Measuring Forests in 3D Provides Greater Accuracy
Measuring forests in the U.S. with 3D laser scanning indicates they may have significantly more carbon than previously thought. In a recent article by A.E.L. Stovall in Science Trends he reports that terrestrial laser scanning is providing more accurate estimates of tree biomass.
- A new method found 25% more carbon in trees than the traditional approach
- The good news is that we have an even greater incentive to preserve forests for combating climate change
- On the flip-side, our findings also suggest deforestation may be emitting far more carbon than we previously understood
- Essentially, the carbon gained and lost in a forest is much greater than we expected
Tree weight is directly proportional to the amount of carbon it holds – approximately one half of a tree’s dry mass, or biomass, is carbon – so accurate tree weight is critical for estimating forest carbon. Essentially, the most straightforward way of measuring how much carbon a tree holds is to put it on a scale.
The problem is, weighing trees is expensive, complicated, and counterproductive. Millions of dollars are invested in cutting down and weighing mere tens to hundreds of trees, so it is critical to make the most of the few measurements available and avoid cutting trees, as much as possible.
The standard approach of estimating tree weight (and carbon) without cutting them down is to develop a simple relationship between the diameter of the trunk of a tree and the carbon in that tree. Over a range of tree sizes, a relationship begins to emerge – larger trees have more carbon – and we apply these allometric relationships or allometry to millions of tree diameter measurements globally. But what happens if tree allometry breaks down and is not representative of the actual carbon held in trees?
Enter terrestrial laser scanning with the ability to create 3D models of trees, estimate tree volume and, with wood density, retrieve tree weight. Researchers now have the ability to accurately weigh trees with lasers and improve existing assessments of global forest carbon.
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