Detection of fallen trees in ALS point clouds using a Normalized Cut approach trained by simulation

Przemyslaw Polewski, Wei Yao, Marco Heurich, Peter Krzystek, Uwe Stilla

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

74 Citations (Scopus)


(ISPRS). Downed dead wood is regarded as an important part of forest ecosystems from an ecological perspective, which drives the need for investigating its spatial distribution. Based on several studies, Airborne Laser Scanning (ALS) has proven to be a valuable remote sensing technique for obtaining such information. This paper describes a unified approach to the detection of fallen trees from ALS point clouds based on merging short segments into whole stems using the Normalized Cut algorithm. We introduce a new method of defining the segment similarity function for the clustering procedure, where the attribute weights are learned from labeled data. Based on a relationship between Normalized Cut's similarity function and a class of regression models, we show how to learn the similarity function by training a classifier. Furthermore, we propose using an appearance-based stopping criterion for the graph cut algorithm as an alternative to the standard Normalized Cut threshold approach. We set up a virtual fallen tree generation scheme to simulate complex forest scenarios with multiple overlapping fallen stems. This simulated data is then used as a basis to learn both the similarity function and the stopping criterion for Normalized Cut. We evaluate our approach on 5 plots from the strictly protected mixed mountain forest within the Bavarian Forest National Park using reference data obtained via a manual field inventory. The experimental results show that our method is able to detect up to 90% of fallen stems in plots having 30-40% overstory cover with a correctness exceeding 80%, even in quite complex forest scenes. Moreover, the performance for feature weights trained on simulated data is competitive with the case when the weights are calculated using a grid search on the test data, which indicates that the learned similarity function and stopping criterion can generalize well on new plots.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)252-271
Number of pages20
JournalISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Dead trees
  • Learning
  • LiDAR
  • Normalized Cut
  • Precision forestry
  • Vegetation mapping

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • Engineering (miscellaneous)
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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