An airborne method for measuring biomass in forests and other ecosystems is as accurate as ground-based studies and can be used to create a national carbon map.

Gregory Asner at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, California, and his colleagues measured vegetation across 2.4% of Panama using an aeroplane equipped with a laser-based surface-detection system. They calibrated results by comparing data with 228 field plots and scaled up their analysis using satellite observations.

This produced the first high-fidelity map of carbon stocks across an entire country. The map has an uncertainty of 10% in areas measured from the plane, and 20% on average in other areas. The authors suggest that laser-based data can fill in gaps where there are no field data.

Carbon Balance Mgmt. 8, 7 (2013)