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The future of tropical forest monitoring

Mat Disney and Simon Lewis at Edinburgh workshop

The future of tropical forest monitoring

Dr Mat Disney and Dr Simon Lewis were recently invited to a NERC-sponsored workshop at Edinburgh University,  Tropical forest monitoring in the 2020s – do we have the tools to quantify carbon losses and gains in African landscapes?  Organised by Dr. Ed Mitchard, School of Geosciences, it brought together scientists, policy specialists, NGOs and government experts on forest conservation, measurement and management.

Mat and Simon discussed new developments in tropical forest measurement, and how these might be used to address policy-based requirements for MRV (measurement, reporting and verification), REDD+, and other forest conservation efforts.

Current estimates of tropical forest carbon stocks are quite uncertain, particularly in Africa, because of the difficulty of making consistent observations. There are also large differences in carbon stock estimates across the tropics using different methods - particularly satellite and field-based measurements.

Some of the discussion centred around a new study, co-authored by Simon, highlighting these discrepancies (Mitchard et al., 2014). The New Scientist on 2nd May included a comment by Simon on this work:  (

In his paper at the meeting, Mat discussed how new highly-accurate terrestrial laser scanning methods might be used to provide estimates of forest carbon stocks independently of both satellite and field measurements, and how they might be used to validate and refine both. He showed examples of recent UCL work in Africa and Australia, and UK-based testing of this approach.

Simon reviewed the wide variety and quality of field-based measurements that have been made across the tropics, and highlighted the range of different protocols and approaches that can make comparisons difficult. He also presented work to reconcile these differences through the database he has developed, and outlined some of the challenges in improving our understanding of tropical forests.


Mitchard et al. (2014) Markedly divergent estimates of Amazon forest carbon density from ground plots and satellites,  Global Ecology and Biogeography, 10.1111/geb.12168.

The image shows a fly-through of terrestrial lidar data captured by the UCL team in an oak woodland in Surrey, using their new state-of-the-art lidar instrument. The lidar data are overlain with photographic data to provide the visualisation. These data can be used to estimate tree volume and biomass.


Lidar-based image of Surrey

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Mat Disney
Simon Lewis