How does LiDAR see through trees?

Understanding How LiDAR Sees Through Trees

Introduction to LiDAR

LiDAR, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, is a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure variable distances to the Earth. This technology generates precise, three-dimensional information about the shape of the Earth and its surface characteristics.

Principle of Operation

LiDAR operates by emitting laser pulses towards the ground. As these pulses hit the surface, some of them penetrate through gaps in vegetation, reaching the ground beneath. The LiDAR system then measures the time it takes for each pulse to bounce back to the sensor. This time, known as the 'time of flight,' is used to calculate the distance each pulse has traveled.

How LiDAR Sees Through Trees

  • Multiple Returns: LiDAR systems are capable of recording multiple returns. As a laser pulse hits a tree, it may not be completely absorbed or reflected. Instead, parts of the pulse can continue to travel downwards, eventually reaching the ground. The sensor then records multiple reflections from different heights, including the top of the tree, branches, and the ground.
  • High Pulse Rate: Modern LiDAR systems emit thousands of pulses per second. This high pulse rate increases the likelihood of some pulses finding their way through dense foliage to the ground.
  • Point Cloud Density: The density of the point cloud, which is a collection of data points generated by the LiDAR, plays a crucial role. A higher density means more data points and a greater chance of capturing the ground surface beneath vegetation.


Seeing through trees is particularly useful in applications such as:

  • Forestry management and planning
  • Topographic mapping in forested areas
  • Archaeology, for discovering hidden structures beneath forest canopies
  • Urban and rural planning


LiDAR's ability to see through trees is a result of its use of multiple returns, high pulse rates, and dense point clouds. This capability makes it an invaluable tool in various fields, providing detailed and accurate 3D representations of the Earth's surface, even in densely vegetated areas.

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