Mapping Alpine Aboveground Biomass from Imaging Spectrometer Data: A Comparison of Two Approaches

Parviz Fatehi, Alexander Damm, Anna Katharina Schweiger, Michael E. Schaepman, Mathias Kneubühler

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6 Scopus citations


Aboveground biomass (AGB) of terrestrial ecosystems is an important constraint of global change and productivity models and used to assess carbon stocks and thus the contribution of vegetated ecosystems to the global carbon cycle. Although an indispensable and important requirement for decision makers, coherent and accurate estimates of grassland and forest AGB especially in complex environments are still lacking. In this study, we aim to assess the capability of two strategies to map grassland and forest AGB in a complex alpine ecosystem, i.e., using a discrete as well as a continuous field (CF) mapping approach based on imaging spectroscopy (IS) data. In situ measurements of grassland and forest AGB were acquired in the Swiss National Park (SNP) to calibrate empirical models and to validate AGB retrievals. The selection of robust empirical models considered all potential two narrow-band combinations of the simple ratio (SR) and the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) generated from Airborne Prism Experiment (APEX) IS data and in situ measurements. We found a narrow-band SR including spectral bands from the short-wave infrared (SWIR) (1689 nm) and near infrared (NIR) (851 nm) as the best regression model to estimate grassland AGB. Forest AGB showed highest correlation with an SR generated from two spectral bands in the SWIR (1498, 2112 nm). The applied accuracy assessment revealed good results for estimated grassland AGB using the discrete mapping approach [R2 of 0.65, mean RMSE (mRMSE) of 0.91 t · ha-1, and mean relative RMSE (mrRMSE) of 26%]. The CF mapping approach produced a higher R2 (R2 = 0.94), and decreased the mRMSE and the mrRMSE to 0.55 t · ha-1 and 15%, respectively. For forest, the discrete approach predicted AGB with an R2 value of 0.64, an mRMSE of 67.8 t · ha-1, and an mrRMSE of 25%. The CF mapping approach improved the accuracy of forest AGB estimation with R2 = 0.85, mean RMSE = 55.85 t · ha-1, and mean relative RMSE = 21%. Our results indicate that, in general, both mapping approaches are capable of accurately mapping grassland and forest AGB in complex environments using IS data, whereas the CF-based approach yielded higher accuracies due to its capability to incorporate subpixel information (abundances) of different land cover types.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number7117348
Pages (from-to)3123-3139
Number of pages17
JournalIEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015


  • Continuous field (CF) mapping
  • empirical approach
  • imaging spectroscopy (IS)
  • vegetation biomass

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