A new NASA map now quantifies the amount of carbon that is stored in tropical forests.
The NASA-led research team used ground and satellite data to locate and measure the amount of carbon stored in Earth’s tropical trees and forests provided this exciting work for those tracking carbon emissions.
Based on data from the early 2000s, the map details 2.5 million hectares of tropical forest located in 75 countries. This data show that tropical forests contain 247 billion tons of carbon, 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 Sassan Saatchi of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the leading researcher. “Areas often impacted by disturbance, human or natural, have lower carbon storage.”
It is estimated that almost 20 percent 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.
Of importance, this is the first time researchers have achieved a pan-continental overview, across varying forest types and structures using the same methodology.
The NASA satellite that was used provided information about tree heights that was 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 QuikScatscatterometer satellite and the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission.
NASA scientists believe this map will provide a baseline for comparison in future carbon monitoring, while providing data on the forests’ health and longevity. Each forest’s contribution to the global carbon cycle can be calculated and compared with satellite observations of deforestation, meaning sources of carbon dioxide can be identified.
It is also hoped that the map will assist 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 NASA study, dated May 30, 2011, was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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