Tropical forests now emit more carbon than they capture

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In Massachusetts, a new, cutting-edge approach to measuring changes in aboveground forest carbon density has helped scientists determine that widespread deforestation, degradation and disturbance has caused tropical forests to now emit more carbon than they capture, countering their role as a net carbon sink.

The study quantifies changes in aboveground forest carbon across tropical America, Africa and Asia — the most threatened forests in the world — and those with the greatest ability to act as significant carbon stores as well as globally recognized hotspots of biodiversity and essential ecosystem services including food, fiber, and fuel for millions worldwide.

Using 12 years of satellite imagery, laser remote sensing technology and field measurements, the team was able to capture losses in forest carbon from wholesale deforestation as well as from more difficult to measure, fine-scale degradation and disturbance, which has previously proven a challenge to the scientific community over large areas.