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LiDAR based prediction of forest biomass using hierarchical models with spatially varying coefficients

Formally Refereed
Authors: Chad Babcock, Andrew O. Finley, John B. Bradford, Randy Kolka, Richard Birdsey, Michael G. Ryan
Year: 2015
Type: Scientific Journal (JRNL)
Station: Northern Research Station
Source: Remote Sensing of Environment. 169: 113-127.


Many studies and production inventory systems have shown the utility of coupling covariates derived from Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data with forest variables measured on georeferenced inventory plots through regression models. The objective of this study was to propose and assess the use of a Bayesian hierarchical modeling framework that accommodates both residual spatial dependence and non-stationarity of model covariates through the introduction of spatial random effects. We explored this objective using four forest inventory datasets that are part of the North American Carbon Program, each comprising point-referenced measures of above-ground forest biomass and discrete LiDAR. For each dataset, we considered at least five regression model specifications of varying complexity. Models were assessed based on goodness of fit criteria and predictive performance using a 10-fold cross-validation procedure. Results showed that the addition of spatial random effects to the regression model intercept improved fit and predictive performance in the presence of substantial residual spatial dependence. Additionally, in some cases, allowing either some or all regression slope parameters to vary spatially, via the addition of spatial randomeffects, further improved model fit and predictive performance. In other instances, models showed improved fit but decreased predictive performance—indicating over-fitting and underscoring the need for cross-validation to assess predictive ability. The proposed Bayesian modeling framework provided access to pixel-level posterior predictive distributions that were useful for uncertainty mapping, diagnosing spatial extrapolation issues, revealing missing model covariates, and discovering locally significant parameters.


Bayesian hierarchical models, Markov chain Monte Carlo, Gaussian process, Geospatial, LiDAR, Forest biomass


Babcock, Chad; Finley, Andrew O.; Bradford, John B.; Kolka, Randall; Birdsey, Richard; Ryan, Michael G. 2015. LiDAR based prediction of forest biomass using hierarchical models with spatially varying coefficients. Remote Sensing of Environment. 169: 113-127.