NASA Releases a Map of Carbon Storage in Tropical Forests

by Matt Ball on May 31, 2011

A research team from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have created a precise map of the amount and location of carbon stored in tropical forests. The map was created with both ground- and space-based data sets, with both a detail of the amount of carbon stored as well as the accuracy.

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.

The team then extrapolated these data over the varying landscape to produce a seamless map, using NASA imagery from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on NASA’s Terra spacecraft, the QuikScat scatterometer satellite and the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission.

The researchers found that forests in Latin America hold 49 percent of the carbon in the world’s tropical forests. For example, Brazil’s carbon stock alone, at 61 billion tons, almost equals all of the carbon stock in sub-Saharan Africa, at 62 billion tons. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and more detail can be found in this press release.

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