Markedly divergent estimates of Amazon forest carbon density from ground plots and satellites

E.T.A. Mitchard, T.R. Feldpausch, R.J.W. Brienen, G. Lopez-Gonzalez, A. Monteagudo, T.R. Baker, S.L. Lewis, L. Poorter, M. Peña-Claros

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

198 Citations (Scopus)


Aim The accurate mapping of forest carbon stocks is essential for understanding the global carbon cycle, for assessing emissions from deforestation, and for rational land-use planning. Remote sensing (RS) is currently the key tool for this purpose, but RS does not estimate vegetation biomass directly, and thus may miss significant spatial variations in forest structure. We test the stated accuracy of pantropical carbon maps using a large independent field dataset. Location Tropical forests of the Amazon basin. The permanent archive of the field plot data can be accessed at: Methods Two recent pantropical RS maps of vegetation carbon are compared to a unique ground-plot dataset, involving tree measurements in 413 large inventory plots located in nine countries. The RS maps were compared directly to field plots, and kriging of the field data was used to allow area-based comparisons. Results The two RS carbon maps fail to capture the main gradient in Amazon forest carbon detected using 413 ground plots, from the densely wooded tall forests of the north-east, to the light-wooded, shorter forests of the south-west. The differences between plots and RS maps far exceed the uncertainties given in these studies, with whole regions over- or under-estimated by >¿25%, whereas regional uncertainties for the maps were reported to be
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)935-946
JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • aboveground live biomass
  • stocks
  • deforestation
  • emissions
  • allometry
  • patterns
  • basin
  • soils


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