Articles | Volume 13, issue 4
Research article
19 Feb 2016
Research article |  | 19 Feb 2016

Modelling above-ground carbon dynamics using multi-temporal airborne lidar: insights from a Mediterranean woodland

W. Simonson, P. Ruiz-Benito, F. Valladares, and D. Coomes

Abstract. Woodlands represent highly significant carbon sinks globally, though could lose this function under future climatic change. Effective large-scale monitoring of these woodlands has a critical role to play in mitigating for, and adapting to, climate change. Mediterranean woodlands have low carbon densities, but represent important global carbon stocks due to their extensiveness and are particularly vulnerable because the region is predicted to become much hotter and drier over the coming century. Airborne lidar is already recognized as an excellent approach for high-fidelity carbon mapping, but few studies have used multi-temporal lidar surveys to measure carbon fluxes in forests and none have worked with Mediterranean woodlands. We use a multi-temporal (5-year interval) airborne lidar data set for a region of central Spain to estimate above-ground biomass (AGB) and carbon dynamics in typical mixed broadleaved and/or coniferous Mediterranean woodlands. Field calibration of the lidar data enabled the generation of grid-based maps of AGB for 2006 and 2011, and the resulting AGB change was estimated. There was a close agreement between the lidar-based AGB growth estimate (1.22 Mg ha−1 yr−1) and those derived from two independent sources: the Spanish National Forest Inventory, and a tree-ring based analysis (1.19 and 1.13 Mg ha−1 yr−1, respectively). We parameterised a simple simulator of forest dynamics using the lidar carbon flux measurements, and used it to explore four scenarios of fire occurrence. Under undisturbed conditions (no fire) an accelerating accumulation of biomass and carbon is evident over the next 100 years with an average carbon sequestration rate of 1.95 Mg C ha−1 yr−1. This rate reduces by almost a third when fire probability is increased to 0.01 (fire return rate of 100 years), as has been predicted under climate change. Our work shows the power of multi-temporal lidar surveying to map woodland carbon fluxes and provide parameters for carbon dynamics models. Space deployment of lidar instruments in the near future could open the way for rolling out wide-scale forest carbon stock monitoring to inform management and governance responses to future environmental change.

Short summary
Repeat-survey airborne laser scanning is used to build a simulation model of vegetation carbon dynamics in a Spanish woodland. Analyses of National Forest Inventory and tree-ring data are used to validate the woodland growth estimates. An average carbon sequestration rate of 1.95 Mg C/ha/year over a 100-year period is predicted, but this is highly sensitive to fire frequency. The study contributes to the important need to monitor large-scale carbon dynamics in the age of climate change.
Final-revised paper