New maps show the carbon in the trees

Posted on 10 September 2010
Where the carbon is - image shows an area of road building and development adjacent to primary forest in red tones, and secondary forest regrowth in green tones
© Carnegie Institute
Lima, Peru: A revolutionary approach for mapping and monitoring the carbon held in tropical forests is a major step forward in protecting the climate and biodiversity, WWF said today.

Among new insights developed from mapping the carbon in the forests of the Madre de Dios, an area the size of Austria in Peru’s south-western Amazon region, is the significance of emissions from forest degradation.

The new procedures to develop, for the first time, high resolution maps of stored carbon were the result of a collaboration between scientists from WWF’s Conservation Science Programme, WWF Peru,  the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology, the Peruvian Ministry of the Environment (MINAM) and the Asociación para la Conservación de la Cuenca Amazónica (ACCA).

“This is ground-breaking because we can now calculate, with unprecedented certainty, how much carbon is in forests and monitor the climate change-causing carbon emissions released as forests are damaged or destroyed” said Dr. George Powell of WWF’s Conservation Science Programme and a co-author of the study.

Accurately mapping the carbon in tropical forests is a key to successfully tackling climate change by halting forest loss. A mechanism known as REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) could compensate developing countries for emissions reductions from forest loss as well as conservation, sustainable management and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.

“This innovative approach to mapping carbon has provided a needed breakthrough in accurately assessing whether real progress is being made by countries in efforts to reduce forest damage and loss,” said co-author Michael Valqui from WWF-Peru, “The Government of Peru’s involvement in this effort demonstrates their interest in building capacity to monitor, report and verify emissions to ensure that climate benefits result from forest conservation efforts.”

The forest mapping procedure, developed by Carnegie, combines satellite imagery, airborne, laser-based technology (LiDAR) and traditional, ground plot data to quantify the carbon stored in forests with an efficiency and accuracy that is unmatched by previous approaches. With this approach, it is also now possible to reduce the costs associated with evaluating carbon stocks at a large scale. Key progress has also been made on quantifying forest degradation, which is usually the result of fires and logging.

“Our analysis demonstrated that forest degradation, which has previously been unaccounted for in assessments of emissions, can actually contribute a large part to total emissions caused by people mismanaging forests. In the case of our study, it accounted for up to third of the total carbon emitted,” said Dr. Powell.

WWF and Carnegie are collaborating on further applications of this technology to help countries throughout the tropics develop their capacity to map the carbon content of their forests and monitor their carbon emissions in the coming years. This effort will contribute to the important role of forests in combating climate change being properly recognized and valued.

This research was made possible with support from the Government of Norway and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

For further information:
• Melissa Tupper, WWF-US, mobile: +1 202 569 0842, email:
• Kjeld Nielsen, WWF-Peru, mobile: + 511 989 230157, email

Where the carbon is - image shows an area of road building and development adjacent to primary forest in red tones, and secondary forest regrowth in green tones
© Carnegie Institute Enlarge