First validation of GEDI canopy heights in African savannas

Xiaoxuan Li, Konrad Wessels, John Armston, Steven Hancock, Renaud Mathieu, Russell Main, Laven Naidoo, Barend Erasmus, Robert Scholes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Savannas have complex, discontinuous woody vegetation structures that vary greatly in vertical and spatial arrangement and change due to climatic, ecological and management impacts. While airborne laser scanning (ALS) data have provided detailed information on vertical vegetation structure and is widely used in ecological studies, it is lacking in availability and repeat frequency. Although the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) waveform Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) sensor and algorithms were optimized for measuring dense forests, it was anticipated that GEDI metrics could provide useful characterization of lower stature, sparse savannas structures. This study provided the first baseline validation of Version 2 GEDI (L2A) relative height 98 (RH98) by comparing the on-orbit GEDI-RH98orb to the simulated GEDI-RH98sim derived from ALS data across diverse savanna vegetation. It furthermore determined the influence of various factors on error, e.g. algorithm setting group (SGs), beam type, day vs. night, beam sensitivity, and vegetation phenology. After applying quality flags, 22,813 GEDI footprints were analyzed across 11 sites. SGs 4–6 that are aimed at dense forests had much larger errors than SGs 1–3. The phenological conditions at the time of GEDI data acquisition had a very large influence on the error of RH98orb. During leaf-on conditions for savanna vegetation with RH98sim < 15 m, RH98orb was very accurate with R2 = 0.61, mean bias = −0.55 m, %bias = −11.1%, RMSE = 1.64 m and %RMSE = 29.8%. In leaf-off conditions where RH98sim < 15 m, RH98orb was less accurate with R2 = 0.43, mean bias = −1.47 m, %bias = −26.5%, RMSE = 2.03 m and %RMSE = 40.9%. During leaf-off conditions, the GEDI LiDAR signal at the start of the waveform may be weaker as it interacts with denuded branches and may be truncated as noise, leading to a large negative height bias. Therefore, assessments of deciduous vegetation structures should be conducted during leaf-on periods. In leaf-on conditions, GEDI's RH98orb was very accurate between canopy heights of 3 and 7 m, with a mean bias of −0.79 m (−10%). The bias of RH98orb was not influenced by canopy cover. Due to the GEDI LiDAR pulse width of 15.6 ns, the GEDI-RH98 data product cannot reliably estimate canopy heights of shrubs below 2.34 m and will require more complex deconvolution of the waveform. GEDI's RH98 accurately estimates the canopy height of trees between 3 and 15 m allowing assessment of canopy heights over vast savanna areas.
Original languageEnglish
Article number113402
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Early online date12 Dec 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2023


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