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Characterising forest gap fraction with terrestrial lidar and photography: An examination of relative limitations

Hancock, S.; Essery, R.; Reid, T.; Carle, J.; Baxter, R.; Rutter, N.; Huntley, B.

Characterising forest gap fraction with terrestrial lidar and photography: An examination of relative limitations Thumbnail


S. Hancock

R. Essery

T. Reid

J. Carle

N. Rutter


Previous studies have shown that terrestrial lidar is capable of characterising forest canopies but suggest that lidar underestimates gap fraction compared to hemispherical camera photography. This paper performs a detailed comparison of lidar to camera-derived gap fractions over a range of forest structures (in snow affected areas) and reasons for any disagreements are analysed. A terrestrial laser scanner (Leica C10 first return system) was taken to Abisko in Northern Sweden (sparse birch forests) and Sodankylä in Finland (spruce and pine forests) where five plots of varying density were scanned at each (though one Abisko plot was rejected due to geolocation issues). Traditional hemispherical photographs were taken and gap fraction estimates compared. It is concluded that, for the sites tested, the reported underestimates in gap fraction can be removed by taking partial hits into account using the return intensity. The scan density used (5–8 scans per 20 m by 20 m plot) was sufficient to ensure that occlusion of the laser beam was not significant. The choice of sampling density of the lidar data is important, but over a certain sampling density the gap fraction estimates become insensitive to further change. The lidar gap fractions altered by around 3–8% when all subjective parameters were adjusted over their complete range. The choice of manual threshold for the hemispherical photographs is found to have a large effect (up to 17% range in gap fraction between three operators). Therefore we propose that, as long as a site has been covered by sufficient scan positions and the data sampled at high enough resolution, the lidar gap fraction estimates are more stable than those derived from a camera and avoid issues with variable illumination. In addition the lidar allows the determination of gap fraction at every point within a plot rather than just where hemispherical photographs were taken, giving a much fuller picture of the canopy. The relative difference between TLS (taking intensity into account) and camera derived gap fraction was 0.7% for Abisko and −2.8% for Sodankylä with relative root mean square errors (RMSEs) of 6.9% and 9.8% respectively, less than the variation within TLS and camera estimates and so bias has been removed.


Hancock, S., Essery, R., Reid, T., Carle, J., Baxter, R., Rutter, N., & Huntley, B. (2014). Characterising forest gap fraction with terrestrial lidar and photography: An examination of relative limitations. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, 189-190, 105-114.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jan 14, 2014
Online Publication Date Feb 6, 2014
Publication Date Jun 1, 2014
Deposit Date May 19, 2014
Publicly Available Date Jun 2, 2014
Journal Agricultural and Forest Meteorology
Print ISSN 0168-1923
Electronic ISSN 1873-2240
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 189-190
Pages 105-114
Keywords Lidar, Tree height, Biomass.


Accepted Journal Article (1.2 Mb)

Copyright Statement
NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Agricultural and Forest Meteorology. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, 189-190, 2014, 10.1016/j.agrformet.2014.01.012.

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