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High-fidelity national carbon mapping for resource management and REDD+

Gregory P Asner1*, Joseph Mascaro1, Christopher Anderson1, David E Knapp1, Roberta E Martin1, Ty Kennedy-Bowdoin1, Michiel van Breugel2, Stuart Davies2, Jefferson S Hall2, Helene C Muller-Landau2, Catherine Potvin23, Wayne Sousa4, Joseph Wright2 and Eldridge Bermingham2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution for Science, 260 Panama Street, Stanford, CA 94305, USA

2 Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Apartado 72, Balboa, Republic of Panamá

3 Department of Biology, McGill University, 1205 Docteur Penfield Ave, Montreal, Canada

4 Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, 1005 VLSB, Berkeley, CA 94720-3140, USA

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Carbon Balance and Management 2013, 8:7  doi:10.1186/1750-0680-8-7

Published: 16 July 2013



High fidelity carbon mapping has the potential to greatly advance national resource management and to encourage international action toward climate change mitigation. However, carbon inventories based on field plots alone cannot capture the heterogeneity of carbon stocks, and thus remote sensing-assisted approaches are critically important to carbon mapping at regional to global scales. We advanced a high-resolution, national-scale carbon mapping approach applied to the Republic of Panama – one of the first UN REDD + partner countries.


Integrating measurements of vegetation structure collected by airborne Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) with field inventory plots, we report LiDAR-estimated aboveground carbon stock errors of ~10% on any 1-ha land parcel across a wide range of ecological conditions. Critically, this shows that LiDAR provides a highly reliable replacement for inventory plots in areas lacking field data, both in humid tropical forests and among drier tropical vegetation types. We then scale up a systematically aligned LiDAR sampling of Panama using satellite data on topography, rainfall, and vegetation cover to model carbon stocks at 1-ha resolution with estimated average pixel-level uncertainty of 20.5 Mg C ha-1 nationwide.


The national carbon map revealed strong abiotic and human controls over Panamanian carbon stocks, and the new level of detail with estimated uncertainties for every individual hectare in the country sets Panama at the forefront in high-resolution ecosystem management. With this repeatable approach, carbon resource decision-making can be made on a geospatially explicit basis, enhancing human welfare and environmental protection.

Biomass; Carbon stock; Carnegie Airborne Observatory; Deforestation; Forest degradation; Forest inventory; Light Detection and Ranging; Panama