Estimation of Canopy Structure of Field Crops Using Sentinel-2 Bands with Vegetation Indices and Machine Learning Algorithms

Xiaochen Zou (Corresponding Author), Sunan Zhu, Matti Mõttus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Leaf angle distribution (LAD), or the leaf mean tilt angle (MTA) capturing its central value, is used to quantify the direction of the leaf surface in a canopy and is one of the most important canopy structuraltraits. Combined with the other important structure parameter, leaf area index (LAI), LAD determines the light interception of a crop canopy. However, unlike LAI, only few studies have addressed the direct retrieval of LAD or MTA from remote sensing data. Recent-ly, it has been shown that the red edge is a key spectral region where the effect of leaf angle on crop spectral reflectance can be separated from that of other structural variables. The Multispectral imager (MSI) onboard the Sentinel-2 (S2) satellite has two specially designed red-edge channels in this spectral region and thus can potentially be used for large-scale mapping of MTA at high spatial and temporal resolutions. Unfortunately, no field data on leaf angles at the scale of S2 pixel are available. Therefore, we simulated 5000 observations of different crops using the PROSAIL canopy reflectance model. Further, we used the MTA and LAI data of six crop species growing in 162 experimental plots in Finland and simulated their reflectance signal in S2 bands by resampling AISA airborne imaging spectroscopy data. Four common machine learning regression algorithms (random forest, support vector machine, multilayer perceptron network and partial least squares regression) were examined for retrieving canopy structure parameters, including leaf angle, from the simulated reflectances. Further, we analyzed the utility of 12 vegetation indices (VIs) well known to be sensitive to canopy structure for canopy structure estimation. Six of the studied indices used information from the visible part of the spectrum and the near infrared (NIR) while an-other six were selected to also utilize the red edge bands specific to S2. We found that S2 band 6 in the red edge had a strong correlation with MTA (R2 = 0.79 in model simulation and R2 = 0.87 in field measurements) but a low correlation with LAI (R2 = 0.07 in model simulation and R2= 0.06 in field measurements). Of the six red edge-based VIs, four (NDVIRE, CIRE, WDRVIRE and MSRRE) depended less on MTA than the visible NIR-based VIs and thus could be useful for estimating LAI for any LAD. The other two red edge-based VIs, IRECI and S2REP, had stronger correlations with MTA (R2 = 0.67 and 0.52, respectively) than LAI (R2 = 0.24 and 0.19, respectively). Additionally, MTA was accurately estimated (RMSE = 1.1–2.4° in model simulations and RMSE = 2.2–3.9° in field measurements) using the four 10 m spatial resolution bands with the RF, SVM and MLP al-gorithms, without information in the red edge. These promising results indicate the capability of S2 in accurately mapping the MTA of field crops on a large scale.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2849
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2022
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • canopy structure
  • LAI
  • leaf angle distribution
  • machine learning
  • Sentinel-2
  • vegetation indices


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