A study published in Nature Climate Change today finds that tropical vegetation contains 21 percent more carbon than previous studies had suggested. Using a combination of remote sensing and field data, scientists from Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC), Boston University, and the University of Maryland were able to produce the first "wall-to-wall" map (with a spatial resolution of 500 m x 500 m) of carbon storage of forests, shrublands, and savannas in the tropics of Africa, Asia, and South America. Colors on the map represent the amount of carbon density stored in the vegetation in a continuum fashion (Figure 1). Reliable estimates of carbon storage are critical to understanding the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere by changes in land cover and land use.
Tropical deforestation is considered a major source of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change, releasing as much as 1.1 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year. Based on new data in this study, researchers believe that current models may overestimate the net flux of carbon into the atmosphere due to tropical vegetation loss by 11 to 12 percent. For countries trying to meet their greenhouse gases reporting requirements under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), these new data are particularly important.
Lead author Alessandro Baccini, an assistant scientist at WHRC, explained that the new data set provides a spatially and temporally consistent estimate of carbon stock and a stronger foundation for estimating carbon emissions by better characterizing the carbon density of the forest that has been lost. "For the first time we were able to derive accurate estimates of carbon densities using satellite LiDAR observations in places that have never been measured," said Baccini. "This is like having a consistent, very dense pantropical forest inventory."
In many developing nations, deforestation is the largest source o
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Woods Hole Research Center