U.S. Department of Agriculture: Forest Service -- National Agroforestry Center


Date of this Version



Remote Sensing of Environment 123 (2012) 25–40; doi:10.1016/j.rse.2012.02.023


Sound forest policy and management decisions to mitigate rising atmospheric CO2 depend upon accurate methodologies to quantify forest carbon pools and fluxes over large tracts of land. LiDAR remote sensing is a rapidly evolving technology for quantifying aboveground biomass and thereby carbon pools; however, little work has evaluated the efficacy of repeat LiDAR measures for spatially monitoring aboveground carbon pools through time. Our study objective was therefore to evaluate the use of discrete return airborne LiDAR for quantifying biomass change and carbon flux from repeat field and LiDAR surveys. We collected LiDAR data in 2003 and 2009 across ~20,000 ha of an actively managed, mixed conifer forest landscape in northern Idaho. The Random Forest machine learning algorithm was used to impute aboveground biomass pools of trees, saplings, shrubs, herbaceous plants, coarse and fine woody debris, litter, and duff using field-based forest inventory data and metrics derived from the LiDAR collections. Separate predictive tree aboveground biomass models were developed from the 2003 and 2009 field and LiDAR data, and biomass change was estimated at the plot, pixel, and landscape levels by subtracting 2003 predictions from 2009 predictions. Traditional stand exam data were used to independently validate 2003 and 2009 tree aboveground biomass predictions and tree aboveground biomass change estimates at the stand level. Over this 6-year period, we found a mean increase in tree aboveground biomass due to forest growth across the non-harvested portions of 4.1 Mg/ha/yr. We found that 26.3% of the landscape had been harvested during this time period which outweighed growth at the landscape level, resulting in a net tree aboveground biomass change of −5.7 Mg/ha/yr, and −2.3 Mg/ha/yr in total aboveground carbon, summed across all the aboveground biomass pools. Change in aboveground biomass was related to forest successional status; younger stands gained two- to three-fold less biomass than did more mature stands. This result suggests that even the most mature forest stands are valuable carbon sinks, and implies that forest management decisions that include longer harvest rotation cycles are likely to favor higher levels of aboveground carbon storage in this system. A 30-fold difference in LiDAR sampling density between the 2003 and 2009 collections did not affect plot-scale biomass estimation. These results suggest that repeat LiDAR surveys are useful for accurately quantifying high resolution, spatially explicit biomass and carbon dynamics in conifer forests.