David Kelbe


Forests are an important part of the natural ecosystem, providing resources such as timber and fuel, performing services such as energy exchange and carbon storage, and presenting risks, such as fire damage and invasive species impacts. Improved characterization of forest structural attributes is desirable, as it could improve our understanding and management of these natural resources.

However, the traditional, systematic collection of forest information – dubbed “forest inventory” – is time-consuming, expensive, and coarse when compared to novel 3-D measurement technologies. Remote sensing estimates, on the other hand, provide synoptic coverage, but often fail to capture the fine- scale structural variation of the forest environment. Terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) has demonstrated a potential to address these limitations, but its operational use has remained limited due to unsatisfactory performance characteristics vs. budgetary constraints of many end-users.

To address this gap, my dissertation advanced affordable mobile laser scanning capabilities for operational forest structure assessment. We developed geometric reconstruction of forest structure from rapid-scan, low-resolution point cloud data, providing for automatic extraction of standard forest inventory metrics. To augment these results over larger areas, we designed a view-invariant feature descriptor to enable marker-free registration of TLS data pairs, without knowledge of the initial sensor pose. Finally, a graph-theory framework was integrated to perform multi-view registration between a network of disconnected scans, which provided improved assessment of forest inventory variables.

This work addresses a major limitation related to the inability of TLS to assess forest structure at an operational scale, and may facilitate improved understanding of the phenomenology of airborne sensing systems, by providing fine-scale reference data with which to interpret the active or passive electromagnetic radiation interactions with forest structure. Outputs are being utilized to provide antecedent science data for NASA’s HyspIRI mission and to support the National Ecological Observatory Network’s (NEON) long-term environmental monitoring initiatives.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Forests and forestry--Remote sensing; Laser recording; Graph theory

Publication Date


Document Type


Student Type


Degree Name

Imaging Science (Ph.D.)

Department, Program, or Center

Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science (COS)


Jan van Aardt

Advisor/Committee Member

David Ross

Advisor/Committee Member

David Messinger


Physical copy available from RIT's Wallace Library at SD387.R4 K45 2015

2016 Outstanding PhD Dissertation award recipient.


RIT – Main Campus

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