The GEDI simulator: A large-footprint waveform lidar simulator for calibration and validation of spaceborne missions

Steven Hancock, John Armston, Michelle Hofton, Xiaoli Sun, Hao Tang, Laura I. Duncanson, James R. Kellner, Ralph Dubayah

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


NASA's Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) is a spaceborne lidar mission which will produce near global (51.6°S to 51.6°N) maps of forest structure and above‐ground biomass density during its 2‐year mission. GEDI uses a waveform simulator for calibration of algorithms and assessing mission accuracy. This paper implements a waveform simulator, using the method proposed in Blair and Hofton (1999;, and builds upon that work by adding instrument noise and by validating simulated waveforms across a range of forest types, airborne laser scanning (ALS) instruments, and survey configurations. The simulator was validated by comparing waveform metrics derived from simulated waveforms against those derived from observed large‐footprint, full‐waveform lidar data from NASA's airborne Land, Vegetation, and Ice Sensor (LVIS). The simulator was found to produce waveform metrics with a mean bias of less than 0.22 m and a root‐mean‐square error of less than 5.7 m, as long as the ALS data had sufficient pulse density. The minimum pulse density required depended upon the instrument. Measurement errors due to instrument noise predicted by the simulator were within 1.5 m of those from observed waveforms and 70–85% of variance in measurement error was explained. Changing the ALS survey configuration had no significant impact on simulated metrics, suggesting that the ALS pulse density is a sufficient metric of simulator accuracy across the range of conditions and instruments tested. These results give confidence in the use of the simulator for the pre‐launch calibration and performance assessment of the GEDI mission.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)294-310
JournalEarth and Space Science
Issue number2
Early online date6 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - 27 Feb 2019


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