Carbon Pools in African Mangrove Forests

Partnership with NASA and universities to estimate carbon in African mangroves and coastal wetlands

Measuring tree diameter in the mangrove swamps of the Zambezi Delta. Photo by Carl Trettin.
Measuring tree diameter in the mangrove swamps of the Zambezi Delta. Photo by Carl Trettin.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recently announced funding for a proposal that involves the U.S. Forest Service, NASA, Duke University, and the University of Maryland in using field-based research as the basis for developing remote sensing tools to assess and monitor carbon pools in African mangrove forests. The project will use advanced 3-D remote sensing technology to map forest structure and extent as well as change over time.

Even though they represent only three percent of the world’s total forest area, mangrove forests sequester higher levels of carbon than all other forest ecosystems. If mangrove destruction continues at current rates, carbon emissions from these forests alone could make up 10 percent of carbon emissions from deforestation worldwide.

The high level of carbon sequestration coupled with the high risk of destruction make mangroves a prime target for mitigation for programs such as the United Nations Collaborative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation in Developing Countries (UN-REDD and REDD+).

The partners on the new project, with Temilola Fatoyinbo from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center as principal investigator, propose to develop a Mangrove Total Monitoring system for Africa using  Gabon, Tanzania, and Mozambique for field validation. The researchers selected these countries because of their investment in the on-the-ground monitoring, reporting, and verification activities needed to relate data collected by remote sensing to field measurements. The project will build on work in Mozambique by U.S. Forest Service researcher Carl Trettin and collaborators developing the carbon estimations needed for REDD+ carbon incentive programs and will develop a timeseries of mangrove change in the three countries from 1990 to the present.

Establishing plots and taking measurements in mangrove forests is very difficult because of the swampy terrain, the tangled forests, and the remoteness of many remaining mangrove forests. Over the past three years, Trettin, team leader of the Forest Service Southern Research Station Center for Forested Wetland Research, and collaborators have worked in the Zambezi Delta of Mozambique to set up monitoring plots and develop methods for taking inventory in other African locations. “This new remote sensing project, with the protocols we’ve developed in the Zambezi Delta, will lay the foundation for monitoring change in carbon pools in mangrove forests in Africa and the world,” said Trettin.

Access more information about the NASA Carbon Monitoring project.

 For more information, email Carl Trettin at

Read about Forest Service research in the Zambezi Delta of Mozambique.

 Access the latest publications by SRS scientists .