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Laserfarm – A high-throughput workflow for generating geospatial data products of ecosystem structure from airborne laser scanning point clouds

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  • W. Daniel Kissling, University of Amsterdam
  • ,
  • Yifang Shi, University of Amsterdam
  • ,
  • Zsófia Koma
  • Christiaan Meijer, Netherlands eScience Center
  • ,
  • Ou Ku, Netherlands eScience Center
  • ,
  • Francesco Nattino, Netherlands eScience Center
  • ,
  • Arie C. Seijmonsbergen, University of Amsterdam
  • ,
  • Meiert W. Grootes, Netherlands eScience Center

Quantifying ecosystem structure is of key importance for ecology, conservation, restoration, and biodiversity monitoring because the diversity, geographic distribution and abundance of animals, plants and other organisms is tightly linked to the physical structure of vegetation and associated microclimates. Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR) — an active remote sensing technique — can provide detailed and high resolution information on ecosystem structure because the laser pulse emitted from the sensor and its subsequent return signal from the vegetation (leaves, branches, stems) delivers three-dimensional point clouds from which metrics of vegetation structure (e.g. ecosystem height, cover, and structural complexity) can be derived. However, processing 3D LiDAR point clouds into geospatial data products of ecosystem structure remains challenging across broad spatial extents due to the large volume of national or regional point cloud datasets (typically multiple terabytes consisting of hundreds of billions of points). Here, we present a high-throughput workflow called ‘Laserfarm’ enabling the efficient, scalable and distributed processing of multi-terabyte LiDAR point clouds from national and regional airborne laser scanning (ALS) surveys into geospatial data products of ecosystem structure. Laserfarm is a free and open-source, end-to-end workflow which contains modular pipelines for the re-tiling, normalization, feature extraction and rasterization of point cloud information from ALS and other LiDAR surveys. The workflow is designed with horizontal scalability and can be deployed with distributed computing on different infrastructures, e.g. a cluster of virtual machines. We demonstrate the Laserfarm workflow by processing a country-wide multi-terabyte ALS dataset of the Netherlands (covering ∼34,000 km2 with ∼700 billion points and ∼ 16 TB uncompressed LiDAR point clouds) into 25 raster layers at 10 m resolution capturing ecosystem height, cover and structural complexity at a national extent. The Laserfarm workflow, implemented in Python and available as Jupyter Notebooks, is applicable to other LiDAR datasets and enables users to execute automated pipelines for generating consistent and reproducible geospatial data products of ecosystems structure from massive amounts of LiDAR point clouds on distributed computing infrastructures, including cloud computing environments. We provide information on workflow performance (including total CPU times, total wall-time estimates and average CPU times for single files and LiDAR metrics) and discuss how the Laserfarm workflow can be scaled to other LiDAR datasets and computing environments, including remote cloud infrastructures. The Laserfarm workflow allows a broad user community to process massive amounts of LiDAR point clouds for mapping vegetation structure, e.g. for applications in ecology, biodiversity monitoring and ecosystem restoration.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101836
JournalEcological Informatics
Volume72
Number of pages17
ISSN1574-9541
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022

    Research areas

  • Big data, Computing architectures, Ecosystem morphological traits, Essential biodiversity variable, Macroecology, Python

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