Spaceborne height models reveal above ground biomass changes in tropical landscapes

M. Schlund*, Martyna M. Kotowska, Fabian Brambach, Jonas Hein, Birgit Wessel, Nicolò Camarretta, Mangarah Silalahi, I. Nengah Surati Jaya, Stefan Erasmi, Christoph Leuschner, Holger Kreft

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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The area-wide estimation of aboveground biomass (AGB) and its changes as a proxy for the sequestration and emission of carbon are currently associated with high uncertainties. Here we combined interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) height models derived from TanDEM-X with repeated ground-based inventories from the years 2012 and 2019 to estimate InSAR height and AGB changes in a structurally diverse and dynamic landscape in Sumatra, Indonesia. The results suggested that the InSAR height models were highly accurate and the relationship between InSAR height and AGB change resulted in a coefficient of determination R2 of 0.65 and a cross-validated root mean square error (RMSE) of 2.38 Mg ha−1 year−1, equivalent to 13.32% of the actual AGB difference range. The estimated AGB changes with TanDEM-X were further related to the initial canopy height and fire activities in the study area. Initial canopy heights and the occurrences of fires had a significant effect on the AGB change. In general, low canopy heights tend to be associated with increasing AGB over time, whereas high canopy heights tend to be associated with stable or decreasing AGB. As expected, fires had a negative impact on the AGB changes being more pronounced in forest areas compared to oil palm concessions. The results of this study are relevant for the utilization of spaceborne InSAR height models and its potential to estimate canopy height and AGB change on large spatial scales. It was demonstrated that these changes can be related to their sources and ecosystem processes. This AGB change estimation technique can be used to model the impacts of fires on AGB change and carbon emissions, which are important for sustainable forest management.

Original languageEnglish
Article number119497
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalForest ecology and management
Early online date13 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2021


  • Aboveground biomass change
  • Height models
  • Interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) data
  • TanDEM-X
  • Tropical rainforest
  • UT-Hybrid-D

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