New NASA map reveals patterns of tropical forest carbon storage
Benchmark map of carbon stored in Earth’s tropical forests, covering about 2.5 million hectares of forests over more than 75 countries. The map can assist efforts by countries to produce estimates of carbon emissions by providing relatively fine-scale stocks of carbon and their level of uncertainty. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/Winrock International/Colorado State University/University of Edinburgh/Applied GeoSolutions/University of Leeds/Agence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux/Wake Forest University/University of Oxford
A NASA-led research team has used a variety of NASA satellite data to create the most precise map ever produced depicting the amount and location of carbon stored in Earth's tropical forests. The data are expected to provide a baseline for ongoing carbon monitoring and research and serve as a useful resource for managing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.
The new map, created from ground- and space-based data, shows for the first time the distribution of carbon stored in forests across more than 75 tropical countries. Most of that carbon is stored in the extensive forests of Latin America."This is a benchmark map that can be used as a basis for comparison in the future when the forest cover and its carbon stock change," said Sassan Saatchi of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., who led the research. "The map shows not only the amount of carbon stored in the forest, but also the accuracy of the estimate." The study was published May 30 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Deforestation and forest degradation contribute 15 to 20 percent of global carbon emissions, and most of that contribution comes from tropical regions. Tropical forests store large amounts of carbon in the wood and roots of their trees. When the trees are cut and decompose or are burned, the carbon is released to the atmosphere.
Previous studies have estimated the carbon stored in forests on local and large scales within a single continent, but there existed no systematic way of looking at all tropical forests. To measure the size of the trees, scientists typically use a ground-based technique, which gives a good estimate of how much carbon they contain. But this technique is limited because the structure of the forest is extremely variable and the number of ground sites is very limited.
To arrive at a carbon map that spans three continents, the team used data from the Geoscience Laser Altimeter System lidar on NASA's ICESat satellite. The researchers looked at information on the height of treetops from more than 3 million measurements. With the help of corresponding ground data, they calculated the amount of above-ground biomass and thus the amount of carbon it contained.