Estimating mangrove aboveground biomass from airborne LiDAR data: a case study from the Zambezi River delta

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Mangroves are ecologically and economically important forested wetlands with the highest carbon (C) density of all terrestrial ecosystems. Because of their exceptionally large C stocks and importance as a coastal buffer, their protection and restoration has been proposed as an effective mitigation strategy for climate change. The inclusion of mangroves in mitigation strategies requires the quantification of C stocks (both above and belowground) and changes to accurately calculate emissions and sequestration. A growing number of countries are becoming interested in using mitigation initiatives, such as REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation), in these unique coastal forests. However, it is not yet clear how methods to measure C traditionally used for other ecosystems can be modified to estimate biomass in mangroves with the precision and accuracy needed for these initiatives. Airborne Lidar (ALS) data has often been proposed as the most accurate way for larger scale assessments but the application of ALS for coastal wetlands is scarce, primarily due to a lack of contemporaneous ALS and field measurements. Here, we evaluated the variability in field and Lidar-based estimates of aboveground biomass (AGB) through the combination of different local and regional allometric models and standardized height metrics that are comparable across spatial resolutions and sensor types, the end result being a simplified approach for accurately estimating mangrove AGB at large scales and determining the uncertainty by combining multiple allometric models. We then quantified wall-to-wall AGB stocks of a tall mangrove forest in the Zambezi Delta, Mozambique. Our results indicate that the Lidar H100 height metric correlates well with AGB estimates, with R2 between 0.80 and 0.88 and RMSE of 33% or less. When comparing Lidar H100 AGB derived from three allometric models, mean AGB values range from 192 Mg ha−1 up to 252 Mg ha−1. We suggest the best model to predict AGB was based on the East Africa specific allometry and a power-based regression that used Lidar H100 as the height input with an R2 of 0.85 and an RMSE of 122 Mg ha−1 or 33%. The total AGB of the Lidar inventoried mangrove area (6654 ha) was 1 350 902 Mg with a mean AGB of 203 Mg ha−1 ±166 Mg ha−1. Because the allometry suggested here was developed using standardized height metrics, it is recommended that the models can generate AGB estimates using other remote sensing instruments that are more readily accessible over other mangrove ecosystems on a large scale, and as part of future carbon monitoring efforts in mangroves.

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