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Airborne and Space LiDAR for Forest Inventory

September 10, 2015
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

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Dr. Ross Nelson
NASA – Biospheric Sciences Laboratory
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD

Research Scientist (Retired)


Airborne LiDARs have been used to measure forest canopy characteristics ­e.g., height, canopy density -­‐ for over 30 years. A satellite LiDAR system, ICESat/GLAS, acquired near-­global measurements of canopy heights from 2003-­2007. These ranging measurements can be related to the amount of wood on the ground; simply put, taller, denser forest stands support more wood. Given robust equations which predict dry biomass as a function of LiDAR measurements, and given an appropriate statistical framework, these systems can be used as sampling tools to estimate, over large areas, aboveground forest biomass and carbon (b/c). These systems provide accurate height and density measurements, but their utility for predicting b/c is more limited because the primary driver for predicting biomass is the diameter of a tree, not its height, and not stand density. Despite these limitations, interest in the use of LiDAR technology for natural resource assessment is increasing because (1) LiDARs can economically go where ground crews cannot (or should not), (2) airborne and space lidars LiDARS can sample large areas (counties, states, nations) relatively quickly, and (3) carbon credits are salable and will become moreso with time. This talk will focus on outlining how researchers turn LiDAR measurements into biomass and carbon estimates for large areas and will discuss what the near-­future holds as regards space LiDAR.


Ross Nelson’s primary research activities at Goddard have centered on forestry issues. He initially worked in the optical realm investigating the utility of Landsat MSS, TM, and ETM data for mapping gypsy moth defoliation, spruce budworm damage, and for differentiating primary and secondary tropical forest stands. In 1982, he was handed an early airborne LiDAR data set acquired over primary tropical forest in Costa Rica. At that point, his research interests began to shift to airborne, and eventually space lidar applications to forest mensuration issues. He received his BS in Forest Management from the University of Maine (1974), an MS in Forestry/Remote Sensing from Purdue University (1979), and a PhD in Forest Biometry from Virginia Tech (1994).


September 10, 2015
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm


Rudder Tower, Room 301