About SilvaCarbon

SilvaCarbon is an interagency technical cooperation program of the US Government to enhance the capacity of selected tropical countries to measure, monitor, and report on carbon in their forests and other lands. Drawing on expertise and resources from multiple US Government agencies and partners, the program provides targeted technical support to countries in the process of developing and implementing national forest and landscape monitoring systems to support management decisions. SilvaCarbon leverages state-of-the-art science and technology to advance the generation and use of improved information related to forest and terrestrial carbon.



Forest regulates ecosystems, play a key role in carbon in the carbon cycle, support biodiversity, and local livelihoods. Tropical deforestation and forest degradation pose a serious threat to people, economies, and biodiversity worldwide. Tropical forests continue to decline at an alarming rate, undermining economic development and exacerbating social and environmental challenges. To address this concern, decision makers in tropical countries need more and better information about how forests and other landscapes are changing over time. There is a growing need for improved information about changes in forest and terrestrial carbon, in particular, to guide forest and land use management and planning, track and meet national sustainable development goals, and curb forest loss through approaches such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+).

Many tropical countries have prioritized the establishment of national forest and landscape monitoring systems. These systems combine remote sensing data with ground-based forest inventory data to generate up-to-date information about forest and landscape dynamics and associated carbon dynamics. This information is essential for sustainably managing natural resources, as well as combating illegal logging, addressing climate change, and fulfilling national and international reporting commitments. National forest and landscape monitoring systems also increase transparency and accountability, helping to level the international playing field for trade and private investment.

Recent years have seen the rapid advancement of forest and landscape monitoring science and technology. This includes impressive improvements in satellite data availability and quality along with improved ground measurements, enhanced modeling capabilities, and increased knowledge through research. In order to take full advantage of these opportunities, countries must first build the technical capacity to identify and adapt monitoring technologies that suit their national circumstances and be able to operationalize those technologies in an integrated national system. Technical cooperation plays an essential role in supporting countries to develop robust, cost-effective forest and landscape monitoring systems that are sustainable over the long term for land management and emission reporting purposes.

With this in mind, US federal agencies have joined together to create the SilvaCarbon program. SilvaCarbon capitalizes on the accumulated expertise of the US scientific and technical community to build capacity for monitoring, measuring, and reporting forest and terrestrial carbon. SilvaCarbon supports national forest and landscape monitoring efforts in partner countries by working directly with in-country technical teams and program leaders, identifying and disseminating good practices and cost-effective technologies, and facilitating technical cooperation at national, regional, and international levels.


SilvaCarbon assists countries to generate and effectively use improved information related to forest and terrestrial carbon to enhance management, monitoring and planning efforts. The SilvaCarbon Results Chain describes the objectives for the program and the pathways for achieving them.

Results Chain

Capacity-building Activities are strategically designed to achieve program Outputs, or short-term objectives. Outputs in turn contribute to program Outcomes, or medium-term objectives. Outcomes set the conditions needed to realize the program’s Impact, or overarching, long-term objective.

Activities in each partner country or region are intended to achieve specific objectives identified with partners, responding to national priorities and needs. Information about specific SilvaCarbon activities is available on the Activities Page.

Better information on forest, landscape, and terrestrial carbon dynamics help countries improve the management of these critical natural resources. Better planning, managing, and monitoring forests and other landscapes can help reduce vulnerability to natural disasters, increase economic activities, and support better governance. Enhanced transparency leads to better accountability to domestic and international stakeholders. These actions often also lead to a better investment and sourcing environment for the private sector.

Focal Areas

National forest and land use monitoring systems combine different subsystems and data to generate information that meets a variety of country-specific management, policy, and reporting needs. Most systems include remote sensing, and forest inventory components, and the integration of these data into GHG inventory. SilvaCarbon assists countries to strengthen technical capacities across each of these components, with emphasis on integrating the components and associated workstreams in holistic national systems that support multiple objectives.

Capacity-Building Focal Areas

Some of the technical issues addressed by SilvaCarbon include:

  • Sampling protocols and design
  • Satellite data analysis
  • Collection and analysis of in situ data
  • Integration of remotely sensed and in situ data
  • Forest classification and associated carbon estimation
  • Carbon emission derived from forest loss, forest disturbance and land use change
  • Design of monitoring systems for multiple uses


Collaboration is central to SilvaCarbon’s mission. As an interagency initiative of the US Government, the program mobilizes forest and landscape monitoring expertise and resources from multiple US agencies and domestic and international partners across government, academia, civil society, and industry. Key institutions involved in SilvaCarbon include:

US Government Agencies

The following US Government agencies have contributed to SilvaCarbon:

Funding for SilvaCarbon has been provided primarily through the USAID Sustainable Landscapes program and the US Department of State’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. Program implementation has been led primarily by USFS, USGS, EPA, and NASA.

SilvaCarbon also works closely with a variety of other US Government programs and initiatives. This includes the NASA-SERVIR program, which provides state-of-the-art, satellite-based Earth monitoring data, geospatial information, and tools to help improve environmental decision-making among developing nations in Eastern and Southern Africa, the Hindu-Kush-Himalaya region, and the Mekong River Basin in Southeast Asia.


Academia plays a crucial role in developing forest and landscape monitoring tools and approaches and in strengthening the underlying science. SilvaCarbon collaborates with a number of research partners to achieve its capacity-building objectives, including:

Nonprofits and private institutions

Where We Work

Country Participants

SilvaCarbon engages a variety of stakeholders in the countries where it works. This includes technical specialists and program leaders from national ministries and their constituent organizations, such as forestry departments, mapping authorities, and space data agencies, as well as national research institutions and non-governmental organizations engaged in national forest and landscape monitoring and GHG inventory programs. For more information on specific country partners, see activity information here.

Focal Countries

SilvaCarbon is global in geographic scope with a focus on tropical forested countries. To date, the program has collaborated with more than 25 countries through a combination of bilateral, regional, and global engagement. Current SilvaCarbon countries and regions are shown below.

Latin America and the Caribbean

Latin America and the Caribbean

SilvaCarbon began working with the Andean Amazon countries of Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru in 2011, and in 2014 expanded to include the Central American and Caribbean countries of Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. In 2019, SilvaCarbon began collaborating with Paraguay.

The SilvaCarbon Latin America and Caribbean Regional Program builds capacity for national-level forest carbon Measurement, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) for countries across the REDD+ readiness spectrum, complementing other donor efforts in the region. Countries in the region have demonstrated significant forest monitoring progress in recent years and have advanced significantly in the use of remote sensing products and the implementation of forest inventories. Capacity gaps remain, however, and targeted assistance is needed to support results reporting, mitigation activities, and institutional strengthening to ensure long-term sustainability.

The shared language, depth of experiences, and ongoing communication and technical support across Latin and America and the Caribbean contribute to excellent opportunities for South-South collaboration. SilvaCarbon takes advantage of these opportunities by facilitating cooperation and knowledge exchange at the regional level, empowering technical specialists from different countries to learn from one another to address shared challenges. SilvaCarbon regional support complements the bilateral support provided to individual countries.

The SilvaCarbon Latin America and Caribbean Regional Program currently focuses on three interrelated technical areas: (1) implementing national forest inventories that are consistent and can be integrated with remote sensing products generated to estimate change areas, and consistently mapping land use classes beyond forests with a replicable methodology; (2) tracking and reporting forest degradation; and (3) developing the regional community of forest and terrestrial carbon technical experts.

Illustrative Program Results
Latin America and the Caribbean

  • With technical assistance from SilvaCarbon, Peru finalized its first forest change map and is completing the first phase of its national forest inventory. Ecuador also completed its first national forest inventory and first forest change map for an area typically covered by clouds. Colombia was able to generate estimates of forest cover change annually for the first time, as well as develop a national forest inventory plan. SilvaCarbon assistance with national forest inventories in the three countries effectively created the first detailed "census" of the biologically diverse and globally important Andean Amazon region, which will enable the generation of detailed, systematic information to inform policy and planning and meet national GHG accounting commitments. In addition, SilvaCarbon helped install intensive carbon monitoring sites in all three countries to advance understanding of forest-climate dynamics, build capacities for using new carbon monitoring techniques, and provide research opportunities for scientists and students.
  • In Central America, SilvaCarbon regional exchanges have brought together technical specialists and other stakeholders to advance the use of tools and methodologies for measuring and monitoring forest carbon at national and regional scales. These exchanges have help equip countries to tackle key challenges related to forest inventory planning and design, forest attributes and sampling, allometric equations, statistical methods for generating biomass and carbon estimates, and integration of remote sensing and field data, for example, and have significantly strengthened the regional community of forest monitoring experts. In Honduras, SilvaCarbon provided extensive technical support in the re-design of the national forest inventory, which will now incorporate portable data recorders to capture forest data more accurately and efficiently.


Bangladesh Program


The SilvaCarbon Bangladesh program, initiated in 2014 with funding from USAID-Bangladesh, is assisting the Bangladesh Forest Department (BFD) and other institutions in Bangladesh with the development of the country’s first national forest monitoring system, which includes a national forest inventory and a satellite land monitoring system. SilvaCarbon activities in Bangladesh are closely coordinated with parallel efforts led by FAO.


Bangladesh’s biologically rich forests and wetlands, including the internationally recognized Sundarbans mangrove forest, provide crucial economic, social, and environmental benefits for the country, region, and world. As one of the most climate-vulnerable countries on Earth, Bangladesh depends on its forests and wetlands for protection against climate-related impacts such as catastrophic floods and other disasters. The country has lost over half of its forests in the last 30 years, however, and its remaining forested areas are critically threatened.

The Government of Bangladesh is committed to slowing forest loss by participating in REDD+, and by building relevant technical capacities across government, civil society, and industry. As part of those efforts, the BFD has prioritized the development of a national forest monitoring system that leverages the strengths of both ground-based forest inventory data and remote sensing data. SilvaCarbon is working with FAO to help the BFD achieve this goal, with coordination support from SilvaCarbon staff based in Dhaka.

Illustrative Program Results

  • With assistance from SilvaCarbon, Bangladesh is now in the process of conducting its first national forest inventory, marking a major step toward sustainable forest management and REDD+ readiness. Technical training and tools provided by SilvaCarbon partners at the University of Maryland have helped the BFD gain the capacity to generate forest cover change maps using freely available Landsat data, and the BFD is now working with the University of Maryland to accurately document forest cover change from 2000-2014 and map annual forest cover change for 2015-2016.

Vietnam Program


SilvaCarbon began collaborating with government and research partners in Vietnam in 2013 to address the country’s priority forest information needs. The SilvaCarbon Vietnam program provides technical support addressing key forest monitoring capacity gaps, such as the need for national institutions to consistently collect and share forest data, generate comparable mapping products, and develop the national inventory of GHG emissions from land use.

The Government of Vietnam has made significant efforts to increase the economic returns from its forested lands in order to increase the viability of forest conservation against competing interests in forest production. Increasingly robust data on forest and terrestrial carbon is essential for achieving national forest conservation goals and meeting international reporting requirements.

SilvaCarbon addresses three interrelated technical areas in Vietnam: (1) improving the accuracy and statistical robustness of the national forest inventory; (2) integrating remote sensing data with ground-based forest data to enhance understanding of forest cover and change over time; and (3) strengthening the national GHG inventory for the Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use (AFOLU) sector. Program activities in Vietnam are coordinated by a local advisor based in Hanoi.

Illustrative Program Results

  • SilvaCarbon technical assistance and training has helped key technical agencies in Vietnam (1) significantly increase the accuracy and data integrity of the national forest inventory, and demonstrate the value of improved forest information to help mobilize national support for a fifth forest inventory cycle for 2017-2020; (2) use remote sensing data to develop new mapping products that will enable consistent analysis of forest and landscape information to meet reporting needs; and (3) produce the country’s first national GHG inventory for the AFOLU sector using freely available specialized software.

Asia-Pacific Regional Program

South and Southeast Asia

The SilvaCarbon South and Southeast Asia Regional Program was initiated in 2014 to provide capacity-building support for eight countries: Cambodia, Lao PDR, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, Thailand, Bangladesh, and Vietnam. The program strategically pairs regional support for all eight countries with country-specific support for Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Nepal. All program activities are developed in collaboration with national stakeholders in each country, and are conducted in coordination with various partners including the SERVIR-Mekong and SERVIR-Hindu Kush Himalaya hubs.

South and Southeast Asia

Forest conservation and management is a priority for countries throughout South and Southeast Asia, particularly as national governments work to transparently report emissions from the Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use (AFOLU) sector. Most countries in the region have included AFOLU-related activities in their national plans and strategies, and some countries have developed forest-specific emission reduction targets (i.e. Cambodia, Lao PDR, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, and Vietnam).

SilvaCarbon programming in South and Southeast Asia currently focuses on two key areas: 1) developing forest mapping and reporting products while building in-country capacities to generate future products, and 2) designing long-term spatial data management strategies that feed into national forest monitoring systems and contribute to complete and consistent representation of national land bases.

Illustrative Program Results
South and Southeast Asia

  • Forestry agencies in Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Nepal have improved the accuracy of their forest cover change estimates through collaboration with SilvaCarbon-supported partners at the University of Maryland, and are now following international good practice guidance to ensure data transparency, consistency, comparability, completeness, and accuracy. Technical specialists throughout the region have been trained to use free and open source tools for forest monitoring and inventory, helping to reduce dependency on expensive data and software and thereby increase sustainability.
  • In addition to strengthening technical capabilities in the near term, the SilvaCarbon South and Southeast Asia program has helped develop a regional community of forest monitoring specialists. This community provides a basis for continued South-South cooperation, empowering practitioners in different countries to work together to address new issues and challenges as they arise.


Africa Africa
Africa Africa

In 2014 SilvaCarbon began providing bilateral support to Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Republic of Congo (ROC), and Cameroon with the goal of complementing existing support from the Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE). A principle CARPE objective is to strengthen capacities to monitor forest cover change, GHG emissions, and biodiversity. In 2019, SilvaCarbon initiated collaboration with Zambia and Ethiopia, in support of the BioCarbon Fund Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes (ISFL).

The Central African Congo Basin is the second-largest humid tropical forest in the world and is widely recognized as a global priority for forest and carbon conservation and management. A number of Congo Basin countries have committed to reducing forest loss and associated emissions and are working with different international partners to meet those commitments. National stakeholders in the region have sought technical support in developing cost-effective forest and landscape monitoring approaches and systems that are suited to the Congo Basin’s large, dense, and often inaccessible forests.

SilvaCarbon complements other donor efforts in the region by working with DRC, ROC, and Cameroon to address specific forest monitoring needs and gaps. This ranges from building foundational capacities for REDD+, developing tailored forest mapping methodologies, and incorporating different forest types such as carbon-rich wetland forests into existing forest inventory frameworks. In-country SilvaCarbon coordinators help ensure relevancy of programming and support activity implementation.

Illustrative Program Results

  • In ROC, SilvaCarbon has supported the National Forest Inventory Center (CNIAF) on adapting forest inventory methodologies for difficult-to-access peatland and mangrove forests, and is working with field teams to complete initial inventory plots in these forest areas.
  • SilvaCarbon in DRC has been providing training and technical input on forest inventory methodologies and forest cover change analyses to build the capacity of the Department of Forest Inventory and Zoning (DIAF) to implement the national forest monitoring system.
  • SilvaCarbon has advanced progress toward REDD+ implementation in Cameroon by facilitating the production of thematic forest change maps for 2010-2015, and by providing technical support to the country's MRV Task Force, which links MRV activities with national forest monitoring activities and mobilizes the required expertise for related initiatives.


Global Global Global

SilvaCarbon builds forest and landscape monitoring capacity at the global level by supporting the development of key tools, guidance materials, and capacity-building resources; by increasing access to and application of Earth observation data; and by facilitating coordination among USG agencies and international institutions. SilvaCarbon has also supported applied research focused on identifying and implementing methodologies and technologies for measuring and monitoring forest degradation.

Illustrative Program Results

  • SilvaCarbon, in partnership with GFOI, provides a mechanism for linking developing country partners with satellite data providers to increase the availability and use of space-based observations for national forest monitoring. The program has delivered complete archives of Landsat 7 and 8 Earth observation data to more than 20 countries to complement and validate their national forest monitoring systems.
  • SilvaCarbon has also contributed to the development of key forest and carbon monitoring tools, including:

    • The Global Forest Observations Initiative (GFOI) Methods and Guidance Documentation and the accompanying REDDcompass platform. Together, these resources link international reporting requirements with international good practice guidance to provide a systematic workflow approach to guide countries through the complex process of developing forest monitoring and MRV systems for REDD+.
    • Collect Earth Online (CEO). CEO brings FAO’s powerful Collect Earth desktop application to the web browser, allowing users anywhere to collect and analyze high resolution forest monitoring data through Google Earth for a wide variety of purposes including land use, land use change, and forestry assessments.


SilvaCarbon supports a variety of capacity-building activities that respond to countries’ forest and landscape monitoring needs. Program activities are collaboratively designed to target capacity gaps and complement related assistance provided by other donors and institutions. SilvaCarbon engages country participants through direct technical assistance and hands-on training, tailored workshops on key topics, international study tours, South-South exchanges between countries, development of tools and methodological guidance, and applied research.

Capacity Building Activities

Activity Calendar

Click on the calendar image to view upcoming SilvaCarbon activities

Activity Archives

Access reports and materials from selected past SilvaCarbon activities


SilvaCarbon Spotlight

The electronic newsletter of the SilvaCarbon provides regular updates on program activities, events, publications, and related developments.


Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR)

SERVIR announces release of the Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) Handbook to empower the monitoring and protection of forest worldwide.

SAR Handbook SAR Map

The Global Forest Observations Initiative (GFOI)


The Global Forest Observations Initiative (GFOI) is an informal partnership of donor countries, international institutions, and other organizations established under the intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations (GEO). GFOI works to coordinate international technical cooperation focused on forest monitoring, and to increase access to and application of Earth observation data for use in national forest monitoring systems. SilvaCarbon is the primary US contribution to GFOI and co-leads the GFOI capacity-building component together with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

This map contains data gathered from GFOI Partners during the GFOI Plenary held in Bogota, Colombia in March 2018

Please contact Sylvia Wilson at if you would like to add or update information regarding this visual map.



SilvaCarbon has supported eleven applied research grants addressing practical carbon measurement challenges identified by country partners. These grants, initiated in 2013 and 2014, examined the use of emerging approaches to monitoring forest degradation, the interoperability of different remote sensing systems and sensors, and carbon estimation methodologies. Findings from the research support SilvaCarbon capacity-building efforts and help to strengthen the scientific basis for forest and landscape monitoring efforts worldwide.

Measuring Forest Degradation for REDD+: A Synthesis Study Across Five SilvaCarbon Countries
PIs: Prof. M. Herold, Dr. V. Avitabile, and K. Calders (Wageningen University), Dr. L. Verchot and Dr. C. Martius (CIFOR Indonesia)

Improving forest emission estimates requires better biomass measurements before and after the change events at local levels, and the effective use and integration with remote sensing data to monitor impacts over larger areas. Novel technologies such as terrestrial laser scanning that provide detailed 3D measurements of tree, canopy structure and allometry rapidly and non-destructively, and the use of high-resolution remote sensing time series (i.e. from RapidEye) offer avenues to increase REDD+ measurement accuracy and precision, and support improved monitoring capacities in developing countries. The research team aims to use both in combination to systematically explore this potential by improving the underlying science, conduct a research synthesis across multiple tropical tests site, and make a direct contribution to monitoring and training in REDD+ countries.

The research team aims to address four questions:

  • Better allometry: How can allometries for estimating tropical forest biomass be improved with terrestrial LiDAR (higher accuracies, more samples) and without employing destructive harvesting?
  • Logging impacts: What are the impacts of selective logging (incl. collateral damage) on forest biomass and forest structure and canopy in the short and long terms?
  • Link ground data to remote sensing: What is the capability and sensitivity of high-resolution satellite time series data to detect changes and related emissions due to selective logging at sub-national scales across several tropical test sites?
  • Uptake by national monitoring: How can the novel sub-national monitoring activities of forest degradation be integrated into a national REDD+ monitoring system and related capacity building through SilvaCarbon?

Biomass in Degraded Forests in Peru and Brazil: Evaluation Using Airborne Lidar Remote Sensing
PIs: Michael Keller (USDA Forest Service) and Ted Feldpausch (University of Exeter, INPA, and UNEMAT)

Degraded forests are poorly studied. Despite the rapidly accumulating number of lidar studies, degraded forests are rarely used for calibration. With the exception of some long-term studies of logging, permanent tropical forest research plots have generally avoided degraded forests. Lidar studies of degraded forest structure, particularly for forests that have suffered understory fires, are rare although there are excellent counter-examples of specific studies in logged forests.

This study aims to resolve whether field calibration in degraded forest is necessary for accurate lidar biomass estimation in degraded forests. The research team will test whether lidar biomass calibrations developed from old-growth and secondary forests or “universal” approaches are sufficient for biomass estimation in degraded forests.

The study will respond to the following questions:

  • How accurate are lidar biomass calibrations using only old-growth and secondary forests or “universal” equations for degraded forests?
  • How much is calibration uncertainty reduced when degraded forest plots are included as part of the calibration data set for lidar biomass estimation over degraded forests?
  • Do different degradation pathways (e.g. logging and fire) result in similar structures? And how do those differing structures affect biomass calibration?
  • Can calibration curves derived in one region of the Amazon be used for another region?
  • Do varying degradation pathways have the same outcome for biomass?

A Prototype MRV System for a Sub-region in Colombia Compliant with IPCC Approach for Securing Activity Data
PIs: Dr. Pontus Olofsson (Boston University)

In this proposal, the research team proposes an alternative method for monitoring land change that makes use of all available observations ever acquired by the Landsat satellite for a pixel. Studying a time series of observations rather than comparing individual images or maps makes it possible to continuously monitor the land cover at pixel-level in time. While never implemented in Colombia, the proposed methodology has proven capable of mapping stable and changing land cover with high levels of accuracy and certainty. This research will evaluate the full utility of US satellite data for the development of MRV systems in deforestation hotspots. It will provide a methodology compliant with IPCC Approach 3 for securing activity data for Colombia, and when combined with emission factors provide estimates of carbon emissions and removals as a result of land transitions.

Specifically, this study has the following objectives:

  • Estimate the rates of change between the IPCC land categories from 2000 until 2014 for the Department of Caqueta in the Colombian Amazon. This will be accomplished by production of annual maps of activity data with known uncertainty according to IPCC Approach 3.
  • Estimate carbon emissions and removals in a gain/loss approach using three different sources of emission factors: field measurements and data from two pan-tropical biomass maps.
  • Assess uncertainty in estimated carbon emissions and removals in a Monte Carlo based approach to provide insight to where resources should be allocated to refine the MRV system.

Addressing Carbon Emissions and Removals from Selective Logging In Support of MRV System Capabilities in Gabon
PIs: Dr. Sassan Saatchi (UCLA), Dr. John Poulsen and Dr. Vincent Medjibe (Duke University)

In Central African countries, where deforestation has historically been low, but where logging occurs in over 70% of the forests in some countries, forest degradation may be the most important source of carbon emissions. The uncertainty in quantifying the area affected and the carbon loss through degradation, particularly from selective logging, is large because conventional methods of remote sensing and surveying are not sensitive enough to precisely measure degradation. However, advances in high resolution remote sensing techniques using Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) provide an opportunity to improve NFMS by accurately monitoring areas affected by degradation, quantifying the emission factors from different types of logging and estimating carbon sequestration after degradation.

The research team will investigate the following research questions:

  • Can airborne LiDAR data accurately detect selective logging intensity and biomass loss?
  • To what extent can LiDAR observations distinguish biomass loss from tree felling and gap creation from the residual damage created by skidtrails, landing yards, and logging roads?
  • What are the emission and gain factors from selective logging activities?

Integration of Remote Sensing Data with Ground Plot Information for MRV
PIs: Charles T. Scott (USDA Forest Service), Doug Muchoney (USGS), Andrew Lister (USDA Forest Service), and John Poulsen (Duke University)

There are two general approaches to carbon estimation that show promise for MRV-model-based and model-assisted estimation. Model-based estimation in the context of forest attribute mapping relies on a set of modeled, pixel-based estimates, generally in the form of a map derived from remotely sensed data. Precision estimates can come from analyzing the set of pixel values, their uncertainties, and their spatial covariance. Model-assisted estimation is based on a probabilistic design in which ground plots along with auxiliary data from maps derived from remote sensing are used to generate estimates of forest parameters and their variance.

In both approaches, there are two research questions that require additional study:

  • How best to use GIS and ground inventory data collection procedures to spatially integrate the two data types so as to:
    • Generate better maps of the forest attribute for both estimation types (i.e., maximize training data information content for modeling)
    • Develop the best relationship between the plots and auxiliary information used in the model-assisted or -based estimation (i.e. maximize the relationship between the dependent and auxiliary variables)
  • What combination of ground inventory plot type and remote sensing data type usage will lead to the most cost efficient avenue for achieving desired precision of inventory estimates?

This study aims to identify existing ground data in tropical forests and to alter the design of some planned pilot studies to gather variance and cost/time data in 3 or more countries with different ecological conditions. Sources will include the Gabon Phase I inventory, and potentially existing or upcoming data from Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Panama.

Integrating Earth Observation and Forest Inventory Data in Quantifying Biomass in Degraded Forests of the Republic of Congo
PIs: Matthew Hansen (University of Maryland), Peter Potapov (University of Maryland), Alexandra Tyukavina (University of Maryland), and Ifo Averti Suspense (University of Marien Ngouabi, Republic of Congo)

The Republic of Congo is one of a subset of countries where the suspected dominant factor in greenhouse gas emissions from land use change is forest degradation rather than deforestation. For a region such as central Africa, where few trees are harvested per hectare, direct methods of mapping partial canopy cover are not feasible. Indirect methods have been implemented to delineate degraded natural forests. Such approaches use indications of human activity to assign degradation to adjacent natural forests. Quantifying biomass dynamics within degraded forests is a challenge.

This study combines remotely sensed-derived degradation time-series maps with field data collection to assess biomass change within the logged forests of the Republic of Congo. By combining time-series of indirectly mapped degradation, the research team will in effect swap space for time, targeting forests of varying intervals since disturbance. Additionally, directly observable forest cover loss due to infrastructure development in support of logging will be employed to estimate aboveground biomass loss.

This research will integrate large area forest monitoring data from earth observations and in situ inventory data. Forest degradation maps will help target the allocation of biomass plots in assessing carbon stock dynamics within logged areas. The research will advance national-scale RoC monitoring by developing a new method for integrating remotely sensed-derived forest cover loss and degradation maps with inventory data collection. The proposed activity will quantify carbon loss and gain through the life cycle of RoC logging concessions by sampling various aged concessions from 1990 to present. In doing so, a targeted method for quantifying carbon stock changes due to logging activities will be realized.

Mapping Deforestation and Degradation in Mexico, Colombia and Peru Using Time Series of SENTINEL-1 Radar Data
PIs: Dr. Kellndorfer and Dr. Cartus (Woods Hole Research Center)

While change detection from optical time series has progressed well in recent years, the use of radar data for forest cover change detection, which due to its ability to penetrate clouds could be a valuable additional source of information on forest cover change in areas where cloud cover tends to be persistent (i.e., the tropics), is largely underutilized. On April 3rd 2014, the European Space Agency (ESA) successfully launched the first in a new series of earth observation satellites, SENTINEL-1, which will acquire, for the first time, dense time series of C-band (~5 cm wavelength) radar data at medium (~25 m) spatial resolution consistently every three days and at a global scale. According to the European Delegated Act on Copernicus data, ESA will provide free, full and open access to Sentinel-1 data.

SENTINEL-1 hence opens up new possibilities for mining time series of spaceborne optical and radar data for improved operational forest monitoring, in particular in tropical countries. This study aims to support the development of national MRV systems by investigating, in collaboration with governmental agencies in Mexico, Colombia, and Peru, the potential of SENTINEL-1 data for mapping forest cover change.

A synthesis of tropical forest degradation scenarios and carbon emissions trajectories for REDD+
PIs: Dr. Jennifer K. Balch (Penn State University)

Human-caused disturbance to tropical forests, such as through intentional use and resource extraction or through unintentional wildfires, cause substantial losses of carbon stocks. But does tropical forest degradation lead to permanent carbon losses? This is a critical question to address in the context of policy discussions to implement REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Plus enhancement of forest carbon stocks through conservation and sustainable forest management). We propose to review the current scientific knowledge about the temporal and spatial dynamics of degradation--‐induced carbon emissions to build a coherent picture of the pattern of emissions from different types of degradation across tropical forest regions. Using best available information, we will: i) develop emissions factors (per area) for different types and scenarios of degradation; ii) describe the temporal pattern of degradation emissions and recovery trajectory post--‐disturbance; and iii) assess the evidence that demonstrates how tropical forest degradation leads to a lower carbon state, either through arrested succession, a switch to an alternate vegetation state, or facilitation of future deforestation. The overarching goal of this research is to synthesize existing knowledge on the range of initial gross and longer-term net carbon emissions from different types of degradation activities across tropical regions.

Research questions:

  • Theoretical underpinnings: what’s known about the trajectory of tropical forest recovery after human-induced degradation?
  • What is the spatial and temporal pattern of emissions from different types and scenarios of forest degradation across tropical regions?
  • When and where is degradation just a harbinger of deforestation?
  • Through what pathways does forest degradation lead to substantial and permanent carbon losses?
  • Alternatively, under what degradation scenarios Do tropical forests tend to recover carbon stocks quickly?
  • Case Studies across South America: Country-level Experiences and comparisons of forest degradation

Inventory and remote sensing-based assessments of forest degradation
PIs: Ronald E. McRoberts (USFS), Michael Keller (USFS), Douglas C. Morton (NASA) and Erik Næsset (Norwegian University of Life Sciences)

Deforestation and forest degradation account for nearly 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than any sector other than the energy sector (UN REDD, 2009). REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries) is a mechanism designed under the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change to financially support developing countries that are willing and able to reduce emissions from deforestation and invest in low carbon paths to sustainable development. The term deforestation refers to the permanent removal of forests and withdrawal of land from forest use, whereas the term forest degradation refers to detrimental changes that limit a forest’s production capacity. A relevant question pertains to the persistence component of degradation, i.e., is a forest degraded if it recovers from detrimental change that only temporarily limits its productivity? The overall objective of the proposal is to elaborate the definition of degradation by clarifying the persistence component. The research questions are primarily methodological in nature with anticipated outcomes relating to the utility of remotely sensed data for assessing forest degradation. To address these questions, three kinds of will be used, ground inventory, multi-spectral and lidar data.

This study focuses on four specific objectives

  • to estimate temporal trends in carbon stocks using ground data and to use these estimates as a standard for comparison
  • to construct confidence intervals for estimates of areas of undisturbed and degraded forest land obtained from a combination of ground and multi-spectral data
  • to construct confidence intervals for lidar-assisted estimates of carbon stock change for undisturbed and degraded forest land
  • to estimate the number of years post-logging after which change in carbon stocks can and/or cannot be detected using lidar data

Detecting and Monitoring Tropical Forest Degradation in Vietnam using Landsat Time Series Analysis
PIs: James E. Vogelmann, (USGS), Michael Wimberly (South Dakota State University)

The purpose of this proposed work is to explore the use of Landsat time series data for mapping and monitoring forest degradation in Vietnam. The degradation caused by tree harvest and slash and burn agriculture is of serious concern in Vietnam (Manley et al., 2013). The proposed work fits under the SilvaCarbon “third stream of work on degradation,” whereby alternative approaches are being solicited for detecting, measuring and monitoring tropical forest degradation. In general, the spatial, spectral and radiometric qualities of Landsat data are particularly well suited for providing landscape characterization, and monitoring degradation in tropical environments (Hansen et al., 2008; Lambin, 1999).

In this proposed project, the overall question is: How can we best use Landsat time series data to provide accurate and meaningful forest degradation information in Vietnam? Some specific questions of that we will address include:

  • How do patterns and rates of forest degradation vary among different tropical regions?
  • What are the underlying causes behind these differences?
  • How do the spatial patterns of forest degradation vary across various selected tropical regions during the previous 28 years (i.e., using the historical Landsat TM 5, 7 and 8 archive)?
  • How do the differences in patterns of degradation vary among different types of tropical forests (e.g. dry deciduous versus humid evergreen)?
  • What are the relationships between patterns of deforestation and degradation?
  • What are the patterns of degradation near or within select natural reserves?

Investigating the influence of airborne lidar data density on the ability to detect low-intensity forest degradation in the western Brazilian Amazon
PIs: Dr. Hans-Erik Andersen (USDA Forest Service)

Previous studies conducted at Antimary State Forest (western Brazilian Amazon) have indicated that low-intensity selective logging activities can be detected using three-dimensional canopy structure information derived from measurements from airborne laser scanning data (d’Oliveira et al., 2012). Using very-high-density lidar data (> 24 pulses/sq.m.), a relative density model (RDM) can be developed that represents the density of lidar returns (and vegetation) within a layer in the forest canopy between 1 and 5 meters height above ground. Variability in the density within this layer was found to be highly sensitive to forest impacts associated with selective logging, such as the development of skid trails and logging roads. A more recent study utilized multi-temporal airborne lidar data sets to quantify the reduction in biomass/aboveground carbon due to selective logging activities (Andersen et al., in review). This study showed that even relatively low levels of biomass change (10-20 Mg/ha) could be detected and quantified using changes observed in airborne lidar structural metrics. While the results of these studies are highly encouraging and indicate the potential utility of airborne lidar as a tool in detecting and characterizing forest degradation in tropical areas, there are several remaining critical research questions that will determine practical value of lidar for this application. For example, it is unclear how much the lidar density can be reduced and still maintain an adequate level of accuracy. The lidar data used in these studies was very high density (24 pulses/sq.m. and 10 pulses/sq.m. for 2010 and 2011 data respectively). While these densities were appropriate for research studies, they are not economically feasible for large-area acquisitions, where we would expect densities closer to 1-4 pulses/sq.m.

We propose to investigate whether the quality of 1)the lidar-derived terrain model, 2) the information provided by the RDM and 3) the lidar-based measurement of changes in biomass/carbon via a model-based approach is sensitive to the density of the airborne lidar data, and provide recommendations as to the lowest lidar density (i.e. most economical) that still yields acceptable results for these three applications.


The SilvaCarbon interagency team spans numerous organizations that contribute in different ways. A non-exhaustive list of key program contacts is provided below.

Steering Committee Co-Chairs

Juliann Aukema
Juliann Aukema
USAID SilvaCarbon Steering
Committee Co-Chair
Sylvia Wilson
Sylvia Wilson
USGS SilvaCarbon Steering
Committee Co-Chair
Sasha Beth Gottlieb
Sasha Beth Gottlieb
USFS SilvaCarbon Steering
Committee Co-Chair

Global Program

Moses Jackson
Moses Jackson
USFS Communications
Monica Jeada
Monica Jeada
USGS Communications
Africa Flores
Africa Flores
NASA-SERVIR Ecosystem and Land Cover Theme Lead

Latin America and Caribbean Programs

Rebecca Ciciretti
Rebecca Ciciretti
USDA Latin America Program Specialist
Craig Wayson
Craig Wayson
USFS Latin America Coordinator

Africa Programs

Olivia Freeman
Olivia Freeman
USFS Africa Program Coordinator

Asia-Pacific Program

Marija Kono
Marija Kono
USFS Southeast Asia Coordinator

Vietnam Program

Vo Viet Cuong
Vo Viet Cuong
USFS Vietnam Program Coordinator