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New NASA map shows tropical forest carbon storage

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June 27, 2011

A NASA-led research team has created the most precise map ever produced depicting the amou...

A NASA-led research team has created the most precise map ever produced depicting the amount and location of carbon stored in Earth's tropical forests

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A NASA-led research team has created a new map using ground and satellite data that accurately quantifies the amount and location of carbon stored in Earth's tropical trees and forests. Based on data from the early 2000s, the map focuses on 2.5 million hectares of tropical forest in seventy-five countries. Data shows that tropical forests contain 247 billion tons of carbon, and of this carbon stock, almost half is held in Latin American forests. Almost the same carbon stock is stored in sub-Saharan Africa in its entirety, compared with 61 billion tons of carbon stored in Brazilian forests alone.

"These patterns of carbon storage, which we really didn't know before, depend on climate, soil, topography and the history of human or natural disturbance of the forests," said leading researcher Sassan Saatchi of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "Areas often impacted by disturbance, human or natural, have lower carbon storage."

Up to a fifth of global carbon emissions are caused by deforestation and forest degradation, mainly in tropical areas. Carbon is stored in the wood and roots, but when trees are cut, burned or decompose, carbon is released into the atmosphere. Previous studies have only taken carbon measurements from individual countries or continents, and usually by calculating carbon from ground-based observations of tree heights. This is the first time researchers have achieved a pan-continental overview, across varying forest types and structures using the same methodology.

NASA's map shows carbon storage in tropical forests in 75m countries, and the level of cer...

The map was created using data from the Geoscience Laser Altimeter System lidar on NASA's ICESat satellite. The satellite identified tree heights using three million measurements which were then combined with ground data to calculate carbon of above-ground biomass. This calculation was then extrapolated across the various study landscapes and a visual map created from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on NASA's Terra spacecraft, the QuikScat scatterometer satellite and the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission.

The map will provide a baseline for comparison in future carbon monitoring, and also show the forests' health and longevity. Each forest's contribution to the global carbon cycle can be calculated, and, compared with satellite observations of deforestation, sources of carbon dioxide can be identified. It can also help countries planning to participate in the United Nations-led international effort Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) which aims to quantify the financial value of forest-stored carbon.

"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 Saatchi. "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 30th in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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9 Comments

What determines the boundaries of these forests? The maps, as presented, don't show tropical forests. If extratropical forests are to be included, they why omit the bulk of North America and Europe? Northern hemisphere forests have a greater impact on the carbon cycle than southern forests do. Also, there's probably just as much biomass that is not trees in these forests as trees, from epiphytes to rich forest floor litter.

Brillig
27th June, 2011 @ 07:04 am PDT

What do the gray areas represent?

rikkiswin
27th June, 2011 @ 07:18 am PDT

brillig do trees hold more carbon compacted, than forest floors?

Christian Patrick Galles
27th June, 2011 @ 09:21 am PDT

Yes I always wonder when they don't include data.....WHY...

Would it disprove the garbage of HUMAN CAUSED global warming or what ever the liars are calling it today ...are we still calling it climate change...gee the polar cap on Mars is receding the same as here...Gore wants all SUV's and Human caused warming off of Mars right now! Or he can tax them!

Macho Slavich
27th June, 2011 @ 09:24 am PDT

Macho, The Polar caps on Mars are Seasonal dry ice (CO2). They evaporate every year and swap polls. 5th Grade Science text book.

Neal
27th June, 2011 @ 07:22 pm PDT

Furthermore, Brillig, the study was on the effects of slash and burn forest clearing for farming, not a usual Canadian pastime. That is why there is a gray area. Although if you are interested in a counter argument I am sure Philip Morris still have their benefits of smoke inhalation studies from the 1950's archived.

Neal
27th June, 2011 @ 07:42 pm PDT

Neal: We already knew why the polar caps recede on Mars, that wasn't the point, the point was the same thing happens on earth!

mrhuckfin
28th June, 2011 @ 04:28 am PDT

Mr. Huck Fin, I believe the point would be that Dry Ice with an equilibrium is NOT the same as water ice with a declining rate of return, and a 2 cm yearly (X 148K) growth rate in liquid water. Mrhuckfin, what you actually implied is that Earth is supposed to have the same size ice sheet return each year just like Mars.

Neal
28th June, 2011 @ 05:19 pm PDT

Neal: No that's not what I meant, the point is the earth "cycles" and is always going through some sort of atmospheric and/or weather pattern change and has always been in a constant state of flux, there has never been a "normal" pattern on this planet other then the fact that ice comes and goes with regular cycles just like on Mars. Right now the earth is going through a cooling phase and is likely to keep to that for quite some time.

mrhuckfin
28th June, 2011 @ 11:29 pm PDT
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