Aspects of Forest Biomass in the Earth System: Its Role and Major Unknowns

Markus Reichstein, Nuno Carvalhais

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)
32 Downloads (Pure)


Forests are a major and diverse land cover occupying a third of the terrestrial vegetated surface; they store 50 to 65% of terrestrial organic carbon (including the soil) and contribute half to terrestrial productivity. Forest biomass stores close to 80% of all the biomass on Earth. As noted earlier, forests play an important role in the Earth system as carbon stocks, carbon sinks, mediator of the water cycle and as modifier of land surface roughness and albedo. Moreover, forests play a role as habitat for many species, are an economic source of timber and firewood and have recreational value for local populations and touristic visitors. Here, we appraise how ecosystem functions are influenced in particular by biomass and its vertical and horizontal distribution and hypothesize that almost all functions are directly or indirectly related to biomass, in addition to other factors. At landscape or regional scale, heterogeneity of biomass presumably has an important influence on a variety of processes, but there are gaps both in quantifying the heterogeneity of forests globally and in quantifying the effect of this heterogeneity. Similarly, while the role of forests for the global carbon cycle is important, large uncertainties exist regarding stocks, turnover times and the carbon sink function in forest, as an analysis of state-of-the-art carbon cycle and vegetation models shows. Upcoming global satellite missions such as GEDI, NISAR and BIOMASS will be able to address the above uncertainties and lack of understanding in combination with modeling approaches, in particular by exploiting information on vertical and horizontal heterogeneity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)693-707
Number of pages15
JournalSurveys in Geophysics
Issue number4(SI)
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2019
EventWorkshop on Space Based Measurement of Forest Properties for Carbon Cycle Research - Bern, Switzerland
Duration: 6 Nov 20179 Nov 2017


  • Earth System Models
  • Forest biomass
  • Turnover times of carbon


Dive into the research topics of 'Aspects of Forest Biomass in the Earth System: Its Role and Major Unknowns'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this