Mapping tropical forest carbon: Calibrating plot estimates to a simple LiDAR metric

Gregory P. Asner, Joseph Mascaro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

229 Scopus citations


Mapping aboveground carbon density (ACD) in tropical forests can enhance large-scale ecological studies and support CO2 emissions monitoring. Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) has proven useful for estimating carbon density patterns outside of field plot inventory networks. However, the accuracy and generality of calibrations between LiDAR-assisted ACD predictions (EACDLiDAR) and estimated ACD based on field inventory techniques (EACDfield) must be increased in order to make tropical forest carbon mapping more widely available. Using a network of 804 field inventory plots distributed across a wide range of tropical vegetation types, climates and successional states, we present a general conceptual and technical approach for linking tropical forest EACDfield to LiDAR top-of-canopy height (TCH) using regional-scale inputs of basal area and wood density. With this approach, we show that EACDLiDAR and EACDfield reach nearly 90% agreement at 1-ha resolution for a wide array of tropical vegetation types. We also show that Lorey's Height - a common metric used to calibrate LiDAR measurements to biomass - is severely flawed in open canopy forests that are common to the tropics. Our proposed approach can advance the use of airborne and space-based LiDAR measurements for estimation of tropical forest carbon stocks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)614-624
Number of pages11
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
StatePublished - Jan 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Aboveground carbon density
  • Biomass
  • Carbon stock estimation
  • Carnegie Airborne Observatory
  • LiDAR
  • Lorey's height
  • National forest inventory
  • Rainforest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Geology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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