LASmoons: Alex S. Olpenda

Alex S. Olpenda (recipient of three LASmoons)
Department of Geomatics and Spatial Planning, Faculty of Forestry
Warsaw University of Life Sciences, POLAND

Background:
The Bialowieza Forest is a trans-boundary property along the borders of Poland and Belarus consisting of diverse Central European lowland forest covering a total area of 141,885 hectares. Enlisted as one of the world’s biosphere reserves and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Bialowieza Forest conserves a complex ecosystem that supports vast wildlife including at least 250 species of birds and more than 50 mammals such as wolf, moose, lynx and the largest free-roaming population of the forest’s iconic species, the European bison [1]. The area is also significantly rich in dead wood which becomes a home for countless species of mushrooms, mold, bacteria and insects of which many of them are endangered of extinction [2]. Another factor, aside from soil type, that impacts the species of plant communities growing in the area is humidity [3] which can be considered as a function of solar radiation. Understanding the interactions and dynamics of these elements within the environment is vital for proper management and conservation practices. Sunlight below canopies is a driving force that affects the growth and survival of both fauna and flora directly and indirectly. Measurement and monitoring of this variable is crucial.

The European bison  (image credit to Frederic Demeuse).

Goal:
Remote sensing technology can describe the light condition inside the forest with relatively high spatial and temporal resolutions at large scale. The goal of this research is to develop a predictive model to estimate sub-canopy light condition of Bialowieza Forest inside Poland’s territory using LiDAR data. Aside from common metrics based on heights and intensities, extraction of selected metrics known to infer transmitted light are also to be done. Returns that belong or are close to the ground are a good substitute for sun-rays that reach the forest floor while vegetation-classified returns could be assumed as the ones impeding the light. Relationships between these metrics and to both direct and diffuse sunlight derived from hemispherical photographs will be explored. Furthermore, multiple regression shall then be conducted between the parameters. Previous similar studies have been done successfully but mostly in homogeneous forest. The task might pose a challenge as Bialowieza Forest is a mixture of conifers and broad-leaved trees.

Location map of the study site with 100 random sample plots.

Data:
+
2015 ALS data set obtained using full waveform sensor (Riegl LMS-Q680i)
+ discrete point clouds (average pulse density: 6 points/m²)
+ 134 flightlines with 40% overlap
+ forest inventory data (100 circular plots, 12.62 m radius)
+ colored hemispherical photographs
All of this data is provided by the Forest Research Institute through the ForBioSensing project.

LAStools processing:
1) data quality checking [lasinfo, lasoverlap, lasgrid, lasreturn]
2) merge and clip the LAZ files [las2las]
3) classify ground and non-ground points [lasground]
4) remove low and high outliers [lasheight, lasnoise]
5) create a normalized point cloud [lasheight]
6) compute forestry metrics for each plot [lascanopy]

References:
[1] UNESCO. World Heritage List. Available online (accessed on 2 October 2017).
[2] Polish Tourism Organization. Official Travel Website. Available online (accessed on 3 October 2017).
[3] Bialowieza National Park. Available online (accessed on 3 October 2017).

LASmoons: Martin Buchauer

Martin Buchauer (recipient of three LASmoons)
Cartography & Geomedia Technology
University of Applied Science Munich, GERMANY

Background:
Salt marsh areas provide numerous services such as natural flood defenses, carbon sequestration, agricultural services, and are a valuable coastal habitat for flora, fauna and humans. However, they are not only threatened by the constant rise of sea levels caused by global warming but also by human settlement in coastal areas. A sensible local coastal development is important as it may help to support the development and progression of stressed salt marshes.

Looking South you can see the salt marsh area next to a famous golf course with St Andrews in the background.

Goal:

This research aims to visualize and extract vegetation metrics as well as the temporal analysis of four salt marsh data sets which are derived from terrestrial laser scanning. Located at the South and North shore of the Eden Estuary near St Andrews, Scotland, the scans were acquired in the summer and winter of 2016. Ground based laser scanning is an ideal method of fully reconstructing vegetation structures as well as having the ability to retrieve meaningful metrics such as height, area, and vegetation density. Although this technology has frequently been applied in the area of forestry, its application to salt marsh areas has not yet fully explored.

Data:
+
 TLS data acquired with a Leica HDS6100 (average density of 38000 points/m²)
+ ground control points (field data)

LAStools processing:
1) check the quality of the LiDAR data [lasinfo, lasoverlap, lasgrid]
2) merge and retile the original data with buffers [lastile]
3) classify point clouds into ground and non-ground [lasthin, lasground]
4) create digital terrain (DTM) and digital surface models (DSM) [lasthin, las2dem, blast2dem]

LASmoons: Sebastian Kasanmascheff

Sebastian Kasanmascheff (recipient of three LASmoons)
Forest Inventory and Remote Sensing
Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, GERMANY

Background:
Forest inventories are the backbone of forest management in Germany. In most federal forestry administrations in Germany, they are performed every ten years in order to assure that logging activities are sustainable. The process involves trained foresters who visit each stand (i.e. an area where the forest is similar in terms of age structure and tree species) and perform angle count sampling as developed by Walter Bitterlich in 1984. In a second step the annual growth is calculated using yield tables and finally a harvest volume is derived. There are three particular reasons to investigate how remote sensing can be integrated in the current inventory system:

  1. The current process does not involve random sampling of the sampling points and thus does not offer any measure of the accuracy of the data.
  2. Forest engineers hardly ever rely on the inventory data as a stand-alone basis for logging planning. Most often they rely on intuition alone and on the total volume count that they have to deliver for a wider area every year.
  3. In the last ten years, the collection of high-resolution LiDAR data has become more cost-effective and most federal agencies in Germany have access to it.

In order to be able to integrate the available remote-sensing data for forest inventories in Germany, it is important to tell apart different tree species as well as estimate their volumes.

Hesse is one of the most forested federal states in Germany.

Goal:
The goal of this project is to perform an object-based classification of conifer trees in Northern Hesse based on high-resolution LiDAR and multi-spectral orthophotos. The first step is to delineate the tree crowns. The second step is to perform a semi-automated classification using the spectral signature of the different conifer species.

Data:
+
 DSM (1m), DTM (1m), DSM (0.2 m) of the study area
+ Stereo images with 0.2 m resolution
+ high-resolution LiDAR data (average 10 points/m²)
+ forest inventory data
+ vector files of the individual forest stands
+ ground control points (field data)
All of this data is provided by the Hessian Forest Agency (HessenForst).

LAStools processing:
1) merge and clip the LAZ files [las2las]
2) classify ground and non-ground points [lasground]
3) remove low and high outliers [lasheight, lasnoise]
4) identify buildings within the study area [lasclassify]
5) create a normalized point cloud [lasheight]
6) create a highest-return canopy height model (CHM) [lasthin, las2dem]
7) create a pit-free (CHM) with the spike-free algorithm [las2dem]

LASmoons: Manuel Jurado

Manuel Jurado (recipient of three LASmoons)
Departamento de Ingeniería Topográfica y Cartografía
Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, SPAIN

Background:
The availability of LiDAR data is creating a lot of innovative possibilities in different fields of science, education, and other field of interests. One of the areas that has been deeply impacted by LiDAR is cartography and in particular one highly specialized sub-field of cartography in the domain of recreational and professional orienteering running: the production of high-quality maps for orienteering races (Ditz et al., 2014). These are thematic maps with a lot of fine detail which demands many hours of field work for the map maker. In order to reduce the fieldwork, LiDAR data obtained from Airborne Research Australia (ARA) is going to be used in order to obtain DEM and to extract features that must be included in these maps. The data will be filtered and processed with the help of LAStools.

Final map with symbolism typical for use in orienteering running

Goal:
The goal of this project is to extract either point (boulders, mounds), linear (contours, erosion gullies, cliffs) and area features (vegetation density) that should be drawn in a orienteering map derived from high-resolution LiDAR. Different LiDAR derived raster images are being created: 0.5m DTM, vegetation density (J. Ryyppo, 2013), slope, Sky-View factor (Ž. Kokalj et al., 2011), and shaded relief. The area used is in Renmark, South Australia and the produced map is going to be used for the Australian Orienteering Championships 2018.

Sky-View factor of DTM for same area as shown above.

Data:
+
4 square kilometers of airborne LiDAR data produced by Airborne Research Australia at 18 pulses per square meter using the full waveform scanning LiDAR Q680i-S laser scanner from RIEGL
+ 60 hours of check and validation work in the field

LAStools processing:
1) tile into 500 by 500 meter tiles with 20 meter buffer [lastile]
2) classify isolated points as noise [lasnoise]
3) classify point clouds into ground and non-ground [lasground]
4) create a Digital Terrain Model (DTM) [las2dem]
5) normalize height of points above the ground [lasheight]
6) compute vegetation density metrics [lascanopy]
7) create hillshades of the raster DTMs [blast2dem or GDAL]

References:
Ditz, Robert, Franz Glaner, and Georg Gartner. (2014). “Laser Scanning and Orienteering Maps.” Scientific Journal of Orienteering 19.1.
JRyyppo, Jarkko. (2013). “Karttapullautin vegetation mapping guide”.
Kokalj, Žiga, Zaksek, Klemen, and Oštir, Krištof. (2011). Application of sky-view factor for the visualization of historic landscape features in lidar-derived relief models. Antiquity. 85. 263-273.

LASmoons: Chris J. Chandler

Chris J. Chandler (recipient of three LASmoons)
School of Geography
University of Nottingham, UNITED KINGDOM

Background:
Wetlands provide a range of important ecosystem services: they store carbon, regulate greenhouse gas emissions, provide flood protection as well as water storage and purification. Preserving these services is critical to achieve sustainable environmental management. Currently, mangrove forests are protected in Mexico, however, fresh water wetland forests, which also have high capacity for storing carbon both in the trees and in the soil, are not protected under present legislation. As a result, coastal wetlands in Mexico are threatened by conversion to grazing areas, drainage for urban development and pollution. Given these threats, there is an urgent need to understand the current state and distribution of wetlands to inform policy and protect the ecosystem services provided by these wetlands.
In this project we will combine field data collection, satellite data (i.e. optical remote sensing, radar and LiDAR remote sensing) and modelling to provide an integrated technology for assessing the value of a range of ecosystem services, tested to proof of concept stage based on carbon storage. The outcome of the project will be a tool for mapping the value of a range of ecosystem services. These maps will be made directly available to local stakeholders including policy makers and land users to inform policy regarding forest protection/legislation and aid development of financial incentives for local communities to protect these services.

Wetland classification in the Chiapas region of Mexico

Goal:
At this stage of the project we have characterized wetlands for three priority areas in Mexico (Pantanos de Centla, La Encrucijada and La Mancha). Next stage is the up scaling of the field data at the three study sites using LiDAR data for producing high quality Canopy Height Model (CHM), which has been of great importance for biomass estimation (Ferraz et al., 2016). A high quality CHM will be achieved using LAStools software.

Data:
+
LiDAR provided by the Mexican National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI)
+ average height: 5500 m, mirror angle: +/- 30 degrees, speed: 190 knots
+ collected with Cessna 441, Conquest II system at 1 pts/m².

LAStools processing:
1)
create 1000 meter tiles with 35 meter buffer to avoid edge artifacts [lastile]
2) classify point clouds into ground and non-ground [lasground]
3) normalize height of points above the ground [lasheight]
4) create a Digital Terrain and Surface Model (DTM and DSM) [las2dem]
5) generate a spike-free Canopy Height Model (CHM) as described here and here [las2dem]
6) compute various metrics for each plot and the normalized tiles [lascanopy]

References:
Ferraz, A., Saatchi, S., Mallet, C., Jacquemoud S., Gonçalves G., Silva C.A., Soares P., Tomé, M. and Pereira, L. (2016). Airborne Lidar Estimation of Aboveground Forest Biomass in the Absence of Field Inventory. Remote Sensing, 8(8), 653.

LASmoons: Huaibo Mu

Huaibo Mu (recipient of three LASmoons)
Environmental Mapping, Department of Geography
University College London (UCL), UK

Background:
This study is a part of the EU-funded Metrology for Earth Observation and Climate project (MetEOC-2). It aims to combine terrestrial and airborne LiDAR data to estimate biomass and allometry for woodland trees in the UK. Airborne LiDAR can capture large amounts of data over large areas, while terrestrial LiDAR can provide much more details of high quality in specific areas. The biomass and allometry for individual specific tree species in 1 ha of Wytham Woods located about 5km north west of the University of Oxford, UK are estimated by combining both airborne and terrestrial LiDAR. Then the bias will be evaluated when estimation are applied on different levels: terrestrial LiDAR level, tree level, and area level. The goal are better insights and a controllable error range in the bias of biomass and allometry estimates for woodland trees based on airborne LiDAR.

Goal:
The study aims to find the suitable parameters of allometric equations for different specific species and establish the relationship between the tree height and stem diameter and crown diameter to be able to estimate the above ground biomass using airborne LiDAR. The biomass estimates under different levels are then compared to evaluate the bias and for the total 6ha of Wytham Woods for calibration and validation. Finally the results are to be applied to other woodlands in the UK. The LiDAR processing tasks for which LAStools are used mainly center around the creation of suitable a Canopy Height Model (CHM) from the airborne LiDAR.

Data:
+ Airborne LiDAR data produced by Professor David Coomes (University of Cambridge) with Airborne Research and Survey Facility (ARSF) Project code of RG13_08 in June 2014. The average point density is about 5.886 per m^2.
+ Terrestrial LiDAR data collected by UCL’s team leader by Dr. Mat Disney and Dr. Kim Calders in order to develop very detailed 3D models of the trees.
+ Fieldwork from the project “Initial Results from Establishment of a Long-term Broadleaf Monitoring Plot at Wytham Woods, Oxford, UK” by Butt et al. (2009).

LAStools processing:
1) check LiDAR quality as described in these videos and articles [lasinfo, lasvalidate, lasoverlap, lasgrid, las2dem]
2) classify into ground and non-ground points using tile-based processing  [lastile, lasground]
3) generate a Digital Terrain Model (DTM) [las2dem]
4) compute height of points and delete points higher than maximum tree height obtained from terrestrial LiDAR [lasheight]
5) convert points into disks with 10 cm diameter to conservatively account for laser beam width [lasthin]
6) generate spike-free Digital Surface Model (DSM) based on algorithm by Khosravipour et al. (2016) [las2dem]
7) create Canopy Height Model (CHM) by subtracting DTM from spike-free DSM [lasheight].

References:
Butt, N., Campbell, G., Malhi, Y., Morecroft, M., Fenn, K., & Thomas, M. (2009). Initial results from establishment of a long-term broadleaf monitoring plot at Wytham Woods, Oxford, UK. University Oxford, Oxford, UK, Rep.
Khosravipour, A., Skidmore, A.K., Isenburg, M., Wang, T.J., Hussin, Y.A., (2014). Generating pit-free Canopy Height Models from Airborne LiDAR. PE&RS = Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing 80, 863-872.
Khosravipour, A., Skidmore, A.K., Isenburg, M. and Wang, T.J. (2015) Development of an algorithm to generate pit-free Digital Surface Models from LiDAR, Proceedings of SilviLaser 2015, pp. 247-249, September 2015.
Khosravipour, A., Skidmore, A.K., Isenburg, M (2016) Generating spike-free Digital Surface Models using raw LiDAR point clouds: a new approach for forestry applications, (journal manuscript under review).

Integrating External Ground Points in Forests to Improve DTM from Dense-Matching Photogrammetry

The biggest problem of generating a Digital Terrain Model (DTM) from the photogrammetric point clouds that are produced from aerial imagery with dense-matching software such as SURE, Pix4D, or Photoscan is dense vegetation: when plants completely cover the terrain not a single point is generated on the ground. This is different for LiDAR point clouds as the laser can even penetrate dense multi-level tropical forests. The complete lack of ground points in larger vegetated areas such as closed forests or dense plantations means that the many processing workflows for vegetation analysis that have been developed for LiDAR cannot be used for photogrammetric point clouds  … unless … well unless we are getting those missing ground points some other way. In the following we see how to integrate external ground points to generate a reasonable DTM under a dense forest with LAStools. See this, this, this, this, and this article for further reading.

Here you can download the dense matching point cloud, the manually collected ground points, and the forest stand delineating polygon that we are using in the following example work flow:

We leave the usual inspection of the content with lasinfo and lasview that we always recommend on newly obtained data as an exercise to the reader. Using las2dem and lasgrid we created the Google Earth overlays shown above to visualize the extent of the dense matched point cloud and the distribution of the manually collected ground points:

las2dem -i DenseMatching.laz ^
        -thin_with_grid 1.0 ^
        -extra_pass ^
        -step 2.0 ^
        -hillshade ^
        -odix _hill_2m -opng

lasgrid -i ManualGround.laz ^
        -set_RGB 255 0 0 ^
        -step 10 -rgb ^
        -odix _grid_10m -opng

Attempts to ground-classify the dense matching point cloud directly are futile as there are no ground points under the canopy in the heavily forested area. Therefore 558 ground points were manually surveyed in the forest of interest that are around 50 to 120 meters apart from another. We show how to integrate these points into the dense matching point cloud such that we can successfully extract bare-earth information from the data.

In the first step we “densify” the manually collected ground points by interpolating them with triangles onto a raster of 2 meter resolution that we store as LAZ points with las2dem. You could consider other interpolation schemes to “densify” the ground points, here we use simple linear interpolation to prove the concept. Due to the varying distance between the manually surveyed ground points we allow interpolating triangles with edge lengths of up to 125 meters. These triangles then also cover narrow open areas next to the forest, so we clip the interpolated ground points against the forest stand delineating polygon with lasclip to classify those points that are really in the forest as “key points” (class 8) and all others as “noise” (class 7).

las2dem -i ManualGround.laz ^
        -step 2 ^
        -kill 125 ^
        -odix _2m -olaz

lasclip -i ManualGround_2m.laz ^
        -set_classification 7 ^ 
        -poly forest.shp ^
        -classify_as 8 -interior ^
        -odix _forest -olaz

Below we show the resulting densified ground points colored by elevation that survive the clipping against the forest stand delineating polygon and were classified as “key points” (class 8). The interpolated ground points in narrow open areas next to the forest that fall outside this polygon were classified as “noise” (class 7) and are shown in violet. They will be dropped in the next step.

We then merge the dense matching points with the densified manual ground points (while dropping all the violet points marked as noise) as input to lasthin and reclassify the lowest point per 1 meter by 1 meter with a temporary code (here we use class 9 that usually refers to “water”). Only the subset of lowest points that receives the temporary classification code 9 will be used for ground classification later.

lasthin -i DenseMatching.laz ^
        -i ManualGround_2m_forest.laz ^
        -drop_class 7 ^
        -merged ^
        -lowest -step 1 -classify_as 9 ^
        -o DenseMatchingAndDensifiedGround.laz

We use the GUI of lasview to pick several interesting areas for visual inspection. The selected points load much faster when the LAZ file is spatially indexed and therefore we first run lasindex. For better orientation we also load the forest stand delineating polygon as an overlay into the GUI.

lasindex -i DenseMatchingAndDensifiedGround.laz 

lasview -i DenseMatchingAndDensifiedGround.laz -gui

We pick the area shown below that contains the target forest with manually collected and densified ground points and a forested area with only dense matching points. The difference could not be more drastic as the visualizations show.

Now we run ground classification using lasground with option ‘-town’ using only the points with the temporary code 9 by ignoring all other classifications 0 and 8 in the file. We leave the temporary classification code 9 unchanged for all the points that were not classified with “ground” code 2 so we can visualize later which ones those are.

lasground -i DenseMatchingAndDensifiedGround.laz ^
          -ignore_class 0 8 ^
          -town ^
          -non_ground_unchanged ^
          -o GroundClassified.laz

We again use the GUI of lasview to pick several interesting areas after running lasindex and again load the forest stand delineating polygon as an overlay into the GUI.

lasindex -i GroundClassified.laz 

lasview -i GroundClassified.laz -gui

We pick the area shown below that contains all three scenarios: the target forest with manually collected and densified ground points, an open area with only dense matching points, and a forested area with only dense matching points. The result is as expected: in the target forest the manually collected ground points are used as ground and in the open area the dense-matching points are used as ground. But there is no useful ground in the other forested area.

Now we can compute the heights of the points above ground for our target forest with lasheight and either replace the z elevations in the file of store them separately as “extra bytes”. Then we can compute, for example, a Canopy Height Model (CHM) that color codes the height of the vegetation above the ground with lasgrid. Of course this will only be correct in the target forest where we have “good” ground but not in the other forested areas. We also compute a hillshaded DTM to be able to visually inspect the topography of the generated terrain model.

lasheight -i GroundClassified.laz ^
          -store_as_extra_bytes ^
          -o GroundClassifiedWithHeights.laz

lasgrid -i GroundClassifiedWithHeights.laz ^
        -step 2 ^
        -highest -attribute 0 ^
        -false -set_min_max 0 25 ^
        -o chm.png

las2dem -i GroundClassified.laz ^
        -keep_class 2 -extra_pass ^
        -step 2 ^ 
        -hillshade ^
        -o dtm.png

Here you can download the resulting color-coded CHM and the resulting hill-shaded DTM as Google Earth KMZ overlays. Clearly the resulting CHM is only meaningful in the target forest where we used the manually collected ground points to create a reasonable DTM. In the other forested areas the ground is only correct near the forest edges and gets worse with increasing distance from open areas. The resulting DTM exhibits some interesting looking  bumps in the middle of areas with manually collected ground point. Those are a result of using the dense-matching points as ground whenever their elevation is lower than that of the manually collected points (which is decided in the lasthin step). Whether those bumps represent true elevations of are artifacts of low erroneous elevation from dense-matching remains to be investigated.

For forests on complex and steep terrain the number of ground points that needs to be manually collected may make such an approach infeasible in practice. However, maybe you have another source of elevation, such as a low-resolution DTM of 10 or 25 meter provided by your local government. Or maybe even a high resolution DTM of 1 or 2 meter from a LiDAR survey you did several years ago. While the forest may have grown a lot in the past years, the ground under the forest will probably not have changed much …