Bridging the Gap in Carbon Verification: GEO-TREES

Sample of data from GEO-TREES initiative
Sample of data from GEO-TREES initiative.

Understanding the GEO -TREES Initiative

Tropical forests globally require increased focus and resources due to the ravages of fires and unauthorized logging. Numerous for-profit entities are increasingly participating in the reforestation of these forests, aiming to earn profits from carbon credits. However, critics contend that the actual carbon reduction effects of tree planting are challenging to measure.

The GEO-TREES initiative, with $12 million funding from the Bezos Earth Fund, aims to enhance research and technological capacity in these tropical ecosystems. In collaboration with global space agencies, and leveraging over 40 years of experience from the ForestGEO network, GEO-TREES is poised to make a significant impact.

Transparency and Trust in Forest Carbon Estimates

Accurate measurement of forest carbon stocks and fluxes is essential for several reasons. Forests act as significant carbon sinks, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in biomass, making these measurements crucial for tracking progress toward climate goals and implementing effective mitigation strategies. The growing carbon market relies on accurate data to trade carbon credits, which supports the integrity of carbon markets and helps fund conservation efforts. Additionally, governments and organizations use data on forest carbon stocks and fluxes to inform policies and decisions related to forestry, conservation, and land use, guiding sustainable management practices and strategies to protect and restore forests. Thus, accurate measurement of forest carbon stocks and fluxes plays a vital role in sustainable environmental management.

Existing satellite maps offer forest carbon estimates, but these need ground-level verification. GEO-TREES builds on research networks like the Smithsonian's ForestGEO, which collaborates with researchers across 28 countries, creating reliable carbon estimates across diverse forest types.

The Current Landscape: A Global Standard in Carbon Verification

The wide variety of forest types, particularly in the tropics, presents a significant challenge due to the diversity of ecosystems, varying levels of degradation, and the complexity of biomass distribution. Tropical forests alone encompass a vast range of environments, from pristine rainforests to areas impacted by logging and agricultural expansion. The GEO-TREES initiative aims to address this challenge by establishing over 100 study sites in tropical and temperate forests worldwide. These study sites will cover a range of forest types, including mature, degraded, and secondary forests.

By establishing study sites across these varied forest types, GEO-TREES aims to create a comprehensive database that can be used to calibrate and validate satellite-based observations, ensuring accurate mapping of forest biomass across different ecosystems. This initiative also seeks to support in-country partners and local communities, particularly in regions most affected by climate change. The data collected from these sites will contribute to a standardized, open-access database, empowering researchers, policymakers, and environmentalists worldwide to make informed decisions on forest conservation, carbon markets, and climate change mitigation.

Actionable Steps: Addressing Forest Carbon Storage with Data

To assess the carbon storage capacity of these forests, scientists will manually measure trees in research plots and use terrestrial and airborne laser-scanning devices. This approach builds on decades of work, starting with a 50-hectare plot on Barro Colorado Island in Panama and expanding to ForestGEO's 76 research sites across 29 countries.

Open Source Data & Code

Access the open data for GEO-TREES here (login required to download).

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