In 2013, Southern Mapping (SMC) was contracted by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) of Berlin, Germany, to fly 216 discrete areas in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as part of a programme to estimate carbon storage in the tropical forest. WWF, in conjunction with the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) USA, set out to map the spatial patterns of the forest and to calculate the amount of carbon stored in the above ground trees.

Carbon estimates in tropical forests are often calculated based on a relatively few intensively measured plots extrapolated to full coverage using aerial or satellite data. In many cases the calibration and control measures are not adequate in either quantity or in spatial distribution. This project aimed to be the first to combine ground plots & Lidar blocks with satellite imagery in a scientifically rigorous manner.

SMC flew a total of approximately 6 000 km² selected by the UCLA team, covering representative forest types across the tropical forest area.

The WWF-led teams in DRC designed and implemented the ground measurement of trees in more than 130 1-ha plots, with 92 plots located within Lidar blocks for calibration and validation of the Lidar carbon estimation. The measurement involved measuring such characteristics as species, height & diameter for every tree in the plot.

The carbon was estimated using Lidar and plot data, producing precise forest carbon values that were extrapolated to generate a carbon map. Satellite data were used to map forest structure and carbon at 1-ha spatial resolution and were validated by an independent team of national foresters from Direction des Inventaires et Amenagement Forestiers (DIAF).

While this was a significant project for us and at the time was our highest value project, we are particularly proud of being part of such an important effort, helping to advance the science of forest monitoring for climate change mitigation.