Researchers use satellite imagery, LiDAR to develop world”s first national carbon map

Researchers use satellite imagery, LiDAR to develop world”s first national carbon map


Panama: Researchers have mapped the above ground carbon density throughout the Republic PanamaCarnegie Institute for Science Logo in high resolution. This is the first time when such mapping has been done for an entire country. Researchers integrated field data with satellite imagery and high-resolution airborne Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data to map the vegetation and to quantify carbon stocks.

Caption: This is the first high-resolution national carbon map. The highest carbon stocks in Panama are in the humid forests on the Caribbean side (red). The lowest carbon stocks are in developed areas (blue). Photo Credit: Carnegie Airborne ObservatoryResearchers from Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), McGill University and UC-Berkeley found Panama to be an ideal laboratory to develop and test a method for quantifying aboveground carbon because of its complex landscapes, with variable topography, and diverse ecosystems. They combined ground-based plot sampling, satellite imagery, and LiDAR measurements from the Carnegie Airborne Observatory to carry out the project. LiDAR uses reflected laser light to image vegetation canopy structure in 3-D. The scientists calibrated the LiDAR measurements, taken at one-metre resolution throughout nearly one million acres (390,000 hectares), to the carbon density in 228 regional field plots, established and sampled by the collaborating scientists. They used 91 other plots to validate the LiDAR”s aboveground carbon density estimates. The results are the first maps that report carbon stocks locally in areas as small as a hectare (2.5 acres) and yet cover millions of hectares in a short time.

The new system, described in Carbon Balance and Management, will greatly boost conservation and efforts to mitigate climate change through carbon sequestration. It will also inform our understanding of how carbon storage can be used to assess other fundamental ecosystem characteristics such as hydrology, habitat quality, and biodiversity. The approach provides much-needed technical support for carbon-based economic activities such as the United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) program* in developing countries.

More information about the project is avialable at