Non-destructive estimation of individual tree biomass: Allometric models, terrestrial and UAV laser scanning

Benjamin Brede*, Louise Terryn, Nicolas Barbier, Harm M. Bartholomeus, Renée Bartolo, Kim Calders, Géraldine Derroire, Sruthi M. Krishna Moorthy, Alvaro Lau, Shaun R. Levick, Pasi Raumonen, Hans Verbeeck, Di Wang, Tim Whiteside, Jens van der Zee, Martin Herold

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


Calibration and validation of aboveground biomass (AGB) (AGB) products retrieved from satellite-borne sensors require accurate AGB estimates across hectare scales (1 to 100 ha). Recent studies recommend making use of non-destructive terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) based techniques for individual tree AGB estimation that provide unbiased AGB predictors. However, applying these techniques across large sites and landscapes remains logistically challenging. Unoccupied aerial vehicle laser scanning (UAV-LS) has the potential to address this through the collection of high density point clouds across many hectares, but estimation of individual tree AGB based on these data has been challenging so far, especially in dense tropical canopies. In this study, we investigated how TLS and UAV-LS can be used for this purpose by testing different modelling strategies with data availability and modelling framework requirements. The study included data from four forested sites across three biomes: temperate, wet tropical, and tropical savanna. At each site, coincident TLS and UAV-LS campaigns were conducted. Diameter at breast height (DBH) and tree height were estimated from TLS point clouds. Individual tree AGB was estimated for ≥170 trees per site based on TLS tree point clouds and quantitative structure modelling (QSM), and treated as the best available, non-destructive estimate of AGB in the absence of direct, destructive measurements. Individual trees were automatically segmented from the UAV-LS point clouds using a shortest-path algorithm on the full 3D point cloud. Predictions were evaluated in terms of individual tree root mean square error (RMSE) and population bias, the latter being the absolute difference between total tree sample population TLS QSM estimated AGB and predicted AGB. The application of global allometric scaling models (ASM) at local scale and across data modalities, i.e., field-inventory and light detection and ranging LiDAR metrics, resulted in individual tree prediction errors in the range of reported studies, but relatively high population bias. The use of adjustment factors should be considered to translate between data modalities. When calibrating local models, DBH was confirmed as a strong predictor of AGB, and useful when scaling AGB estimates with field inventories. The combination of UAV-LS derived tree metrics with non-parametric modelling generally produced high individual tree RMSE, but very low population bias of ≤5% across sites starting from 55 training samples. UAV-LS has the potential to scale AGB estimates across hectares with reduced fieldwork time. Overall, this study contributes to the exploitation of TLS and UAV-LS for hectare scale, non-destructive AGB estimation relevant for the calibration and validation of space-borne missions targeting AGB estimation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113180
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022


  • Aboveground biomass (AGB)
  • Allometric scaling model (ASM)
  • Forest
  • Quantitative structure modelling (QSM)
  • Terrestrial laser scanning (TLS)
  • Unoccupied aerial vehicle laser scanning (UAV-LS)


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