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The spatial distribution of forest biomass in the Brazilian Amazon: a comparison of estimates


R.A. Houghton, tel +1/508-540-9900, fax +1/508 5409700, e-mail


The amount of carbon released to the atmosphere as a result of deforestation is determined, in part, by the amount of carbon held in the biomass of the forests converted to other uses. Uncertainty in forest biomass is responsible for much of the uncertainty in current estimates of the flux of carbon from land-use change. In the present contribution several estimates of forest biomass are compared for the Brazilian Amazon, based on spatial interpolations of direct measurements, relationships to climatic variables, and remote sensing data. Three questions were posed: First, do the methods yield similar estimates? Second, do they yield similar spatial patterns of distribution of biomass? And, third, what factors need most attention if we are to predict more accurately the distribution of forest biomass over large areas?

   The answer to the first two questions is that estimates of biomass for Brazil's Amazonian forests (including dead and belowground biomass) vary by more than a factor of two, from a low of 39 PgC to a high of 93 PgC. Furthermore, the estimates disagree as to the regions of high and low biomass. The lack of agreement among estimates confirms the need for reliable determination of aboveground biomass over large areas. Potential methods include direct measurement of biomass through forest inventories with improved allometric regression equations, dynamic modelling of forest recovery following observed stand-replacing disturbances, and estimation of aboveground biomass from airborne or satellite-based instruments sensitive to the vertical structure plant canopies.

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