NASA Satellites Help Quantify Forests’ Impacts on Global Carbon Budget


New methodology creates the first consistent global framework for estimating the carbon flux specifically for forests.

Using ground, airborne, and satellite data, a diverse team of international researchers – including NASA scientists – has created a new method to assess how the changes in forests over the past two decades have impacted carbon concentrations in the atmosphere.

In addition to better understanding the overall role of forests in the global carbon cycle, the scientists were also able to distinguish between the contributions of various forest types, confirming that among forests, tropical forests are those responsible for the largest component of global carbon fluctuations – both absorbing more carbon than other forest types, and releasing more carbon into the atmosphere due to deforestation and degradation.

While clearing land for agriculture, industry, and other human activities increases carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the primary cause of the global carbon dioxide increase over the last century is from human activities that burn fossil fuels such as coal and oil. On balance, trees and other plants pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

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Image via NASA Goddard Space Flight Center