Topic 2g - Land: in-depth Case Study - Measuring Biomass

In this video, Dr Kirsten Barrett explains why monitoring the distribution of plant biomass from satellites is essential to studies of the carbon cycle, and its relation to climate. Dr Mathias Disney explores in more detail how we conduct these measurements remotely, both from satellites but also from lidar systems used on the ground to provide three dimensional representations of forest canopies.

Measurements of vegetation biomass are vital for providing information about the current and potential future state of the terrestrial part of the carbon cycle. Forests in particular can absorb and store huge amounts of carbon, but can also release carbon if they are disturbed – for example by fire - or during events such as extreme drought. The huge areas of terrestrial vegetation on our planet play a key role in regulating the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, and it is estimated that perhaps a quarter of all anthropogenically released CO2 is currently being taken up by land plants, shielding us from otherwise even more extreme changes in the climate. However, the exact amount of plant biomass and its distribution around particular regions of the planet is currently not particularly well quantified, especially in the tropics.

EO satellites provide us with opportunities to develop new and improved measures of how much plant biomass is currently present on the land surface, and how this is changing over time. Earth observation can provide consistent approaches to biomass assessment over vast regions, albeit not as accurately as can be done with the ground-based observations that can be conducted at a relatively limited set of locations. Therefore, a combination of the two types of measurement is generally required to produce regional estimates with the minimum uncertainty.

Featured Educators:

  • Dr Mathias Disney

Other Featured Experts:

  • Dr Kirsten Barrett

Don’t forget you can download the video, transcript and take any quizzes available with the links on the right.