Study brings satellite data down to earth for biomass tracking

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Combining forest inventories with remote sensing could increase accuracy and lower costs

For really accurate calculations of tree cover, or above-ground biomass, there’s no substitute for getting out into the woods with a measuring tape. But that’s time-consuming and expensive, and those measurements cover a limited area. Satellites provide a broader view, but miss the nuance that’s visible on the ground.

“You get much closer to reality if you look at both,” says CIFOR-ICRAF senior associate Martin Herold, an author of a study published in August in Science of the Total Environment that examines the challenges and possibilities of combining the two types of data.

Can they be combined to provide more precise estimates of carbon stocks, at both the country level and globally, for monitoring Paris Agreement commitments and programs for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+)?

Herold and his colleagues say yes — though some adjustments would be needed to integrate them fully.

Each data-gathering method has advantages and limitations. National forest inventories (NFIs), which include biomass estimates and are conducted in most of the world’s countries, are based on field plots. But monitoring those field plots is costly, so the number is limited, and results must be averaged out over the country, resulting in less-precise calculations.

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