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58 Characterizing Forest Canopy Structure and Ground Topography Using Lidar

Part 5. Remote Sensing

  1. Ralph Dubayah1,
  2. Birgit Peterson1,
  3. Joshua Rhoads1,
  4. William E Dietrich2

Published Online: 15 APR 2006

DOI: 10.1002/0470848944.hsa058

Encyclopedia of Hydrological Sciences

Encyclopedia of Hydrological Sciences

How to Cite

Dubayah, R., Peterson, B., Rhoads, J. and Dietrich, W. E. 2006. Characterizing Forest Canopy Structure and Ground Topography Using Lidar. Encyclopedia of Hydrological Sciences. 5:58.

Author Information

  1. 1

    University of Maryland, Department of Geography, College Park, MD, US

  2. 2

    University of California, Department of Earth and Planetary Science, Berkeley, CA, US

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 APR 2006


Remote sensing observations increasingly are used to obtain the detailed information needed about land surface state required for hydrological analyses. However, many of the surface state parameters required for such analyses are related to the vertical structures of surface vegetation and topography, that are often difficult to measure using passive optical and radar remote sensing technologies. A new technology, lidar (light detection and ranging) remote sensing, has proven highly effective for characterizing land surface structure in great detail, including subcanopy topography, canopy height, foliar profile and biomass, among others. In this article, we review the theory and application of lidar remote sensing for characterizing land surface states for hydrological analysis. First we present a brief overview of lidar, and discuss similarities and distinctions between the small-footprint systems commonly used in commercial applications and large-footprint approaches used in research and space-based systems. We next describe common land surface variables that are often used in hydrological analysis and how these are related to vertical structures observable from lidar. Lastly, we present how lidar may be used to recover or parameterize these surface variables; in particular we focus on the observation of forest and topographic structures.


  • lidar;
  • remote sensing;
  • canopy structure;
  • laser altimetry;
  • subcanopy topography