U.S. Department of Energy


Date of this Version



Forestry Field Validation Test (September 2011) 33 pages


Sound policy recommendations relating to the role of forest management in mitigating atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) depend upon establishing accurate methodologies for quantifying forest carbon pools for large tracts of land that can be dynamically updated over time. Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) remote sensing is a promising technology for achieving accurate estimates of aboveground biomass and thereby carbon pools; however, not much is known about the accuracy of estimating biomass change and carbon flux from repeat LiDAR acquisitions containing different data sampling characteristics.

In this study, discrete return airborne LiDAR data was collected in 2003 and 2009 across ~20,000 hectares (ha) of an actively managed, mixed conifer forest landscape in northern Idaho, USA. Forest inventory plots, established via a random stratified sampling design, were established and sampled in 2003 and 2009. The Random Forest machine learning algorithm was used to establish statistical relationships between inventory data and forest structural metrics derived from the LiDAR acquisitions. Aboveground biomass maps were created for the study area based on statistical relationships developed at the plot level.

Over this 6-year period, we found that the mean increase in biomass due to forest growth across the non-harvested portions of the study area was 4.8 metric ton/hectare (Mg/ha). In these non-harvested areas, we found a significant difference in biomass increase among forest successional stages, with a higher biomass increase in mature and old forest compared to stand initiation and young forest. Approximately 20% of the landscape had been disturbed by harvest activities during the six-year time period, representing a biomass loss of >70 Mg/ha in these areas. During the study period, these harvest activities outweighed growth at the landscape scale, resulting in an overall loss in aboveground carbon at this site. The 30-fold increase in sampling density between the 2003 and 2009 did not affect the biomass estimates.

Overall, LiDAR data coupled with field reference data offer a powerful method for calculating pools and changes in aboveground carbon in forested systems. The results of our study suggest that multitemporal LiDAR-based approaches are likely to be useful for high quality estimates of aboveground carbon change in conifer forest systems.