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Biomass Carbon Monitor: a new tool for monitoring carbon exchanges between forests and the atmosphere around the world

​The firm Kayrros and its partners, the LSCE (CEA-CNRS-UVSQ) and INRAE, are launching the first measurement platform to monitor, on a regional scale, the capacity of forests to reduce atmospheric CO2. These open access data are based on spatial observations of biomass and capitalize on nearly 30 years of research.

Published on 29 October 2021

The Biomass Carbon Monitor provides data going back to 2011, and will be updated four times per year. It provides governments, forest managers and citizens with science-based validated information to monitor the evolution of the carbon stocks contained in forests and, in particular, to measure the losses induced by extreme climate events.

Globally, the data show that some 760 million metric tons of carbon per year were removed from the atmosphere and stored by forest. This removal of carbon offsets the annual CO2 emissions associated from China during the same period. However, while most forests in the northern hemisphere trap carbon, many tropical regions affected by deforestation release carbon.

The following is an overview of what has been observed since 2011:

  • Southern China shows a significant carbon sink (80 million metric tons of carbon per year), likely due to vegetation growth driven by government reforestation and restoration programs, improved forest management practices, and reduced deforestation by local people.
  • Trees in western Russia sequestered 100 million metric tons of carbon each year between 2011 and 2020, more than all of the forests in the European Union. Declining agricultural land and longer growing seasons, e.g. rising spring temperatures may have encouraged vegetation growth in the region.
  • Biomass has also increased in North America (the central and eastern parts, and the Caribbean), removing about 1 billion metric tons of carbon in ten years.
  • In tropical regions, the replacement of carbon-rich primary forests by plantations and forest degradation largely explains the observed changes: Brazil, Bolivia, the Congo Basin and Southeast Asia are all major emitters of carbon.

"This is a revolutionary tool that complements the inventories and spatial observations already available, by providing comprehensive information on how the carbon stored by biomass evolves over time," says Philippe Ciais, a researcher at the LSCE.

The Biomass Carbon Monitor is based on observations by the SMOS (Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity) mini-satellite of the European Space Agency (ESA). Its instruments make it possible to probe the entire vegetation layer, not just the top of the canopy. This approach is particularly adapted to dense vegetation and semi-arid regions, for which very few ground-based inventories are available. It allows seasonal monitoring of carbon losses and gains by vegetation, in relation to climate change.

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