Mapping Forest Carbon Storage with GIS

Forests cover about 30% of Earth’s land surface, accounting for 50% of plant productivity and as much as 45% of the carbon sorted on land.

As the reality of climate change becomes increasingly apparent, scientists, engineers, and land planners are looking towards reforestation, afforestation, and the prevention of deforestation to address the world’s carbon imbalance.

“The biggest natural sink of terrestrial carbon lies in our forests and trees,” says Steve Running, a forest ecologist at the University of Montana. “And the biggest natural source of carbon on land is also the forest. So one of the most important things we can do for understanding the carbon budget is to get a better inventory of the carbon we have in our trees.”

However, to many the first step is more advanced mapping and monitoring of Earth’s carbon biomass stored in forests. The broad field of Geospatial Information Science and Engineering is concerned with the above-mentioned mapping and monitoring systems. This field includes such related skill-sets as:

  • Remote sensing and digital image/video analysis
  • Geographic information systems (GIS)
  • Spatial and spatiotemporal databases
  • Artificial intelligence/machine learning in spatial analysis and modeling
  • Environmental resources monitoring, modeling and assessment

“We need to see Earth’s vegetation in three dimensions,” says Jon Ranson, a forest ecologist based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “By measuring the height of forests, we can then estimate above-ground biomass and estimate the carbon stored in that forest. The more accurate the measurements, the more certain our estimates of the carbon.”

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