Exploring characteristics of national forest inventories for integration with global space-based forest biomass data

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National forest inventories (NFIs) are a reliable source for national forest measurements. However, they are usually not developed for linking with remotely sensed (RS) biomass information. There are increasing needs and opportunities to facilitate this link towards better global and national biomass estimation. Thus, it is important to study and understand NFI characteristics relating to their integration with space-based products; in particular for the tropics where NFIs are quite recent, less frequent, and partially incomplete in several countries. Here, we (1) assessed NFIs in terms of their availability, temporal distribution, and extent in 236 countries from FAO's Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) 2020; (2) compared national forest biomass estimates in 2018 from FRA and global space-based Climate Change Initiative (CCI) product in 182 countries considering NFI availability and temporality; and (3) analyzed the latest NFI design characteristics in 46 tropical countries relating to their potential integration with space-based biomass datasets. We observed significant NFI availability globally and multiple NFIs were mostly found in temperate and boreal countries while most of the single NFI countries (94 %) were in the tropics. The latest NFIs were more recent in the tropics and many countries (35) implemented NFIs from 2016 onwards. The increasing availability and update of NFIs create new opportunities for integration with space-based data at the national level. This is supported by the agreement we found between country biomass estimates 2018 from FRA and CCI product, with a significantly higher correlation in countries with recent NFIs. We observed that NFI designs varied greatly in tropical countries. For example, the size of the plots ranged from 0.01 to 1 ha and more than three-quarters of the countries had smaller plots of ≤0.25 ha. The existing NFI designs could pose specific challenges for statistical integration with RS data in the tropics. Future NFI and space-based efforts should aim towards a more integrated approach taking advantage of both data streams to improve national estimates and help future data harmonization efforts. Regular NFI efforts can be expanded with the inclusion of some super-site plots to enhance data integration with currently available space-based applications. Issues related to cost implications versus improvements in the accuracy, timeliness, and sustainability of national forest biomass estimation should be further explored.

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