Comparative analysis of different retrieval methods for mapping grassland leaf area index using airborne imaging spectroscopy

Clement Atzberger*, Roshanak Darvishzadeh, Markus Immitzer, Martin Schlerf, Andrew Skidmore, Guerric le Maire

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

126 Citations (Scopus)
61 Downloads (Pure)


Fine scale maps of vegetation biophysical variables are useful status indicators for monitoring and managing national parks and endangered habitats. Here, we assess in a comparative way four different retrieval methods for estimating leaf area index (LAI) in grassland: two radiative transfer model (RTM) inversion methods (one based on look-up-tables (LUT) and one based on predictive equations) and two statistical modelling methods (one partly, the other entirely based on in situ data). For prediction, spectral data were used that had been acquired over Majella National Park in Italy by the airborne hyperspectral HyMap instrument. To assess the performance of the four investigated models, the normalized root mean squared error (nRMSE) and coefficient of determination (R2) between estimates and in situ LAI measurements are reported (n = 41). Using a jackknife approach, we also quantified the accuracy and robustness of empirical models as a function of the size of the available calibration data set. The results of the study demonstrate that the LUT-based RTM inversion yields higher accuracies for LAI estimation (R2 = 0.91, nRMSE = 0.18) as compared to RTM inversions based on predictive equations (R2 = 0.79, nRMSE = 0.38). The two statistical methods yield accuracies similar to the LUT method. However, as expected, the accuracy and robustness of the statistical models decrease when the size of the calibration database is reduced to fewer samples. The results of this study are of interest for the remote sensing community developing improved inversion schemes for spaceborne hyperspectral sensors applicable to different vegetation types. The examples provided in this paper may also serve as illustrations for the drawbacks and advantages of physical and empirical models.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-31
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2015. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Leaf area index
  • Radiative transfer model
  • Look-up table
  • Narrow band vegetation index
  • Predictive equation
  • Sample size


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