Researchers led by Alessandro Baccini at the Woods Hole Research Center gathered two years of laser satellite, or Lidar, data to develop a map of carbon storage in tropical forests that could play an important role in effective forest management.
Tropical forests, alongside boreal forests and wetlands, are prime ecosystems for storing carbon. More than 300 field visits across Latin America, Africa and Asia were used to confirm and calibrate the Lidar data on carbon stocks before the final measurements were projected onto an interactive map.
The map and the related study are available to everybody. The Indonesian government, for example, has expressed interest in using the maps to reduce the carbon footprint of the palm oil industry, which is responsible for widespread destruction of the country’s tropical forests through development of palm plantations.
The information might also encourage a new source of national revenue through the United Nations program on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), by highlighting the lands that would be most profitable to protect.
However, Dr. Baccini also recognizes limitations: the data are mapped in 500-square-meter plots, still quite coarse for genuinely effective management since deforestation often happens at a very small scale.
The maps’ exclusive focus on above-ground biomass is also problematic: a recent study found that soil and roots might store more than 25% of the carbon in tropical forests.
Nonetheless, the potential of the maps has already been affirmed through the partnership in Indonesia. Also a collaborative work is taking place involving indigenous groups in South America.