National-scale estimation of gross forest aboveground carbon loss: A case study of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

A. Tyukavina, S. V. Stehman, P. V. Potapov, S. A. Turubanova, A. Baccini, S. J. Goetz, N. T. Laporte, R. A. Houghton, M. C. Hansen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Recent advances in remote sensing enable the mapping and monitoring of carbon stocks without relying on extensive in situ measurements. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is among the countries where national forest inventories (NFI) are either non-existent or out of date. Here we demonstrate a method for estimating national-scale gross forest aboveground carbon (AGC) loss and associated uncertainties using remotely sensed-derived forest cover loss and biomass carbon density data. Lidar data were used as a surrogate for NFI plot measurements to estimate carbon stocks and AGC loss based on forest type and activity data derived using time-series multispectral imagery. Specifically, DRC forest type and loss from the FACET (Forêts d'Afrique Centrale Evaluées par Télédétection) product, created using Landsat data, were related to carbon data derived from the Geoscience Laser Altimeter System (GLAS). Validation data for FACET forest area loss were created at a 30-m spatial resolution and compared to the 60-m spatial resolution FACET map. We produced two gross AGC loss estimates for the DRC for the last decade (2000-2010): a map-scale estimate (53.3 ± 9.8 Tg C yr-1) accounting for whole-pixel classification errors in the 60-m resolution FACET forest cover change product, and a sub-grid estimate (72.1 ± 12.7 Tg C yr-1) that took into account 60-m cells that experienced partial forest loss. Our sub-grid forest cover and AGC loss estimates, which included smaller-scale forest disturbances, exceed published assessments. Results raise the issue of scale in forest cover change mapping and validation, and subsequent impacts on remotely sensed carbon stock change estimation, particularly for smallholder dominated systems such as the DRC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number044039
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Congo
  • REDD
  • carbon monitoring
  • forest cover loss
  • remote sensing
  • uncertainty assessment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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