First high-res maps of carbon trapped in rain forests revealed

Visitors walk on a ropebridge over a section of rainforest in Ghana. File photo  

Using satellite mapping, airborne-laser technology, and ground-based plot surveys, scientists have come out with the first high-resolution maps of carbon locked up in tropical forest vegetation and emitted by land-use practices.

The project by researchers at Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology, with colleagues from the World Wildlife Fund and in coordination with the Peruvian Ministry of the Environment (MINAM), has paved the way for accurate monitoring of carbon storage and emissions for the proposed United Nations initiative on Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD).

The new high-resolution mapping method will have a major impact on the implementation of REDD in tropical regions around the world.

The study covered over 16,600 square miles of the Peruvian Amazon-an area about the size of Switzerland. The researchers used a four-step process-they mapped vegetation types and disturbance by satellite; developed maps of 3-D vegetation structure using a LiDAR system (light detection and ranging) from the fixed-wing Carnegie Airborne Observatory; converted the structural data into carbon density using a small network of field plots on the ground; and integrated the satellite and LiDAR data for high-resolution maps of stored and emitted carbon. The scientists combined historical deforestation and degradation data with 2009 carbon stock information to calculate emissions from 1999-2009 for the Madre de Dios region.

“We found that the total regional forest carbon storage was about 395 million metric tons and emissions reached about 630,000 metric tons per year,” explained lead author Greg Asner. “But what really surprised us was how carbon storage differed among forest types and the underlying geology, all in very close proximity to one another. For instance, where the local geology is up to 60 million years old, the vegetation retains about 25% less carbon than the vegetation found on geologically younger, more fertile surfaces. We also found an important interaction between geology, land use, and emissions. These are the first such patterns to emerge from the Amazon forest,” he added.

The scientists also found that the paving of the Interoceanic Highway, combined with selective logging and gold mining, caused an increase of deforestation emissions of more than 61 percent by 2009, while degradation emissions doubled. Forest degradation increased regional carbon emissions by 47 percent over deforestation alone. However, the researchers were able to detect an 18 percent offset to these regional emissions in forests regrowing on previously cleared and now abandoned lands.

The study is published in the latest edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Oct 28, 2020 4:33:20 AM |

Next Story