Exploring the Relationship between Forest Canopy Height and Canopy Density from Spaceborne LiDAR Observations

Heather Kay*, Maurizio Santoro, Oliver Cartus, Pete Bunting, Richard Lucas

*Corresponding author for this work

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Forest structure is a useful proxy for carbon stocks, ecosystem function and species diversity, but it is not well characterised globally. However, Earth observing sensors, operating in various modes, can provide information on different components of forests enabling improved understanding of their structure and variations thereof. The Ice, Cloud and Elevation Satellite (ICESat) Geoscience Laser Altimeter System (GLAS), providing LiDAR footprints from 2003 to 2009 with close to global coverage, can be used to capture elements of forest structure. Here, we evaluate a simple allometric model that relates global forest canopy height (RH100) and canopy density measurements to explain spatial patterns of forest structural properties. The GLA14 data product (version 34) was applied across subdivisions of the World Wildlife Federation ecoregions and their statistical properties were investigated. The allometric model was found to correspond to the ICESat GLAS metrics (median mean squared error, MSE: 0.028; inter-quartile range of MSE: 0.022–0.035). The relationship between canopy height and density was found to vary across biomes, realms and ecoregions, with denser forest regions displaying a greater increase in canopy density values with canopy height, compared to sparser or temperate forests. Furthermore, the single parameter of the allometric model corresponded with the maximum canopy density and maximum height values across the globe. The combination of the single parameter of the allometric model, maximum canopy density and maximum canopy height values have potential application in frameworks that target the retrieval of above-ground biomass and can inform on both species and niche diversity, highlighting areas for conservation, and potentially enabling the characterisation of biophysical drivers of forest structure.
Original languageEnglish
Article number4961
Number of pages15
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - 07 Dec 2021


  • Canopy density
  • Canopy height
  • Forest structure


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