Mapping global forest age from forest inventories, biomass and climate data

Simon Besnard*, Sujan Koirala, Maurizio Santoro, Ulrich Weber, Jacob Nelson, Jonas Gütter, Bruno Herault, Justin Kassi, Anny N'Guessan, Christopher Neigh, Benjamin Poulter, Tao Zhang, Nuno Carvalhais*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)


Forest age can determine the capacity of a forest to uptake carbon from the atmosphere. However, a lack of global diagnostics that reflect the forest stage and associated disturbance regimes hampers the quantification of age-related differences in forest carbon dynamics. This study provides a new global distribution of forest age circa 2010, estimated using a machine learning approach trained with more than 40000 plots using forest inventory, biomass and climate data. First, an evaluation against the plot-level measurements of forest age reveals that the data-driven method has a relatively good predictive capacity of classifying old-growth vs. non-old-growth (precisionCombining double low line0.81 and 0.99 for old-growth and non-old-growth, respectively) forests and estimating corresponding forest age estimates (NSECombining double low line0.6 - Nash-Sutcliffe efficiency - and RMSECombining double low line50 years - root-mean-square error). However, there are systematic biases of overestimation in young- and underestimation in old-forest stands, respectively. Globally, we find a large variability in forest age with the old-growth forests in the tropical regions of Amazon and Congo, young forests in China, and intermediate stands in Europe. Furthermore, we find that the regions with high rates of deforestation or forest degradation (e.g. the arc of deforestation in the Amazon) are composed mainly of younger stands. Assessment of forest age in the climate space shows that the old forests are either in cold and dry regions or warm and wet regions, while young-intermediate forests span a large climatic gradient. Finally, comparing the presented forest age estimates with a series of regional products reveals differences rooted in different approaches and different in situ observations and global-scale products. Despite showing robustness in cross-validation results, additional methodological insights on further developments should as much as possible harmonize data across the different approaches. The forest age dataset presented here provides additional insights into the global distribution of forest age to better understand the global dynamics in the forest water and carbon cycles. The forest age datasets are openly available at 10.17871/ForestAgeBGI.2021 (Besnard et al., 2021).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4881-4896
JournalEarth System Science Data
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2021


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