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Mapping the world's forests

20 September 2017

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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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