Limitations of high resolution satellite stereo imagery for estimating canopy height in Australian tropical savannas

Grigorijs Goldbergs, Stefan W. Maier, Shaun R. Levick, Andrew Edwards

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Obtaining reliable measures of tree canopy height across large areas is a central element of forest inventory and carbon accounting. Recent years have seen an increased emphasis on the use of active sensors like Radar and airborne LiDAR (light detection and scanning) systems to estimate various 3D characteristics of canopy and crown structure that can be used as predictors of biomass. However, airborne LiDAR data are expensive to acquire, and not often readily available across large remote landscapes. In this study, we evaluated the potential of stereo imagery from commercially available Very High Resolution (VHR) satellites as an alternative for estimating canopy height variables in Australian tropical savannas, using a semi-global dense matching (SGM) image-based technique. We assessed and compared the completeness and vertical accuracy of extracted canopy height models (CHMs) from GeoEye 1 and WorldView 1 VHR satellite stereo pairs and summarised the factors influencing image matching effectiveness and quality.
    Our results showed that stereo dense matching using the SGM technique severely underestimates tree presence and canopy height. The highest tree detection rates were achieved by using the near-infrared (NIR) band of GE1 (8–9%). WV1-GE1 cross-satellite (mixed) models did not improve the quality of extracted canopy heights. We consider these poor detection rates and height retrievals to result from: i) the clumping crown structure of the dominant Eucalyptus spp.; ii) their vertically oriented leaves (affecting the bidirectional reflectance distribution function); iii) image band radiometry and iv) wind induced crown movement affecting stereo-pair point matching. Our detailed analyses suggest that current commercially available VHR satellite data (0.5 m resolution) are not well suited to estimating canopy height variables, and therefore above ground biomass (AGB), in Eucalyptus dominated north Australian tropical savanna woodlands.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)83-95
    Number of pages13
    JournalInternational Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation
    Early online date2 Nov 2018
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019


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