A Structural Classification of Australian Vegetation Using ICESat/GLAS, ALOS PALSAR and Landsat Sensor Data

Peter Scarth, John A. Armston, Richard Lucas, Pete Bunting

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Australia has historically used structural descriptors of height and cover to characterize, differentiate, and map the distribution of woody vegetation across the continent but no national satellite-based structural classification has been available. In this study, we present a new 30-m spatial resolution reference map of Australian forest and woodland structure (height and cover), with this generated by integrating Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) and Enhanced TM, Advanced Land Observing Satellite (ALOS) Phased Arrayed L-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (PALSAR) and Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation (ICESat),and Geoscience Laser Altimeter System (GLAS) data. ALOS PALSAR and Landsat-derived Foliage Projective Cover (FPC) were used to segment and classify the Australian landscape. Then, from intersecting ICESat waveform data, vertical foliage profiles and height metrics (e.g., 95% percentile height, mean height and the height to maximum vegetation density) were extracted for each of the classes generated. Within each class, and for selected areas, the variability in ICESat profiles was found to be similar with differences between segments of the same class attributed largely to clearance or disturbance events. ICESat metrics and profiles were then assigned to all remaining segments across Australia with the same class allocation. Validation against airborne LiDAR for a range of forest structural types indicated a high degree of correspondence in estimated height measures. On this basis, a map of vegetation height was generated at a national level and was combined with estimates of cover to produce a revised structural classification based on the scheme of the Australian National Vegetation Information System (NVIS). The benefits of integrating the three datasets for segmenting and classifying the landscape and retrieving biophysical attributes was highlighted with this leading the way for future mapping using ALOS-2 PALSAR-2, Landsat/Sentinel-2, Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI), and ICESat-2 LiDAR data. The ability to map across large areas provides considerable benefits for quantifying carbon dynamics and informing on biodiversity metrics.

Original languageEnglish
Article number147
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jan 2019


  • Australia
  • Landsat
  • structure
  • vegetation
  • segmentation
  • Segmentation
  • Vegetation
  • Structure


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