Annual Carbon Emissions from Deforestation in the Amazon Basin between 2000 and 2010

PLoS One. 2015 May 7;10(5):e0126754. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0126754. eCollection 2015.


Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) is considered one of the most cost-effective strategies for mitigating climate change. However, historical deforestation and emission rates-critical inputs for setting reference emission levels for REDD+-are poorly understood. Here we use multi-source, time-series satellite data to quantify carbon emissions from deforestation in the Amazon basin on a year-to-year basis between 2000 and 2010. We first derive annual deforestation indicators by using the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer Vegetation Continuous Fields (MODIS VCF) product. MODIS indicators are calibrated by using a large sample of Landsat data to generate accurate deforestation rates, which are subsequently combined with a spatially explicit biomass dataset to calculate committed annual carbon emissions. Across the study area, the average deforestation and associated carbon emissions were estimated to be 1.59 ± 0.25 M ha•yr(-1) and 0.18 ± 0.07 Pg C•yr(-1) respectively, with substantially different trends and inter-annual variability in different regions. Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon increased between 2001 and 2004 and declined substantially afterwards, whereas deforestation in the Bolivian Amazon, the Colombian Amazon, and the Peruvian Amazon increased over the study period. The average carbon density of lost forests after 2005 was 130 Mg C•ha(-1), ~11% lower than the average carbon density of remaining forests in year 2010 (144 Mg C•ha(-1)). Moreover, the average carbon density of cleared forests increased at a rate of 7 Mg C•ha(-1)•yr(-1) from 2005 to 2010, suggesting that deforestation has been progressively encroaching into high-biomass lands in the Amazon basin. Spatially explicit, annual deforestation and emission estimates like the ones derived in this study are useful for setting baselines for REDD+ and other emission mitigation programs, and for evaluating the performance of such efforts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Atmosphere / analysis*
  • Biomass
  • Bolivia
  • Brazil
  • Carbon / analysis*
  • Climate Change*
  • Colombia
  • Conservation of Natural Resources* / methods
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods
  • Forests
  • Peru
  • Tropical Climate


  • Carbon

Grant support

This study was funded by NASA's Earth and Space Science Fellowship (NESSF) Program (NNX12AN92H), Making Earth System Data Records for Use in Research Environments (MEaSUREs) Program (NNX08AP33A), and Land Cover and Land Use Change Program (NNH07ZDA001N-LCLUC). Additional support was provided by NASA's Terrestrial Ecology and Carbon Cycle Sciences Programs and the Green Fund Fellowship awarded by the University of Maryland (UMD) Council on the Environment. Funding for Open Access provided by the UMD Libraries Open Access Publishing Fund. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.