Coverage of high biomass forests by the ESA BIOMASS mission under defense restrictions

João M.B. Carreiras, Shaun Quegan, Thuy Le Toan, Dinh Ho Tong Minh, Sassan S. Saatchi, Nuno Carvalhais, Markus Reichstein, Klaus Scipal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)


The magnitude of the global terrestrial carbon pool and related fluxes to and from the atmosphere are still poorly known. The European Space Agency P-band radar BIOMASS mission will help to reduce this uncertainty by providing unprecedented information on the distribution of forest above-ground biomass (AGB), particularly in the tropics where the gaps are greatest and knowledge is most needed. Mission selection was made in full knowledge of coverage restrictions over Europe, North and Central America imposed by the US Department of Defense Space Objects Tracking Radar (SOTR) stations. Under these restrictions, only 3% of AGB carbon stock coverage is lost in the tropical forest biome, with this biome representing 66% of global AGB carbon stocks in 2005. The loss is more significant in the temperate (72%), boreal (37%) and subtropical (29%) biomes, with these accounting for approximately 12%, 15% and 7%, respectively, of the global forest AGB carbon stocks. In terms of global carbon cycle modelling, there is minimal impact in areas of high AGB density, since mainly lower biomass forests in cooler climates are affected. In addition, most areas affected by the SOTR stations are located in industrialized countries with well-developed national forest inventories, so that extensive information on AGB is already available. Hence the main scientific objectives of the BIOMASS mission are not seriously compromised. Furthermore, several space sensors that can estimate AGB in lower biomass forests are in orbit or planned for launch between now and the launch of BIOMASS in 2021, which will help to fill the gaps in mission coverage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)154-162
Number of pages9
JournalRemote Sensing Of Environment
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2017


  • BIOMASS mission
  • European Space Agency
  • Forest above ground biomass
  • Forest coverage
  • Global carbon cycle modelling
  • Space Objects Tracking Radar (SOTR)


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