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Simple method for direct crown base height estimation of individual conifer trees using airborne LiDAR data.


Crown base height (CBH) is an essential tree biophysical parameter for many applications in forest management, forest fuel treatment, wildfire modeling, ecosystem modeling and global climate change studies. Accurate and automatic estimation of CBH for individual trees is still a challenging task. Airborne light detection and ranging (LiDAR) provides reliable and promising data for estimating CBH. Various methods have been developed to calculate CBH indirectly using regression-based means from airborne LiDAR data and field measurements. However, little attention has been paid to directly calculate CBH at the individual tree scale in mixed-species forests without field measurements. In this study, we propose a new method for directly estimating individual-tree CBH from airborne LiDAR data. Our method involves two main strategies: 1) removing noise and understory vegetation for each tree; and 2) estimating CBH by generating percentile ranking profile for each tree and using a spline curve to identify its inflection points. These two strategies lend our method the advantages of no requirement of field measurements and being efficient and effective in mixed-species forests. The proposed method was applied to a mixed conifer forest in the Sierra Nevada, California and was validated by field measurements. The results showed that our method can directly estimate CBH at individual tree level with a root-mean-squared error of 1.62 m, a coefficient of determination of 0.88 and a relative bias of 3.36%. Furthermore, we systematically analyzed the accuracies among different height groups and tree species by comparing with field measurements. Our results implied that taller trees had relatively higher uncertainties than shorter trees. Our findings also show that the accuracy for CBH estimation was the highest for black oak trees, with an RMSE of 0.52 m. The conifer species results were also good with uniformly high R2 ranging from 0.82 to 0.93. In general, our method has demonstrated high accuracy for individual tree CBH estimation and strong potential for applications in mixed species over large areas.

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