Sara Björk defending her PhD work
Harald Lykke

Sara Björk defending her PhD work

Successful PhD Defence by Sara Björk

Sara Marie Björk defended her PhD thesis “Deep convolutional regression modelling for forest parameter retrieval” on October 6th 2023 at UiT The Arctic University of Norway.

Solid PhD defense at the Visual Intelligence Research Centre

We proudly congratulate Sara Maria Björk with her excellent defense of her PhD thesis “Deep convolutional regression modelling for forest parameter retrieval” on October 6th 2023 at UiT The Arctic University of Norway. Sara Börk was affiliated with the Visual Intelligence research center during her PhD work, and is now a KSAT employee.

Summary of thesis:

Accurate forest monitoring is crucial as forests are major global carbon sinks. Additionally, accurate prediction of forest parameters, such as forest biomass and stem volume (SV), has economic importance. Therefore, the development of regression models for forest parameter retrieval is essential.

Existing forest parameter estimation methods use regression models that establish pixel-wise relationships between ground reference data and corresponding pixels in remote sensing (RS) images. However, these models often overlook spatial contextual relationships among neighbouring pixels, limiting the potential for improved forest monitoring. The emergence of deep convolutional neural networks (CNNs) provides opportunities for enhanced forest parameter retrieval through their convolutional filters that allow for contextual modelling. However, utilising deep CNNs for regression presents its challenges. One significant challenge is that the training of CNNs typically requires continuous data layers for both predictor and response variables. While RS data is continuous, the ground reference data is sparse and scattered across large areas due to the challenges and costs associated with in situ data collection.

This thesis tackles challenges related to using CNNs for regression by introducing novel deep learning-based solutions across diverse forest types and parameters. To address the sparsity of available reference data, RS-derived prediction maps can be used as auxiliary data to train the CNN-based regression models. This is addressed through two different approaches.

Regression U-Net architecture used for image-to-image translation between Sentinel-1 (SAR) input and Lidar-derived and ground reference data of stem volume as pseudo-targets and targets

Above: Illustration on how conventional statistical or ML-based regression models (f in the image) perform regression between single pixels of Lidar measurements and a sparse set of ground reference measurements of AGB (biomass) or forest stem volume (SV). As these models considers each pixel in the input data individually, these models are non-contextual. A Lidar-derived AGB or SV prediction map can be created by use of the regression model f.
Below: Illustration of how a CNN-based regression model (g) utilise the neigbourhood of pixels through the convolutional filters in the learning of the realionship between input data of Sentine-1 (SAR scenes) and a lidar-derived prediction map as a target. Due to the convolutional filters, the CNN-based regression models are contextual

Dean Arne Smalås, Professor Anthony Paul Doulgeries, Dr. Sara Björk, Dr. Oleg Antropov, Professor Stian Normann Anfinsen and Dr. Alba Ordonez (Back)

Evaluation Committee:

  • Dr. Oleg Antropov, senior researcher at VTT Technical Research Center of Finland (1. Opponent)
  • Dr. Alba Ordonez, senior researcher at Norwegian Computing Center (2. Opponent)
  • Professor Anthony Paul Doulgeries, dept. of Physics and Technology, UiT (internal member and committee leader)


  • Professor Stian Normann Anfinsen, dept. of Physics and Technology, UiT (main supervisor)
  • Professor Robert Jenssen, dept. of Physics and Technology, UiT

The Master of ceremony was Professor Arne Smalås, Dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology, UiT.

Download the thesis HERE

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