How much carbon is stored in the tropical rain forests?

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This much:


Benchmark map of carbon stored in Earth’s tropical forests, covering about 2.5 million hectares of forests over more than 75 countries. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/Winrock International/Colorado State University/University of Edinburgh/Applied GeoSolutions/University of Leeds/Agence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux/Wake Forest University/University of Oxford. Click image for slightly larger version . Click HERE for very much larger version.

A NASA-led research team has used a variety of NASA satellite data to create the most precise map ever produced depicting the amount and location of carbon stored in Earth’s tropical forests. The data are expected to provide a baseline for ongoing carbon monitoring and research and serve as a useful resource for managing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

The new map, created from ground- and space-based data, shows, for the first time, the distribution of carbon stored in forests across more than 75 tropical countries. Most of that carbon is stored in the extensive forests of Latin America.

“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 of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., who led the research. “The map shows not only the amount of carbon stored in the forest, but also the accuracy of the estimate.” The study was published May 30 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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7 thoughts on “How much carbon is stored in the tropical rain forests?

  1. I remember reading somewhere that tall grass prairie stored much more carbon in soils and overall than Rain forests where almost all the carbon is in living things. It was in an old book on the prairie as I recall. I wonder if that held up So If it’s true what does this show in terms of overall carbon in the Earth’s living system?

  2. Most upland rain forest biomass in near-surface and above-surface roots on up through the living plant tissues to the canopy. The soil has nothing. However, there are swampy marshy areas in rain forests that must have some carbon storage, including major subduction zones like the Cuvette.

    But there is way more carbon above ground in a rain forest than above ground in a grassland. The amount of carbon below ground in a prairie depends on the prairie.

    One thing to consider is the carbon-bearing effluence. The Congo and Amazon rivers, for example, dump an awful lot of stuff into the sea. The sea is a rough analog to the soil storage of a prairie. In counting the carbon-sinking capacities of a rain forest it will be necessary to consider this. Much of the heavier sediment coming form the Congo/Zaire river sinks into the deep ocean where it probably really is as removed from the system as any other carbon. But of course a lot of what goes into the sea would get cycled immediately into whatever system is going on there (plankton, etc.). The Niger and Cross river systems dump huge amounts of carbon into a subducting and forming delta (which in turn produces gas and oil which we are currently removing even at it is forming and burning, but whatever….)

    So it’s complicated….

  3. How much carbon is stored in the coniferous forests of the Northwest as well as northern CA. and B.C. up to Alaska? I am sure that it isn’t near the amount stored at the equator. Guess I’ll google it!


  4. I wonder what the “ground data” was. Even estimating the amount of wood in a managed forest for purposes of timber production is not that easy a task, let alone attempting to guess the total carbon. Many areas will have no ground data whatsoever and estimates from satellite data sets alone is dubious.

    There’s a hell of a lot of carbon out there though. For example, grasslands in spring and summer would typically put out a few hundred pounds of CO2 per acre per day when the grass is respiring in the evening – multiply by a few thousand acres for a relatively small grassland area and you’re looking at many thousands of tons per day (although much of that is soaked up by the very same plants when the sun rises again). For timber plantations growing the Canadian pine, you’re probably looking at a 10-year-old stand holding roughly 800+ tons carbon per acre. For tropical rainforests – well, they can be pretty dense with an awful lot of carbon in the understory, so I’d guess they have quite a bit more carbon per area than a timber plantation.

  5. Mark makes good point about prairie grass soils – John Wick of the Marin Carbon Project showed tremendous grassland soil carbon sequestration potential but there is still not much research out there on tropical, or for that matter, desert soils.

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