Discussion Paper

Forest Inventories: Discrepancies and Uncertainties

Aug 24, 2009 | Paul E. Waggoner


Credits for sequestered carbon augment forests’ already considerable value as natural habitat and as producers of timber and biomass, making their accurate inventory more critical than ever before. Thisarticle examines discrepancies in inventories of forest attributes and their sources in four variables: area, timber volume per area, biomass per timber volume, and carbon concentration. Documented discrepancies range up to a multibillion-ton difference in the global stock of carbon in trees. Because the variables are multiplied together to estimate an attribute like carbon stock, more precise measurement of the most certain variable improves accuracy little, and a 10 percent error in biomass per timber levers a discrepancy as much as a mistake in millions of hectares. More precise measurements of, say, accessible stands cannot remedy inaccuracies from biased sampling of regional forests. The discrepancies and uncertainties documented here underscore the obligation to improve monitoring of global forests.