Effect of slope on treetop detection using a LiDAR Canopy Height Model

A. Khosravipour, A.K. Skidmore, Tiejun Wang, M. Isenburg, K. Khoshelham

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77 Citations (Scopus)


Canopy Height Models (CHMs) or normalized Digital Surface Models (nDSM) derived from LiDAR data have been applied to extract relevant forest inventory information. However, generating a CHM by height normalizing the raw LiDAR points is challenging if trees are located on complex terrain. On steep slopes, the raw elevation values located on either the downhill or the uphill part of a tree crown are height-normalized with parts of the digital terrain model that may be much lower or higher than the tree stem base, respectively. In treetop detection, a highest crown return located in the downhill part may prove to be a “false” local maximum that is distant from the true treetop. Based on this observation, we theoretically and experimentally quantify the effect of slope on the accuracy of treetop detection. The theoretical model presented a systematic horizontal displacement of treetops that causes tree height to be systematically displaced as a function of terrain slope and tree crown radius. Interestingly, our experimental results showed that the effect of CHM distortion on treetop displacement depends not only on the steepness of the slope but more importantly on the crown shape, which is species-dependent. The influence of the systematic error was significant for Scots pine, which has an irregular crown pattern and weak apical dominance, but not for mountain pine, which has a narrow conical crown with a distinct apex. Based on our findings, we suggest that in order to minimize the negative effect of steep slopes on the CHM, especially in heterogeneous forest with multiple species or species which change their morphological characteristics as they mature, it is best to use raw elevation values (i.e., use the un-normalized DSM) and compute the height after treetop detection
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)44-52
JournalISPRS journal of photogrammetry and remote sensing
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • METIS-310172
  • 2023 OA procedure


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