Tree height growth measurements at monthly and annual time scales are important for calibrating and validating forest growth models, forest management and studies of forest ecology and biophysical processes. Previous studies measured the terminal growth of individual trees or forest stands at annual or decadal time scales. Short-term, within-season measurements, however, are largely unavailable due to technical and practical limitations. Here, we describe a novel approach for measuring within-season tree height growth using a time series of co-registered digital surface models obtained with a low-cost unmanned aerial vehicle in combination with ground control plates and Structure from Motion data processing. The test site was a 2-hectare temperate mixed forest stand of varying age and successional stage in central Europe. Our results show median growth rates between 27 May and 19 August of 68 cm for Norway spruce, 93 cm for Scots pine, 106 cm for Silver birch and 26 cm for European beech. The results agree well with published field observations for these species. This study demonstrates the capability of inexpensive, increasingly user-friendly and versatile UAV systems for measuring tree height growth at short time scales, which was not previously possible, opening up new avenues for investigation and practical applications in forestry and research.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited