Using LiDAR Data Analysis to Estimate Changes in Insolation Under Large-Scale Riparian Deforestation

Jonathan Asher Greenberg, Erin L. Hestir, David Riano, George J. Scheer, Susan L. Ustin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Riparian vegetation provides shade from insolation to stream channels. A consequence of removing vegetation may be an increase in insolation that can increase water temperatures and negatively impact ecosystem health. Although the mechanisms of riparian shading are well understood, spatially explicit, mechanistic models of shading have been limited by the data requirements of precisely describing the three-dimensional structure of a riparian corridor. Remotely acquired, high spatial resolution LiDAR data provide detailed three-dimensional vegetation structure and terrain topography over large regions. By parameterizing solar radiation models that incorporate terrain shadowing with LiDAR data, we can produce spatially explicit estimates of insolation. As a case study, we modeled the relative change in insolation on channels in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta under current conditions and under a hypothesized deforested Delta using classified LiDAR, rasterized at a 1-m resolution. Our results suggest that the removal of levee vegetation could result in a 9% increase in solar radiation incident on Delta waters, and may lead to water temperature increases. General, coarse-scale channel characteristics (reach width, azimuth, levee vegetation cover, and height) only accounted for 72% of the variation in the insolation. This indicates that the detailed information derived from LiDAR data has greater explanatory power than coarser reach-scale metrics often used for insolation estimates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)939-948
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the American Water Resources Association
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Levees
  • LiDAR
  • Remote sensing
  • Riparian deforestation
  • Riparian shade
  • Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta
  • Solar irradiation model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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