Mapping Tree Canopy in Urban Environments Using Point Clouds from Airborne Laser Scanning and Street Level Imagery

Sensors (Basel). 2022 Apr 24;22(9):3269. doi: 10.3390/s22093269.


Resilient cities incorporate a social, ecological, and technological systems perspective through their trees, both in urban and peri-urban forests and linear street trees, and help promote and understand the concept of ecosystem resilience. Urban tree inventories usually involve the collection of field data on the location, genus, species, crown shape and volume, diameter, height, and health status of these trees. In this work, we have developed a multi-stage methodology to update urban tree inventories in a fully automatic way, and we have applied it in the city of Pamplona (Spain). We have compared and combined two of the most common data sources for updating urban tree inventories: Airborne Laser Scanning (ALS) point clouds combined with aerial orthophotographs, and street-level imagery from Google Street View (GSV). Depending on the data source, different methodologies were used to identify the trees. In the first stage, the use of individual tree detection techniques in ALS point clouds was compared with the detection of objects (trees) on street level images using computer vision (CV) techniques. In both cases, a high success rate or recall (number of true positive with respect to all detectable trees) was obtained, where between 85.07% and 86.42% of the trees were well-identified, although many false positives (FPs) or trees that did not exist or that had been confused with other objects were always identified. In order to reduce these errors or FPs, a second stage was designed, where FP debugging was performed through two methodologies: (a) based on the automatic checking of all possible trees with street level images, and (b) through a machine learning binary classification model trained with spectral data from orthophotographs. After this second stage, the recall decreased to about 75% (between 71.43 and 78.18 depending on the procedure used) but most of the false positives were eliminated. The results obtained with both data sources were robust and accurate. We can conclude that the results obtained with the different methodologies are very similar, where the main difference resides in the access to the starting information. While the use of street-level images only allows for the detection of trees growing in trafficable streets and is a source of information that is usually paid for, the use of ALS and aerial orthophotographs allows for the location of trees anywhere in the city, including public and private parks and gardens, and in many countries, these data are freely available.

Keywords: LiDAR; deep learning; street level imagery; urban trees.

MeSH terms

  • Cities
  • Ecosystem*
  • Forests
  • Lasers
  • Trees*