Improved accuracy of aboveground biomass and carbon estimates for live trees in forests of the eastern United States
Accurate estimation of forest biomass and carbon stocks at regional to national scales is a key requirement in determining terrestrial carbon sources and sinks on United States (US) forest lands. To that end, comprehensive assessment and testing of alternative volume and biomass models were conducted for individual tree models employed in the component ratio method (CRM) currently used in the US' National Greenhouse Gas Inventory. The CRM applies species-specific stem volume equations along with specific gravity conversions and component expansion factors to ensure consistency between predicted stem volumes and weights, and additivity of predicted live tree component weights to match aboveground biomass (AGB). Data from over 76 600 stem volumes and 6600 AGB observations were compiled from individual studies conducted in the past 115 years – what we refer to as legacy data – to perform the assessment. Scenarios formulated to incrementally replace constituent equations in the CRM with models fitted to legacy data were tested using cross-validation methods, and estimates of AGB were scaled using forest inventory data to compare across 33 states in the eastern US. Modifications all indicated that the CRM in its present formulation underestimates AGB in eastern forests, with the range of underestimation ranging from 6.2 to 17 per cent. Cross-validation results indicated the greatest reductions in estimation bias and root-mean squared error could be achieved by scenarios that replaced stem volume, sapling AGB, and component ratio equations in the CRM. A change in the definitions used in apportioning biomass to aboveground components was also shown to increase prediction accuracy. Adopting modifications tested here would increase AGB estimates for the eastern US by 15 per cent, accounting for 1.5 Pg of C currently unaccounted for in live tree aboveground forest C stock assessments. Expansion of the legacy data set currently underway should be useful for further testing, such as whether similar gains in accuracy can be achieved in estimates of regional or national-scale C sequestration rates.