Jiashu Zhang


The melting of polar ice sheets and evidence of global warming continue to remain prominent research interests among scientists. To better understand global volumetric change of ice sheets, NASA intends to launch Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) in 2017. ICESat-2 employs a high frequency photon-counting laser altimeter, which will provide significantly greater spatial sampling. However, the combined effects of sub-beam complex surfaces, as well as system effects on returning photon distribution have not been systematically studied. To better understand the effects of various system attributes and to help improve the theory behind lidar sensing of complex surfaces, an analytical model using a first principles 3-D Monte Carlo approach is developed to predict system performance.

Based on the latest ICESat-2 design, this analytical model simulates photons which propagate from the laser transmitter to the scene, and reflected to the detector model. A radiometric model is also applied in the synthetic scene. Such an approach allows the study of surface elevation retrieval accuracy for landscapes, as well as surface reflectivities. It was found that ICESat-2 will have a higher precision on a smoother surface, and a surface with smaller diffuse albedo will on average result in smaller bias.

Furthermore, an adaptive density-based algorithm is developed to detect the surface returns without any geometrical knowledge. This proposed approach is implemented using the aforementioned simulated data set, as well as airborne laser altimeter measurement. Qualitative and quantitative results are presented to show that smaller laser footprint, smoother surface, and lower noise rate will improve accuracy of ground height estimation. Meanwhile, reasonable detection accuracy can also be achieved in estimating both ground and canopy returns for data generated using Digital Imaging and Remote Sensing Image Generation (DIRSIG) model. This proposed approach was found to be generally applicable for surface and canopy finding from photon-counting laser altimeter data.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Optical radar--Data processing; Glaciers--Polar regions--Remote sensing--Data processing; Photon detectors--Testing

Publication Date


Document Type


Student Type


Degree Name

Imaging Science (Ph.D.)

Department, Program, or Center

Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science (COS)


John P. Kerekes

Advisor/Committee Member

Reynold J. Bailey

Advisor/Committee Member

Jan van Aardt


Physical copy available from RIT's Wallace Library at TA1637 .Z426 2014


RIT – Main Campus

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