Capacity Building

Pan-Tropical Mapping of Forest Cover and Above-Ground Carbon Stock

Tropical deforestation and forest degradation account for an estimated 17% of the world's annual anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas contributor. Despite the important ecosystem services that tropical forests provide, basic information on their condition and coverage is lacking, making it difficult to monitor deforestation and changes in forest-cover and associated carbon stock at global scales.

Scientists at the Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC) are involved in a project to map the distribution of forest cover across the tropics at a resolution of 15 m as well as produce a pan-tropical map of above-ground biomass (carbon) at a resolution of 500 m using a combination of satellite and field-survey data. Once completed, these maps are expected to provide consistent data sets of forest cover and carbon stock as a reference data set for future forest change mapping and carbon emission estimation.

Forest monitoring is becoming increasingly important to international policy efforts to slow the rates of tropical forest loss. Understanding mapping methods is critical to governments, forest communities, and indigenous groups engaged in the political process. WHRC scientists as part of the project are working with these groups to transfer the knowledge and skills required for forest monitoring, building the technical capacity of countries and communities to map and monitor their own forest resources.

Outreach through In-Country Workshops and Field Survey Collaborations

Technical workshops are a forum for exchanging information on forest monitoring tools and techniques while discussing their relevance for improved forest and carbon management in the context of international climate policies. WHRC sponsors workshops with forest technicians, local NGOs and indigenous groups in the tropical regions of Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Content ranges from the satellite- and field-based methods used to produce regional- to continental-scale estimates of forest cover and carbon stock to regional forest monitoring initiatives, local policy contexts and the role of indigenous knowledge in improving field techniques. WHRC scientists actively train in-country partners to conduct field surveys and lead field campaigns in their countries to collect data used in forest biomass estimation. Data from the field surveys are used to calibrate and validate maps derived from satellite imagery.

Pantropical Visiting Scholars Program

A select group of scholars from across the tropics including Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia visit the Woods Hole campus each September to train with WHRC scientists to expand their skills in forest measurement and monitoring techniques for the purposes of advancing knowledge-transfer within their home regions. The program explores the technical aspects and approaches of the wider pan-tropical mapping project, including data acquisition, image processing, and statistical analyses, as well as the use of satellite imagery together with ground-based measurement techniques in the development of forest cover and carbon-stock maps. The three-year program has involved forest specialists from governments and NGOs in Bolivia, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Lao PDR, Kenya, Uganda, Vietnam and Zambia. Scholars also participate in outreach activities and assist with project-sponsored workshops on forest mapping and monitoring.


Workshop participants from Bolivia measuring tree diameter, a key metric used in computing ground-based estimates of forest carbon storage. Photo by Wayne S. Walker.

Funding and support:

Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation,, the David & Lucile Packard Foundation, and NASA.

Key Project Partners:

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), JAXA Kyoto and Carbon Inititiative, Alaska Satellite Facility (ASF), NASA, SARMAP, Boston University, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation,, and the David & Lucile Packard Foundation.