Mapping the world's forests
20 September 2017
Using satellite radar data, scientists have created a global map that quantifies the amount of wood in our forests - a key to understanding Earth's carbon cycle and, ultimately, climate change.
Forests play a crucial role in Earth's carbon cycle. In general, forests are 'carbon sinks' as they absorb and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Forests that are logged or burnt down, however, release parts of the stored carbon into the atmosphere.
To understand the carbon cycle better, scientists use forest carbon stock estimates from Earth observation data. One of the parameters for these estimates is 'growing stock volume', which describes how many cubic metres of wood are estimated per hectare. Stock volume represents above-ground carbon and is thus one of the most important variables in the global carbon cycle.
ESA's GlobBiomass project is paving the way for a synergistic Earth observation approach to the operational monitoring of carbon stocks globally. The project exploits archived radar and optical data - including data from the Sentinel fleet of satellites - to develop new algorithms in cooperation with expert teams from across the globe.
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When we think of climate change, one of the first things to come to mind is melting polar ice. However, ice loss isn't just restricted to the polar regions. According to research published today, glaciers around the world have lost well over 9000 gigatonnes (nine trillion tonnes) of ice since 1961.