The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) is a continental scale environmental monitoring initiative tasked with characterizing and understanding ecological phenomenology over a 30-year time frame. To support this mission, NEON collects ground truth measurements, such as organism counts and characterization, carbon flux measurements, etc. To spatially upscale these plot-based measurements, NEON developed an airborne observation platform (AOP), with a high-resolution visible camera, next-generation AVIRIS imaging spectrometer, and a discrete and waveform digitizing light detection and ranging (lidar) system. While visible imaging, imaging spectroscopy, and discrete lidar are relatively mature technologies, our understanding of and associated algorithm development for small-footprint full-waveform lidar are still in early stages of development. This work has as its primary aim to extend small-footprint full-waveform lidar capabilities to assess vegetation biophysical structure.

In order to fully exploit waveform lidar capabilities, high fidelity geometric and radio-metric truth data are needed. Forests are structurally and spectrally complex, which makes collecting the necessary truth challenging, if not impossible. We utilize the Digital Imaging and Remote Sensing Image Generation (DIRSIG) model, which provides an environment for radiometric simulations, in order to simulate waveform lidar signals. The first step of this research was to build a virtual forest stand based on Harvard Forest inventory data. This scene was used to assess the level of geometric fidelity necessary for small-footprint waveform lidar simulation in broadleaf forests. It was found that leaves have the largest influence on the backscattered signal and that there is little contribution to the signal from the leaf stems and twigs. From this knowledge, a number of additional realistic and abstract virtual “forest” scenes were created to aid studies assessing the ability of waveform lidar systems to extract biophysical phenomenology. We developed an additive model, based on these scenes, for correcting the attenuation in backscattered signal caused by the canopy. The attenuation-corrected waveform, when coupled with estimates of the leaf-level reflectance, provides a measure of the complex within-canopy forest structure. This work has implications for our improved understanding of complex waveform lidar signals in forest environments and, very importantly, takes the research community a significant step closer to assessing fine-scale horizontally- and vertically-explicit leaf area, a holy grail of forest ecology.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Forests and forestry--Remote sensing; Optical radar; Pattern recognition systems

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

Hans-Peter Bischof

Advisor/Committee Member

Nathan Cahill


Physical copy available from RIT's Wallace Library at SD387.R4 R66 2015


RIT – Main Campus

Plan Codes