Spatial predictions and uncertainties of forest carbon fluxes for carbon accounting

Arnan Araza*, Sytze de Bruin, Lars Hein, Martin Herold

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Countries have pledged to different national and international environmental agreements, most prominently the climate change mitigation targets of the Paris Agreement. Accounting for carbon stocks and flows (fluxes) is essential for countries that have recently adopted the United Nations System of Environmental-Economic Accounting - ecosystem accounting framework (UNSEEA) as a global statistical standard. In this paper, we analyze how spatial carbon fluxes can be used in support of the UNSEEA carbon accounts in five case countries with available in-situ data. Using global multi-date biomass map products and other remotely sensed data, we mapped the 2010–2018 carbon fluxes in Brazil, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Sweden and the USA using National Forest Inventory (NFI) and local biomass maps from airborne LiDAR as reference data. We identified areas that are unsupported by the reference data within environmental feature space (6–47% of vegetated country area); cross-validated an ensemble machine learning (RMSE=9–39 Mg C ha - 1 and R 2 =0.16–0.71) used to map carbon fluxes with prediction intervals; and assessed spatially correlated residuals (<5 km) before aggregating carbon fluxes from 1-ha pixels to UNSEEA forest classes. The resulting carbon accounting tables revealed the net carbon sequestration in natural broadleaved forests. Both in plantations and in other woody vegetation ecosystems, emissions exceeded sequestration. Overall, our estimates align with FAO-Forest Resource Assessment and national studies with the largest deviations in Brazil and USA. These two countries used highly clustered reference data, where clustering caused uncertainty given the need to extrapolate to under-sampled areas. We finally provide recommendations to mitigate the effect of under-sampling and to better account for the uncertainties once carbon stocks and flows need to be aggregated in relatively smaller countries. These actions are timely given the global initiatives that aim to upscale UNSEEA carbon accounting.

Original languageEnglish
Article number12704
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Early online dateAug 2023
Publication statusPublished - 5 Aug 2023


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