Improved forest height estimation by fusion of simulated GEDI Lidar data and TanDEM-X InSAR data

Wenlu Qi, Seung-kuk Lee, Steven Hancock, Scott Luthcke, Hao Tang, John Armston, Ralph Dubayah

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) and lidar are increasingly used active remote sensing techniques for forest structure observation. The TanDEM-X (TDX) InSAR mission of German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the upcoming Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) together may provide more accurate estimates of global forest structure and biomass via their synergic use. In this paper, we explored the efficacy of simulated GEDI data in improving height estimates from TDX InSAR data. Our study sites span three major forest types: a temperate forest, a mountainous conifer forest, and a tropical rainforest. The GEDI lidar coverage was simulated for the full nominal two-year mission duration, under both cloud-free and 50%-cloud conditions. We then used these GEDI data to parameterize the Random Volume over Ground (RVoG) model driven by TDX imagery. In particular, we explored the following three strategies for forest structure estimation: 1) TDX data alone; 2) TDX + GEDI-derived digital terrain model (DTM); and 3) TDX + GEDI DTM + GEDI canopy height. We then validated the retrieved forest heights against wall-to-wall airborne lidar measurements. We found relatively large biases at 90 [m] spatial resolution, from 4.2–11.9 [m], and root mean square errors (RMSEs), from 7.9–12.7 [m] when using TDX data alone under constrained RVoG assumptions of a fixed extinction coefficient (σ) and a zero ground-to-volume amplitude ratio (μ = 0). Results improved significantly with the aid of a DTM derived from GEDI data which enabled estimation of spatially-varying σ values (vs. fixed extinction) under a μ = 0 assumption, with biases reduced to 1.7–4.2 [m] and RMSEs to 4.9–8.6 [m] across cloudy and cloud-free cases. The best agreement was achieved in the third strategy by also incorporating information of GEDI-derived canopy height to further enhance the RVoG parameters. The improved model, when still assuming μ = 0, reduced biases to less than or close to 1 m and further reduced RMSEs to 4.0–6.7 [m]. Finally, we used GEDI data to estimate spatially-varying μ in the RVoG model. We found biases of between −0.7–0.9 [m] and RMSEs in the range from 2.6–7.1 [m] over the three sites. Our results suggest that use of GEDI data improves height inversion from TDX, providing heights at more accuracy than can be achieved by TDX alone, and enabling wall-to-wall height estimation at much finer spatial resolution than can be achieved by GEDI alone.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)621-634
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Early online date12 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019


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