A New Benchmark for the World

A New Benchmark for the World

Michele Berger
Published: 06/15/2011

Image: 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

At the end of May, researchers at NASA revealed the maps above, what Sassan Saatchi, a remote-sensing specialist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the scientist who lead the team, calls a benchmark for future comparisons of carbon stored in the world’s tropical forests.

The top image shows the amount of carbon stored across 2.5 billion hectares of tropical forests on three continents, including 75 developing countries. “Forests in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia accounted for 49%, 25%, and 26% of the total stock, respectively,” according to the research, published in the June 14 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The bottom image accounts for possible uncertainty in the analysis. Research included reviews of total carbon stock in live biomass both above ground and below, using satellite imagery and inventory samples from on the ground.

According to the paper, the NASA researchers hope the maps will help developing countries meet one obligation of participating in the UN’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) program, an effort that financially incentivizes efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Developing countries are required to produce robust estimates of forest carbon stocks for successful implementation of climate change mitigation policies,” states the PNAS paper. These new data will “be invaluable for REDD assessments at both project and national scales.”

Adds Saatchi: “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. Areas often impacted by disturbance, human or natural, have lower carbon storage.”

Saatchi’s next step, according to a NASA press release, includes looking at satellite pictures of deforestation and his map side by side. The idea: To locate carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere.