Comparing synthetic aperture radar and LiDAR for above-ground biomass estimation in Glen Affric, Scotland
Tan, Chue Poh
Quantifying above-ground biomass (AGB) and carbon sequestration has been a significant focus of attention within the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol for improvement of national carbon accounting systems (IPCC, 2007; UNFCCC, 2011). A multitude of research has been carried out in relatively flat and homogeneous forests (Ranson & Sun, 1994; Beaudoin et al.,1994; Kurvonen et al., 1999; Austin et al., 2003; Dimitris et al., 2005), yet forests in the highlands, which generally form heterogeneous forest cover and sparse woodlands with mountainous terrain have been largely neglected in AGB studies (Cloude et al., 2001; 2008; Lumsdon et al., 2005; 2008; Erxue et al., 2009, Tan et al., 2010; 2011a; 2011b; 2011c; 2011d). Since mountain forests constitute approximately 28% of the total global forest area (Price and Butt, 2000), a better understanding of the slope effects is of primary importance in AGB estimation. The main objective of this research is to estimate AGB in the aforementioned forest in Glen Affric, Scotland using both SAR and LiDAR data. Two types of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data were used in this research: TerraSAR-X, operating at X-band and ALOS PALSAR, operating at L-band, both are fully polarimetric. The former data was acquired on 13 April 2010 and of the latter, two scenes were acquired on 17 April 2007 and 08 June 2009. Airborne LiDAR data were acquired on 09 June 2007. Two field measurement campaigns were carried out, one of which was done from winter 2006 to spring 2007 where physical parameters of trees in 170 circular plots were measured by the Forestry Commission team. Another intensive fieldwork was organised by myself with the help of my fellow colleagues and it comprised of tree measurement in two transects of 200m x 50m at a relatively flat and dense plantation forest and 400m x 50m at hilly and sparse semi-natural forest. AGB is estimated for both the transects to investigate the effectiveness of the proposed method at plot-level. This thesis evaluates the capability of polarimetric Synthetic Aperture Radar data for AGB estimation by investigating the relationship between the SAR backscattering coefficient and AGB and also the relationship between the decomposed scattering mechanisms and AGB. Due to the terrain and heterogeneous nature of the forests, the result from the backscatter-AGB analysis show that these forests present a challenge for simple AGB estimation. As an alternative, polarimetric techniques were applied to the problem by decomposing the backscattering information into scattering mechanisms based on the approach by Yamaguchi (2005; 2006), which are then regressed to the field measured AGB. Of the two data sets, ALOS PALSAR demonstrates a better estimation capacity for AGB estimation than TerraSAR-X. The AGB estimated results from SAR data are compared with AGB derived from LiDAR data. Since tree height is often correlated with AGB (Onge et al., 2008; Gang et al., 2010), the effectiveness of the tree height retrieval from LiDAR is evaluated as an indicator of AGB. Tree delineation was performed before AGB of individual trees were calculated allometrically. Results were validated by comparison to the fieldwork data. The amount of overestimation varies across the different canopy conditions. These results give some indication of when to use LiDAR or SAR to retrieve forest AGB. LiDAR is able to estimate AGB with good accuracy and the R2 value obtained is 0.97 with RMSE of 14.81 ton/ha. The R2 and RMSE obtained for TerraSAR-X are 0.41 and 28.5 ton/ha, respectively while for ALOS PALSAR data are 0.70 and 23.6 ton/ha, respectively. While airborne LiDAR data with very accurate height measurement and consequent three-dimensional (3D) stand profiles which allows investigation into the relationship between height, number density and AGB, it's limited to small coverage area, or large areas but at large cost. ALOS PALSAR, on the other hand, can cover big coverage area but it provide a lower resolution, hence, lower estimation accuracy.