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Estimates of live-tree carbon stores in the Pacific Northwest are sensitive to model selection


Susanna L. Melson
Mark E. Harmon
James B. Domingo



Publication type:

Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Primary Station(s):

Pacific Northwest Research Station


Carbon Balance and Management. 6(2): 16 p


Estimates of live-tree carbon stores are influenced by numerous uncertainties. One of them is model-selection uncertainty: one has to choose among multiple empirical equations and conversion factors that can be plausibly justified as locally applicable to calculate the carbon store from inventory measurements such as tree height and diameter at breast height (DBH). Here we quantify the model-selection uncertainty for the five most numerous tree species in six counties of northwest Oregon, USA. The results of our study demonstrate that model-selection error may introduce 20 to 40% uncertainty into a live-tree carbon estimate, possibly making this form of error the largest source of uncertainty in estimation of live-tree carbon stores. The effect of model selection could be even greater if models are applied beyond the height and DBH ranges for which they were developed. Model-selection uncertainty is potentially large enough that it could limit the ability to track forest carbon with the precision and accuracy required by carbon accounting protocols. Without local validation based on detailed measurements of usually destructively sampled trees, it is very difficult to choose the best model when there are several available. Our analysis suggests that considering tree form in equation selection may better match trees to existing equations and that substantial gaps exist, in terms of both species and diameter ranges, that are ripe for new model-building effort.


Melson, Susanna L.; Harmon, Mark E.; Fried, Jeremy S.; Domingo, James B. 2011. Estimates of live-tree carbon stores in the Pacific Northwest are sensitive to model selection. Carbon Balance and Management. 6(2): 16 p.


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  • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.