Aboveground biomass mapping of African forest mosaics using canopy texture analysis: toward a regional approach


  • Corresponding Editor: Y. Pan.


In the context of the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions caused by deforestation and forest degradation (the REDD+ program), optical very high resolution (VHR) satellite images provide an opportunity to characterize forest canopy structure and to quantify aboveground biomass (AGB) at less expense than methods based on airborne remote sensing data. Among the methods for processing these VHR images, Fourier textural ordination (FOTO) presents a good method to detect forest canopy structural heterogeneity and therefore to predict AGB variations. Notably, the method does not saturate at intermediate AGB values as do pixelwise processing of available space borne optical and radar signals. However, a regional-scale application requires overcoming two difficulties: (1) instrumental effects due to variations in sun–scene–sensor geometry or sensor-specific responses that preclude the use of wide arrays of images acquired under heterogeneous conditions and (2) forest structural diversity including monodominant or open canopy forests, which are of particular importance in Central Africa. In this study, we demonstrate the feasibility of a rigorous regional study of canopy texture by harmonizing FOTO indices of images acquired from two different sensors (Geoeye-1 and QuickBird-2) and different sun–scene–sensor geometries and by calibrating a piecewise biomass inversion model using 26 inventory plots (1 ha) sampled across very heterogeneous forest types. A good agreement was found between observed and predicted AGB (residual standard error [RSE] = 15%; R2 = 0.85; P < 0.001) across a wide range of AGB levels from 26 Mg/ha to 460 Mg/ha, and was confirmed by cross validation. A high-resolution biomass map (100-m pixels) was produced for a 400-km2 area, and predictions obtained from both imagery sources were consistent with each other (r = 0.86; slope = 1.03; intercept = 12.01 Mg/ha). These results highlight the horizontal structure of forest canopy as a powerful descriptor of the entire forest stand structure and heterogeneity. In particular, we show that quantitative metrics resulting from such textural analysis offer new opportunities to characterize the spatial and temporal variation of the structure of dense forests and may complement the toolbox used by tropical forest ecologists, managers or REDD+ national monitoring, reporting and verification bodies.