Browse by Subject
Contact Information

Northern Research Station
One Gifford Pinchot Drive
Madison, WI 53726
(608) 231-9318
(608) 231-9544 TTY/TDD

Clean Air and Water

Forest Carbon Accounting and Research - National Greenhouse Gas Inventories

[photo:] Sky above forested mountainsResearch Issue

The climate system of the Earth interacts with the global carbon cycle.  Increasing greenhouse gases (GHGs), such as carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere are related to increasing temperatures. The global carbon cycle is not well-understood:  increasing measured concentrations of GHGs do not match increases expected from anthropogenic and other known emissions.  Accurate estimates of GHG emissions and sequestration of carbon are fundamental to aid scientific understanding and to inform policymakers about how net emissions can be reduced.  All land—forests, grasslands, croplands, wetlands, settlements, and all other—management, change, and land use change affect atmospheric chemistry.  Land use change and forests are important activities not only because of the magnitude of possible emissions but also because forests sequester carbon.

Our Research

Our research has three main goals: to develop or adopt scientific methodologies to conduct forest-related greenhouse gas inventories for the United States and territories which are accurate, precise, well-documented, and consistent at the county, state, regional, and national-levels; to provide the official forest national greenhouse gas inventories for the US annually; and to develop or assist with development of tools for estimating forest carbon changes from USDA Forest Service, Forest Inventory & Analysis data.  Estimates include both an indication of the mean and uncertainties of land areas and sequestration and emissions.  Ideally, the estimates should tie back to a particular land base, and be consistent with timber volume statistics.  All ecosystem pools are of interest: soil--including mineral or organic, litter or forest floor, down dead wood, standing dead trees, woody shrubs and understory, live trees both above- and below-ground; and emissions from wildfires and other disturbances, as well as carbon in harvested wood and subsequent products and wood burned for energy.  Although accurate information is needed for scientific purposes, this information must be precise and stand up to scrutiny by those who want to participate in the emerging markets of forest carbon credits.

Expected Outcomes

  • Scientific methodologies to estimate greenhouse gas inventories using a combination of data, remote sensing, and models.
  • Historic, current, and projected greenhouse gas inventories of carbon stocks and changes at various geographic levels such as county, state and the national-level, as well as other greenhouse gases and uncertainties for forests in the US and territories accepted by the scientific community, policymakers, and planners.
  • Benchmark estimates of forest carbon stocks and rates of change regionally and across the landscape accepted by scientists, land managers, and the marketplace.
  • Tools to assist users in calculating sequestration and emissions.

Research Results

Carbon tools are available at

Research is used by...

King, A.W.; Dilling, L.; Zimmerman, G.P.; Fairman, D.M.; Houghton, R.A.; Marland, G.; Rose, A.Z.; Wilbanks, T.J., eds. The First State of the Carbon Cycle Report (SOCCR): The North American Carbon Budget and Implications for the Global Carbon Cycle. US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Climatic Data Center, Asheville, NC.

USDA Forest Service, Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry.  2007. In: Carpenter, C.A., editor. Forest Sustainability Assessment for the Northern United States. NA-TP-01-07CD, Newtown Square PA.

US Environmental Protection Agency.  2008 (and previous years) Inventory of US Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2006. Download a short summary of these estimates.  

US Department of Energy. 2006. Methods for Calculating Forest Ecosystem and Harvested Carbon with Standard Estimates for Forest Types of the United States.  P. 2-227: Section 1, Part I Forestry Appendix to Chapter 1, Emission Inventory Guidelines,  Technical Guidelines for Voluntary Reporting of Greenhouse Gas Program. 

Some links above point to documents in PDF format. You may obtain a free PDF reader from Adobe.



Research Participants

Co-Principal Investigators

  • Linda S. Heath, US Forest Service Northern Research Station, Research Forester
  • James E. Smith, US Forest Service Northern Research Station, Plant Physiology/Modeling

Some Important Colleagues

  • Kenneth E. Skog, US Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory
  • Stephen Ogle, Colorado State University
  • Charles Perry, US Forest Service Northern Research Station, Research Soil Scientist
  • Christopher Woodall, US Forest Service Northern Research Station, Research Forester
  • Patrick Miles, US Forest Service Northern Research Station, Research Forester
  • Barry ‘Ty’ Wilson, US Forest Service Northern Research Station Research Forester
  • Will McWilliams, US Forest Service Northern Research Station Research Forester
  • Daolan Zheng, University of New Hampshire
  • Mark J. Ducey, University of New Hampshire
  • Coeli M. Hoover, US Forest Service Northern Research Station Research Ecologist
  • Paul Van Deusen, National Council of Air and Stream Improvement, Inc
  • Reid Miner, National Council of Air and Stream Improvement, Inc.
  • Michael Nichols, US Forest Service Northern Research Station Computer Systems Analyst



Last Modified: 07/31/2009