A scalable approach for tree segmentation within small-footprint airborne LiDAR data

Hamid Hamraz, Marco A. Contreras, Jun Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


This paper presents a distributed approach that scales up to segment tree crowns within a LiDAR point cloud representing an arbitrarily large forested area. The approach uses a single-processor tree segmentation algorithm as a building block in order to process the data delivered in the shape of tiles in parallel. The distributed processing is performed in a master-slave manner, in which the master maintains the global map of the tiles and coordinates the slaves that segment tree crowns within and across the boundaries of the tiles. A minimal bias was introduced to the number of detected trees because of trees lying across the tile boundaries, which was quantified and adjusted for. Theoretical and experimental analyses of the runtime of the approach revealed a near linear speedup. The estimated number of trees categorized by crown class and the associated error margins as well as the height distribution of the detected trees aligned well with field estimations, verifying that the distributed approach works correctly. The approach enables providing information of individual tree locations and point cloud segments for a forest-level area in a timely manner, which can be used to create detailed remotely sensed forest inventories. Although the approach was presented for tree segmentation within LiDAR point clouds, the idea can also be generalized to scale up processing other big spatial datasets.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-147
Number of pages9
JournalComputers and Geosciences
StatePublished - May 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier Ltd


  • Big spatial data
  • Distributed computing
  • Individual tree information
  • Remote forest inventory
  • Remote sensing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Information Systems
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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