standard’’ Gaussian fit and centroid (black dashed line),

 ‘‘alternate’’ fits (cyan), &

alternate model fit from
sum of alternate
Gaussians (thick blue line)

 Received waveform &

transmit pulse amplitudes
are scaled separately
 Tree cover shown is
illustrative; it does not
correspond to the location
of the waveform.
Where is the data collected?
 Transects approx
25km apart (vary 500m
- 75km)

 Data collected approx

every 6 months since
Jan 2003

 Variation in lasers
mean that shift in data
collection (appears
transects are
“moving” west to
east) -> 50-500m offset
for subsequent
collection periods
ICESat Calibration – NE Victoria
 27 overlap
 94 footprints
within airborne
 Range of
• Floodplain
• Foothills
• Montane
tall forests
 Project primary
calibration site
ICESat Calibration – Injune, central Qld
• 18 footprints within airborne LiDAR

• Airborne LiDAR located within 150 500 x 150m

sampling units. Study area is 220,000ha in total

• Foothills grazed woodlands and open forests

• dominated by Eucalypt (poplar box,

ironbarks) and

• Callitris species, with

• Angophora, & Acacia also present (mainly


• Secondary calibration site.

ICESat Calibration – SE Queensland
 Brisbane River Lidar – 20 footprints
overlap airborne LiDAR at 5 locations

 SEQ Private Native Forest project lidar – approx 11

overlap locations. Airborne LiDAR not yet checked
for number of footprints
ICESat Calibration – Other potential locations
Near Mt Isa Near Townsville

intersected ICESat
footprints with their Near Rockhampton
existing LiDAR
holdings (for 2006) Bundaberg

Near Toowoomba
Additionally, SLATS Near Coober Pedy
team have ongoing Near Walgett Near Grafton
LiDAR calibration Near Taree
sites throughout Near Dubbo

Queensland Near Mildura

Near Hay

Near Kingston SE Wimmera Mallee Pipeline project

Near Lismore Near Bunyip

ICESat attribute extraction
 For accurate vegetation comparison, the ICESat footprint shape and
size needs to be accurately portrayed within the airborne LiDAR.
Parameters for this have been extracted.
 Different lasers on satellite used over time – changes footprint shape
Selecting LiDAR in the ICESat footprint

 The ICESat data point is queried for the centre location coordinates,
diameter, azimuth and shape (‘eccentricity’ = circle → ellipse)

 These parameters are

input into an elliptical
formula, where each
LiDAR return is
checked to see if it
occurs within the
footprint area
Extracting physical attributes from LiDAR
 A range of physical attributes
were extracted from LiDAR
• Slope – absolute ( from max –
min elevation in footprint), and
mean slope from 20 x 20m cells.
• Mean elevation across footprint
• Elevation range (max veg – min

• Max tree height (m)

• Predominant tree height (m)
across 10 x 10m cells
• Foliage cover (% returns) @ 0.5
and 2 m height
• Crown cover (%) (from crown
delineation results)
Extracting Height Information
 3 potential vegetation height parameters:
 centroid_height - distance from centre of ground
pulse to centre of highest veg pulse
 fit_height - third parameter in the weibull
distribution used to fit the cumulative vegetation
profile - ( p[1] *exp (-p[2] * ( height x / p[3] )p[4] ))
 veg_height - Height where the cumulative FPC
greater than 2m crosses 95%
Ground Elevation Comparisons – NE Victoria

 NE Victoria - mean elevation difference 1.67 m

(stdev = 3.12 m, range –3.04 → 12.66 m)
 Many locations had ICESat
with generally higher ground
elevation, possibly due to:
• denser canopies,
• greater understorey
presence, and
• effect of slope in steeper
• Definite ecozone / elevation
 Those that recorded lower
ICESat elevations were
generally in riparian zones,
where the 70-100m footprint
could be influenced by
terrain lower down river
Ground Elevation Comparisons –Qld
 Injune - mean elevation difference was 0.16 m (sd
= 1.31 m, range -2.0 → 2.73 m).

 Close match to airborne lidar elevation possibly due to:

• open canopies found in semi-arid environment,
• generally flat terrain
 Indicates that ground elevation results may be good for
most of Australia

 Brisbane River mean elevation difference of 1.71 m

(sd = 4.52 m, range -18.86 → 4.59 m).

 ICESat value was mostly lower than LiDAR value,

 Possibly larger footprint area recording range of

elevation across stream bank slope, rather than at the
footprint centre point higher up bank

 The large 19 m difference observed at one site could

be the result of the ICESat footprint overlapping a
riverbank cliff
Ground Elevation Comparisons by Ecozone
(NE Victoria)
Validation of ICESat attributes with LiDAR

 Best forest height

comparisons were
for max elevation
range and
predominant height

 Crown and Foliage

Cover comparisons
rather poor
Quality Assessment for ICESat result by Ecozone

Good = within 10% or 5m of LiDAR value, Poor = >20% or 10m of LiDAR

Good – 33%
Marg. – 26%
Poor – 41%

Good – 54%
Marg. – 18%
Poor – 28%
Vegetation Case Study
Vegetation Case Study Results
Vegetation Case Study Results

 Higher tree cover + Mid-

lower slope = improved slope
ICESat veg structure

Riparian Strip
ICESat Version 26 and 28
 Version 26 – Aug 2006
 Version 28 – Dec 2006

 Version 26
• ~ 1.9 million footprints
• FPC, 3 potential veg
• Range of locations
• Older processing
 Version 28
• ~ 2.6 million footprints
• Different FPC, 3 veg hts
• Less transects
• Newer algorithms, more
consistently applied • 2008 update ~ 4 million footprints across Aust
(older data reprocessed)
Version 26 & 28 continental results
 Issues with Version 26 vs Version 26 continental summary
NFI data:
• Only 50% non-forest,
(NFI ~ 80%)
• Too much open forest
(by ~ 30%)
• Too much low forest
(by ~25%)
Version 28 continental summary
 Version 28 improvements:
• Non forest within ~5%
• All height classes within 5%
wrt NFI
• Open and closed forest
within 6%
• Woodland still
Enhanced national forest reporting
 NFI could report forest structure distributions as well as class

 Provides improved assessment and monitoring of more subtle

changes in height and cover

 Improved calibration of other remotely sensed data when using

continuous, rather than categorical, data
 ICESat data has been successfully extracted

 Compared to airborne Lidar for 94 points at 3 main sites

 Strong agreement in ground elevation with airborne LiDAR

 Weaker but still reasonable relationship for forest height and

cover in some cases:
• Better for flatter terrain, with more open & shorter forests
• Less reliable for taller dense forests on steeper terrain
Conclusions cont…
 Potential for forest vertical structure – but further calibration
required for consistent extraction across environments

 Currently over ~4 million footprints across Australia, great

sampling tool with preliminary results showing promise
compared to existing NFI data

 National collaboration encouraged to share information

• build a set of shared forest height and inventory data that can be used
to calibrate, validate and develop modelling techniques