Mapping forest canopy height globally with spaceborne lidar



[1] Data from spaceborne light detection and ranging (lidar) opens the possibility to map forest vertical structure globally. We present a wall-to-wall, global map of canopy height at 1-km spatial resolution, using 2005 data from the Geoscience Laser Altimeter System (GLAS) aboard ICESat (Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite). A challenge in the use of GLAS data for global vegetation studies is the sparse coverage of lidar shots (mean = 121 data points/degree2 for the L3C campaign). However, GLAS-derived canopy height (RH100) values were highly correlated with other, more spatially dense, ancillary variables available globally, which allowed us to model global RH100 from forest type, tree cover, elevation, and climatology maps. The difference between the model predicted RH100 and footprint level lidar-derived RH100 values showed that error increased in closed broadleaved forests such as the Amazon, underscoring the challenges in mapping tall (>40 m) canopies. The resulting map was validated with field measurements from 66 FLUXNET sites. The modeled RH100 versus in situ canopy height error (RMSE = 6.1 m, R2 = 0.5; or, RMSE = 4.4 m, R2 = 0.7 without 7 outliers) is conservative as it also includes measurement uncertainty and sub pixel variability within the 1-km pixels. Our results were compared against a recently published canopy height map. We found our values to be in general taller and more strongly correlated with FLUXNET data. Our map reveals a global latitudinal gradient in canopy height, increasing towards the equator, as well as coarse forest disturbance patterns.