Estimation of forest aboveground biomass (AGB) is crucial for various technical and scientific applications, ranging from regional carbon and bioenergy policies to sustainable forest management. However, passive optical remote sensing, which is the most widely used remote sensing data for retrieving vegetation parameters, is constrained by spectral saturation problems and cloud cover. On the other hand, LiDAR data, which have been extensively used to estimate forest structure attributes, cannot provide sufficient spectral information of vegetation canopies. Thus, this study aimed to develop a novel synergistic approach to estimating biomass by integrating LiDAR data with Landsat 8 imagery through a deep learning-based workflow. First the relationships between biomass and spectral vegetation indices (SVIs) and LiDAR metrics were separately investigated. Next, two groups of combined optical and LiDAR indices (i.e., COLI1 and COLI2) were designed and explored to identify their performances in biomass estimation. Finally, five prediction models, including K-nearest Neighbor, Random Forest, Support Vector Regression, the deep learning model, i.e., Stacked Sparse Autoencoder network (SSAE), and multiple stepwise linear regressions, were individually used to estimate biomass with input variables of different scenarios, i.e., (i) all the COLI1 (ACOLI1), (ii) all the COLI2 (ACOLI2), (iii) ACOLI1 and all the optical (AO) and LiDAR variables (AL), and (iv) ACOLI2, AO and AL. Results showed that univariate models with the combined optical and LiDAR indices as explanatory variables presented better modeling performance than those with either optical or LiDAR data alone, regardless of the combination mode. The SSAE model obtained the best performance compared to the other tested prediction algorithms for the forest biomass estimation. The best predictive accuracy was achieved by the SSAE model with inputs of combined optical and LiDAR variables (i.e., ACOLI1, AO and AL) that yielded an R2
of 0.935, root mean squared error (RMSE) of 15.67 Mg/ha, and relative root mean squared error (RMSEr
) of 11.407%. It was concluded that the presented combined indices were simple and effective by integrating LiDAR-derived structure information with Landsat 8 spectral data for estimating forest biomass. Overall, the SSAE model with inputs of Landsat 8 and LiDAR integrated information resulted in accurate estimation of forest biomass. The presented modeling workflow will greatly facilitate future forest biomass estimation and carbon stock assessments.
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