The Role and Need for Space-Based Forest Biomass-Related Measurements in Environmental Management and Policy

Published on
July 22, 2019

An article of Martin Herold, Sarah Carter, Valerio Avitabile, Andrés Espejo, Inge Jonckheere, Richard Lucas, Ronald McRoberts, Erik Næsset, Joanne Nightingale, Rachael Petersen, Johannes Reiche, Erika Romijn, Ake Rosenqvist, Danaë M. A. Rozendaal, Frank Martin Seifert, María Sanz, Veronique De Sy: The Role and Need for Space-Based Forest Biomass-Related Measurements in Environmental Management and Policy, has been published in Surveys in Geophysics, July 2019, Volume 40, Issue 4, pp 757–778.

The achievement of international goals and national commitments related to forest conservation and management, climate change, and sustainable development requires credible, accurate, and reliable monitoring of stocks and changes in forest biomass and carbon. Most prominently, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals in particular require data on biomass to monitor progress. Unprecedented opportunities to provide forest biomass data are created by a series of upcoming space-based missions, many of which provide open data targeted at large areas and better spatial resolution biomass monitoring than has previously been achieved. We assess various policy needs for biomass data and recommend a long-term collaborative effort among forest biomass data producers and users to meet these needs. A gap remains, however, between what can be achieved in the research domain and what is required to support policy making and meet reporting requirements. There is no single biomass dataset that serves all users in terms of definition and type of biomass measurement, geographic area, and uncertainty requirements, and whether there is need for the most recent up-to-date biomass estimate or a long-term biomass trend. The research and user communities should embrace the potential strength of the multitude of upcoming missions in combination to provide for these varying needs and to ensure continuity for long-term data provision which one-off research missions cannot provide. International coordination bodies such as Global Forest Observations Initiative (GFOI), Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS), and Global Observation of Forest Cover and Land Dynamics (GOFC‐GOLD) will be integral in addressing these issues in a way that fulfils these needs in a timely fashion. Further coordination work should particularly look into how space-based data can be better linked with field reference data sources such as forest plot networks, and there is also a need to ensure that reference data cover a range of forest types, management regimes, and disturbance regimes worldwide.

Keywords: Remote sensing; Climate change; Carbon stocks; Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD); Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)