The Role and Need for Space-Based Forest Biomass-Related Measurements in Environmental Management and Policy

Martin Herold, Sarah Carter*, Valerio Avitabile, Andrés B. Espejo, Inge Jonckheere, Richard Lucas, Ronald E. McRoberts, Erik Næsset, Joanne Nightingale, Rachael Petersen, Johannes Reiche, Erika Romijn, Ake Rosenqvist, Danaë M.A. Rozendaal, Frank Martin Seifert, María J. Sanz, V. de Sy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

66 Citations (Scopus)


The achievement of international goals and national commitments related to forest conservation and management, climate change, and sustainable development requires credible, accurate, and reliable monitoring of stocks and changes in forest biomass and carbon. Most prominently, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals in particular require data on biomass to monitor progress. Unprecedented opportunities to provide forest biomass data are created by a series of upcoming space-based missions, many of which provide open data targeted at large areas and better spatial resolution biomass monitoring than has previously been achieved. We assess various policy needs for biomass data and recommend a long-term collaborative effort among forest biomass data producers and users to meet these needs. A gap remains, however, between what can be achieved in the research domain and what is required to support policy making and meet reporting requirements. There is no single biomass dataset that serves all users in terms of definition and type of biomass measurement, geographic area, and uncertainty requirements, and whether there is need for the most recent up-to-date biomass estimate or a long-term biomass trend. The research and user communities should embrace the potential strength of the multitude of upcoming missions in combination to provide for these varying needs and to ensure continuity for long-term data provision which one-off research missions cannot provide. International coordination bodies such as Global Forest Observations Initiative (GFOI), Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS), and Global Observation of Forest Cover and Land Dynamics (GOFC‐GOLD) will be integral in addressing these issues in a way that fulfils these needs in a timely fashion. Further coordination work should particularly look into how space-based data can be better linked with field reference data sources such as forest plot networks, and there is also a need to ensure that reference data cover a range of forest types, management regimes, and disturbance regimes worldwide.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)757-778
JournalSurveys in Geophysics
Issue number4
Early online date11 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019


  • Carbon stocks
  • Climate change
  • Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD)
  • Remote sensing
  • Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)


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