New NASA model to help assess change in carbon concentrations from forests

Tropical forests absorbed more carbon than other forest types, released more carbon into atmosphere due to deforestation, degradation, the study found 

By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 04 February 2021
The group of researchers has created a new way to assess how changes in forests over the past two decades impacted carbon concentrations in the atmosphere.

Scientists have devised a new method to better understand the role of various forest types in the global carbon cycle. Tropical forests, for instance, are responsible for the largest component of global carbon fluctuations, according to a study published by the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

A group of researchers, including NASA scientists, has created a new way to assess how the changes in forests over the past two decades impacted carbon concentrations in the atmosphere.

They found that tropical forest absorbed more carbon than other forest types and released more carbon into the atmosphere due to deforestation and degradation.

The study was published February 4, 2021. The method tapped into numerous sources, including ground, airborne and satellite data, to create the “first consistent global framework for estimating the carbon flux specifically for forests,” according to the research.

Forests around the world serve as carbon sinks: They absorbed around 15.6 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere each year between 2001 and 2019. At the same time, deforestation, fires, among other disturbances released 8.1 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

The study accentuated the lack of uniformity in data on global carbon estimates. The data varies between countries, but scientists expressed hope that the new method will help arrive at better data sets.

According to Lola Fatoyinbo, co-author of the study:

“The good thing is that we know there is uncertainty and we can actually quantify it. All estimates come with an uncertainty around them, which is going to keep getting smaller and smaller as we get better data sets.”

NASA’s Carbon Monitoring Systems Biomass Pilot is expected to further improve understanding of carbon removal rates across forest landscapes. It comprises:

  • Satellite and field data to improve estimates of vegetation and carbon stocks
  • NASA’s ICESat-2
  • Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI), a laser-equipped instrument aboard the International Space Station that records the three-dimensional structures of the world’s temperate and tropical forests

The new approach, according to scientists, also helped identify the forest types that have higher uncertainties.  The framework could help countries reduce carbon emissions for which accurate and current data is needed.

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