Monitoring and estimating tropical forest carbon stocks: making REDD a reality

Monitoring and estimating tropical forest carbon stocks: making REDD a reality


Aboveground carbon is directly impacted by deforestation and degradation, thus it is often the variable of choice in monitoring activities. It is also used to estimate the amount of carbon in other pools. This article reviews methods available to estimate national-level forest carbon stocks in developing countries.

Conclusions & Takeaways

There are three general ways to monitor forest carbon stocks: the first is by looking at biome averages that are the result of harvest measurements and analysis of inventory data. Harvest measurements are very site-specific and bias increases as it is applied over large spatial scales, while forest inventory sampling schemes are usually not appropriate for larger-scale generalizations. However, this data is freely available and relatively consistent. The second relies on ground-based forest inventory. This method relies on ground measurements and the use of allometric equations to translate these measurements into biomass or carbon stock measurements. While pantropical allometric models have a similar accuracy as site- or species-specific allometries, sampling methods cannot be as general. Sampling should be designed to suit the environmental conditions and land-use history of the country to ensure adequate sampling strength. The third method is remote sensing. Remote sensing has the advantage of assessing large swathes of land at a time; however, its use is limited in the structural complexity and density of tropical forests. Remote sensing equipment also vary largely in operational costs, but it is a fast way to obtain data which would otherwise take up time and energy and use up project funds in a different way


Gibbs HK, Brown S, Niles JO, Foley JA. Monitoring and estimating tropical forest carbon stocks: making REDD a reality. Environmental Research Letters. 2007;2:045023. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/2/4/045023.


  • Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE), Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA
  • Winrock International, Ecosystem Services Unit, Arlington, VA, USA
  • Carbon Conservation, Santa Barbara, CA, USA