Good News for once: Global Biomass Gains

Contributor(s): 
April 13, 2015

Changes in vegetation biomass can significantly alter the Earth’s carbon budget and are thus an important factor in regulating the consequences of anthropogenic climate change.  Global estimates of above ground vegetation biomass, however, have been few in number.  Recent advances in remote sensing—such as data from satellite passive microwave observations—now make it it possible to derive detailed estimates of biomass across the entire globe. Liu et al. (2015) utilized this latest technology to estimate global above ground biomass for forest and non-forest ecosystems across the last two decades with surprisingly encouraging results.

Liu et al. (2015) found that global above-ground biomass has on average declined since the early 1990s. This decline has been attributed mostly to tropical deforestation in countries such as Brazil and Indonesia. However, starting in 2003, the decline in above-ground biomass has tapered off. Temperate forests in Russia and China have expanded, while tropical deforestation has slowed down. Former communist countries have also undergone forest expansion associated with abandonment of agricultural lands. Furthermore, savannah and shrubland ecosystems of Africa and northern Australia have experienced increase in above-ground biomass resulting from increased rainfall variability in these highly water-limited systems. Al in all, the loss of vegetation biomass has been reversed in the last decade. With this latest trend, we can be hopeful for the future—as the forests are regenerating, they are able to sequester more CO2 and potentially mediate the negative consequences of climate change.

Citations:

Liu Y.Y., van Dijk A.I.J.M., de Jeu R.A.M., Canadell J., McCabe M.F., Evans J.P. and Wang G. 2015. Recent reversal in loss of global terrestrial biomass. Nature Climate Change. DOI: 10.1038/NCLIMATE2581