Towards ground-truthing of spaceborne estimates of above-ground life biomass and leaf area index in tropical rain forests
Abstract. The canopy height h of forests is a key variable which can be obtained using air- or spaceborne remote sensing techniques such as radar interferometry or LIDAR. If new allometric relationships between canopy height and the biomass stored in the vegetation can be established this would offer the possibility for a global monitoring of the above-ground carbon content on land. In the absence of adequate field data we use simulation results of a tropical rain forest growth model to propose what degree of information might be generated from canopy height and thus to enable ground-truthing of potential future satellite observations. We here analyse the correlation between canopy height in a tropical rain forest with other structural characteristics, such as above-ground life biomass (AGB) (and thus carbon content of vegetation) and leaf area index (LAI) and identify how correlation and uncertainty vary for two different spatial scales. The process-based forest growth model FORMIND2.0 was applied to simulate (a) undisturbed forest growth and (b) a wide range of possible disturbance regimes typically for local tree logging conditions for a tropical rain forest site on Borneo (Sabah, Malaysia) in South-East Asia. In both undisturbed and disturbed forests AGB can be expressed as a power-law function of canopy height h (AGB = a · hb) with an r2 ~ 60% if data are analysed in a spatial resolution of 20 m × 20 m (0.04 ha, also called plot size). The correlation coefficient of the regression is becoming significant better in the disturbed forest sites (r2 = 91%) if data are analysed hectare wide. There seems to exist no functional dependency between LAI and canopy height, but there is also a linear correlation (r2 ~ 60%) between AGB and the area fraction of gaps in which the canopy is highly disturbed. A reasonable agreement of our results with observations is obtained from a comparison of the simulations with permanent sampling plot (PSP) data from the same region and with the large-scale forest inventory in Lambir. We conclude that the spaceborne remote sensing techniques such as LIDAR and radar interferometry have the potential to quantify the carbon contained in the vegetation, although this calculation contains due to the heterogeneity of the forest landscape structural uncertainties which restrict future applications to spatial averages of about one hectare in size. The uncertainties in AGB for a given canopy height are here 20–40% (95% confidence level) corresponding to a standard deviation of less than ± 10%. This uncertainty on the 1 ha-scale is much smaller than in the analysis of 0.04 ha-scale data. At this small scale (0.04 ha) AGB can only be calculated out of canopy height with an uncertainty which is at least of the magnitude of the signal itself due to the natural spatial heterogeneity of these forests.