Is it possible to estimate the height of forest stands using optical (preferably Landsat) imagery?

I came across this article while researching this, but it's over 20 years old and there doesn't appear to be much in the way of more recent literature. Can spectral responses be used for deriving forest structural characteristics, or is this asking too much of the data?

There is some information on combining LIDAR data and optical imagery, which makes sense, but I'm looking for an approach that can be applied at a broader scale without a huge cost.


Manually using a stereoscope with a high enough resolution image, it is possible to estimate stand height. Although Landsat has a 30meter resolution and is too crude to estimate tree height. (LIDAR data would be necessary if your set on using Landsat)

Depending upon the species your trying to measure NAIP imagery may be a better option, with a 1 meter resolution.

Modeling stand structure on LANDSAT data is possible to a very small degree, although the accuracy isn't there. Back in school I tried doing a similar project; even with creating 200 different classes using "ERDAS Imagine" my results were inconclusive. (My study area was in the transition zone between the eastern hardwood forest and the northern boreal forest, with an mean age of 60 to 80 years)

That being said, among conifers the spectral signature of the younger understory is slightly different than the mature conifers. The literature I read on this subject was talking about hyper-spectral remote sensing.

LIDAR is also the easiest option for modeling stand structure, and would have a much higher accuracy.

  • Thanks for your input Tom - your findings on LANDSAT accuracy for measuring stand height are in line with what I am finding in the literature. I agree that LIDAR is ideal, but unfortunately I need to cover a large area and the cost of LIDAR is prohibitive. – Radar Apr 7 '14 at 19:24
  • The data may be too old, however in the 1990's NASA flew a LIDAR mission. (I think this mission covered all of North America) www-lite.larc.nasa.gov/index.html Depending upon your study area, LIDAR data may already exist. (may not cover Canada) earthexplorer.usgs.gov Counties & States sometimes have LIDAR datasets that are not advertised on their webpages. I'll be curious to hear what methods you discover to overcome this obstetrical. – Tom_s Apr 7 '14 at 19:55
  • 1
    If the data isn't too old...In 2000 NASA few a "space shuttle radar topography mission" mission covering the entire earth. Back in school I tried obtaining the raw LIDAR data from this mission and it wasn't available yet. Just did a quick search, and it looks like it may be avaliable. www2.jpl.nasa.gov/srtm/cbanddataproducts.html – Tom_s Apr 7 '14 at 20:28

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