Global Forest Heights

Caitlin Dempsey


Where are the tallest forests in the world?  NASA has an article on the first global map of the world’s forest heights.  The map was created with data collected by NASA’s ICESat, Terra, and Aqua satellites.  The global map shows average tree canopy heights over 5 km (1.9) cells.  The tallest trees can be found in the Pacific Northwest region of North America and portions of Southeast Asia.  The shortest trees are found in the areas of northern Canada and Eurasia.  The data will be used by scientists to better understand the carbon storage capacities of trees.

How was the map created?

Michael Lefsky of the Colorado State University used data from a laser technology called LIDAR that’s capable of capturing vertical slices of surface features. It measures forest canopy height by shooting pulses of light at the surface and observing how much longer it takes for light to bounce back from the ground surface than from the top of the canopy. Since LIDAR can penetrate the top layer of forest canopy, it provides a fully-textured snapshot of the vertical structure of a forest — something that no other scientific instrument can offer.

He based his map on data from more than 250 million laser pulses collected during a seven year period

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Read more about this global tree height mapping effort at First-of-its-Kind Map Depicts Global Forest Heights on NASA’s web site.  The results of Lefsky’s study were published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

A first-of-its-kind global map shows forest canopy height in shades of green from 0 to 70 meters (230 feet). For any patch of forest, the height shown means that 90 percent or more of the trees in the patch are that tall or taller. Areas without forest are shown in tan. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory/Image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon/Based on data from Michael Lefsky.

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.