NASA Map Depicts Carbon Stored in Tropical Forests

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Data from NASA’s Terra, QuickScat and ICESat satellites and a powerful radar sensor that flew on Space Shuttle Endeavour in 2000 have enabled researchers to create the most precise map ever produced depicting the amount and location of carbon stores in Earth’s tropical forests, NASA announced May 31.

NASA says the data are expected to provide a baseline for ongoing carbon monitoring and research and serve as a useful resource for managing carbon dioxide, an abundant greenhouse gas.

“This is a benchmark map that can be used as a basis for comparison in the future when the forest cover and its carbon stock change,” said Sassan Saatchi, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist who led the research. “The map shows not only the amount of carbon stored in the forest, but also the accuracy of the estimate.”

Most of the carbon depicted in the map is stored in the sprawling forests of Latin America.

The research team used data from the Geoscience Altimeter System lidar on NASA’s ICESat satellite to help calculate above-ground biomass and the amount of carbon it contained. Imagery from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer instrument on the Terra Earth observing satellite, the QuickScat scatterometer satellites and the 2000 Shuttle Radar Topography Mission was used in combination with data from ICESat and other ground- and space-based data to produce a seamless map, NASA said.

The map shows that in the early 2000s, forests in the 75 tropical countries studied contained nearly 225 billion metric tons of carbon, or more than 20 times more carbon than is released annually to the atmosphere from fossil fuel burning and land use changes.