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Lidar-based estimates of aboveground biomass in the continental US and Mexico using ground, airborne, and satellite observations


Ross Nelson
Hank Margolis
Paul Montesano
Guoqing Sun
Bruce Cook
Larry Corp
Ben deJong
Fernando Paz Pellat
Thaddeus Fickel
Jobriath Kauffman
Stephen Prisley



Publication type:

Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Primary Station(s):

Pacific Northwest Research Station


Remote Sensing of Environment 188: 127-140


Existing national forest inventory plots, an airborne lidar scanning (ALS) system, and a space profiling lidar system (ICESat-GLAS) are used to generate circa 2005 estimates of total aboveground dry biomass (AGB) in forest strata, by state, in the continental United States (CONUS) and Mexico. The airborne lidar is used to link ground observations of AGB to space lidar measurements. Two sets of models are generated, the first relating ground estimates of AGB to airborne laser scanning (ALS) measurements and the second set relating ALS estimates of AGB (generated using the first model set) to GLAS measurements. GLAS then, is used as a sampling tool within a hybrid estimation framework to generate stratum-, state-, and national-level AGB estimates. A two-phase variance estimator is employed to quantify GLAS sampling variability and, additively, ALS-GLAS model variability in this current, three-phase (ground-ALS-space lidar) study. The model variance component characterizes the variability of the regression coefficients used to predict ALS-based estimates of biomass as a function of GLAS measurements. Three different types of predictive models are considered in CONUS to determine which produced biomass totals closest to ground-based national forest inventory estimates - (1) linear (LIN), (2) linear-no-intercept (LNI), and (3) log-linear. For CONUS at the national level, the GLAS LNI model estimate (23.95 ± 0.45 Gt AGB), agreed most closely with the US national forest inventory ground estimate, 24.17 ± 0.06 Gt, i.e., within 1%. The national biomass total based on linear ground-ALS and ALS-GLAS models (25.87 ± 0.49 Gt) overestimated the national ground-based estimate by 7.5%. The comparable log-linear model result (63.29 ± 1.36 Gt) overestimated ground results by 261%. All three national biomass GLAS estimates, LIN, LNI, and log-linear, are based on 241,718 pulses collected on 230 orbits. The US national forest inventory (ground) estimates are based on 119,414 ground plots. At the US state level, the average absolute value of the deviation of LNI GLAS estimates from the comparable ground estimate of total biomass was 18.8% (range: Oregon, − 40.8% to North Dakota, 128.6%). Log-linear models produced gross overestimates in the continental US, i.e., > 2.6x, and the use of this model to predict regional biomass using GLAS data in temperate, western hemisphere forests is not appropriate. The best model form, LNI, is used to produce biomass estimates in Mexico. The average biomass density in Mexican forests is 53.10 ± 0.88 t/ha, and the total biomass for the country, given a total forest area of 688,096 km2, is 3.65 ± 0.06 Gt. In Mexico, our GLAS biomass total underestimated a 2005 FAO estimate (4.152 Gt) by 12% and overestimated a 2007/8 radar study's figure (3.06 Gt) by 19%.


Nelson, Ross; Margolis, Hank; Montesano, Paul; Sun, Guoqing; Cook, Bruce; Corp, Larry; Andersen, Hans-Erik; deJong, Ben; Pellat, Fernando Paz; Fickel, Thaddeus; Kauffman, Jobriath; Prisley, Stephen. 2017. Lidar-based estimates of aboveground biomass in the continental US and Mexico using ground, airborne, and satellite observations. Remote Sensing of Environment. 188: 127-140.


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  • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.