Forest Monitoring


The vital role of forests in mitigating climate change was recognized in 2008 by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in the creation of a program to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+), which seeks to provide financial incentives for maintaining forests – and the carbon they contain – intact. As a result, forests and their climate mitigation potential received explicit mention in the landmark Paris Climate Change Agreement.

But without the ability to accurately monitor forest carbon losses from deforestation, forest degradation and disturbance, progress cannot be tracked and results cannot be verified—reducing the overall efficacy of programs like REDD+.

In response, our scientists have developed the Woods Hole Carbon Monitoring System (Woods Hole CMS); an innovative, satellite-based tool, that is poised to transform how the world measures and tracks changes in forest carbon.

Previous approaches to measuring changes in forest carbon were largely limited to areas of land that have been completely deforested. This limitation means that changes could only be identified after-the-fact, when the forest and all of its carbon, biodiversity, and associated ecosystem services were already lost. Furthermore, these conventional approaches tended not to account for gains in carbon storage over time.

credit: Science

The Woods Hole CMS has several advantages over existing approaches including the ability to:

  • Account for annual losses in forest carbon associated with forest degradation and disturbance as well as from deforestation. Measuring forest degradation has long challenged scientists, land managers and conservationists. With this new system, we are able to identify where degradation is occurring and quantify how much carbon is being lost, giving managers the opportunity to intervene while the forest remains standing.
  • Account for annual gains in forest carbon associated with growth. This, too, has challenged the scientific and management communities, and is particularly important for landowners and policymakers seeking to secure financial incentives from market-based climate change mitigation mechanisms designed to reduce emissions and/or enhance carbon storage.
  • Track changes in net forest carbon emissions with greater frequency, consistency, and accuracy than was previously achievable while eliminating the need for land cover strata or area change products.

The Woods Hole CMS relies on satellite imagery, laser remote sensing technology and field measurements. The methodological underpinnings were first published in Science on September 28, 2017. Recent data generated by the system is available on

The system is currently being applied as part of several national to global-scale mapping projects across the tropics.