Airborne discrete return light detection and ranging (LiDAR) point clouds covering forested areas can be processed to segment individual trees and retrieve their morphological attributes. Segmenting individual trees in natural deciduous forests, however, remained a challenge because of the complex and multi-layered canopy. In this chapter, we present (i) a robust segmentation method that avoids a priori assumptions about the canopy structure, (ii) a vertical canopy stratification procedure that improves segmentation of understory trees, (iii) an occlusion model for estimating the point density of each canopy stratum, and (iv) a distributed computing approach for efficient processing at the forest level. When applied to the University of Kentucky Robinson Forest, the segmentation method detected about 90% of overstory and 47% of understory trees with over-segmentation rates of 14 and 2%. Stratifying the canopy improved the detection rate of understory trees to 68% at the cost of increasing their over-segmentations to 16%. According to our occlusion model, a point density of ~170 pt/m2 is needed to segment understory trees as accurately as overstory trees. Lastly, using the distributed approach, we segmented about two million trees in the 7440-ha forest in 2.5 hours using 192 processors, which is 167 times faster than using a single processor.
Part of the book: Recent Advances and Applications in Remote Sensing