Lidar-derived estimate and uncertainty of carbon sink in successional phases of woody encroachment


Corresponding author: T. Sankey, Laboratory of Landscape Ecology and Conservation Biology, School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability, Rm 223, ARD Building, 1298 S. Knoles Drive, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ 86011, USA. (


[1] Woody encroachment is a globally occurring phenomenon that contributes to the global carbon sink. The magnitude of this contribution needs to be estimated at regional and local scales to address uncertainties present in the global- and continental-scale estimates, and guide regional policy and management in balancing restoration activities, including removal of woody plants, with greenhouse gas mitigation goals. The objective of this study was to estimate carbon stored in various successional phases of woody encroachment. Using lidar measurements of individual trees, we present high-resolution estimates of aboveground carbon storage in juniper woodlands. Segmentation analysis of lidar point cloud data identified a total of 60,628 juniper tree crowns across four watersheds. Tree heights, canopy cover, and density derived from lidar were strongly correlated with field measurements of 2613 juniper stems measured in 85 plots (30 × 30 m). Aboveground total biomass of individual trees was estimated using a regression model with lidar-derived height and crown area as predictors (Adj. R2 = 0.76, p < 0.001, RMSE = 0.58 kg). The predicted mean aboveground woody carbon storage for the study area was 677 g/m2. Uncertainty in carbon storage estimates was examined with a Monte Carlo approach that addressed major error sources. Ranges predicted with uncertainty analysis in the mean, individual tree, aboveground woody C, and associated standard deviation were 0.35 – 143.6 kg and 0.5 – 1.25 kg, respectively. Later successional phases of woody encroachment had, on average, twice the aboveground carbon relative to earlier phases. Woody encroachment might be more successfully managed and balanced with carbon storage goals by identifying priority areas in earlier phases of encroachment where intensive treatments are most effective.