Abrupt forest disturbances generating gaps >0.001 km2 impact roughly 0.4–0.7 million km2a−1. Fire, windstorms, logging, and shifting cultivation are dominant disturbances; minor contributors are land conversion, flooding, landslides, and avalanches. All can have substantial impacts on canopy biomass and structure. Quantifying disturbance location, extent, severity, and the fate of disturbed biomass will improve carbon budget estimates and lead to better initialization, parameterization, and/or testing of forest carbon cycle models. Spaceborne remote sensing maps large-scale forest disturbance occurrence, location, and extent, particularly with moderate- and fine-scale resolution passive optical/near-infrared (NIR) instruments. High-resolution remote sensing (e.g., ∼1 m passive optical/NIR, or small footprint lidar) can map crown geometry and gaps, but has rarely been systematically applied to study small-scale disturbance and natural mortality gap dynamics over large regions. Reducing uncertainty in disturbance and recovery impacts on global forest carbon balance requires quantification of (1) predisturbance forest biomass; (2) disturbance impact on standing biomass and its fate; and (3) rate of biomass accumulation during recovery. Active remote sensing data (e.g., lidar, radar) are more directly indicative of canopy biomass and many structural properties than passive instrument data; a new generation of instruments designed to generate global coverage/sampling of canopy biomass and structure can improve our ability to quantify the carbon balance of Earth's forests. Generating a high-quality quantitative assessment of disturbance impacts on canopy biomass and structure with spaceborne remote sensing requires comprehensive, well designed, and well coordinated field programs collecting high-quality ground-based data and linkages to dynamical models that can use this information.


Earth Sciences, Earth Systems Research Center

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Journal of Geophysical Research Biogeosciences



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Copyright 2009 by the American Geophysical Union.