1Earth Science Research Center, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH 03824, USA
2USDA Forest Service International Institute of Tropical Forestry, San Juan, PR 00926, USA
3EMBRAPA Monitoramento por Satélite, Campinas – Sao Paulo, Brazil
4NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD 20771, USA
Abstract. Tropical forests account for approximately half of above-ground carbon stored in global vegetation. However, uncertainties in tropical forest carbon stocks remain high because it is costly and laborious to quantify standing carbon stocks. Carbon stocks of tropical forests are determined using allometric relations between tree stem diameter and height and biomass. Previous work has shown that the inclusion of height in biomass allometries, compared to the sole use of diameter, significantly improves biomass estimation accuracy. Here, we evaluate the effect of height measurement error on biomass estimation and we evaluate the accuracy of recently published diameter–height allometries at four areas within the Brazilian Amazon. As no destructive sample of biomass was available at these sites, reference biomass values were based on allometries. We found that the precision of individual tree height measurements ranged from 3 to 20% of total height. This imprecision resulted in a 5–6% uncertainty in biomass when scaled to 1 ha transects. Individual height measurement may be replaced with existing regional and global height allometries. However, we recommend caution when applying these relations. At Tapajos National Forest in the Brazilian state of Pará, using the pantropical and regional allometric relations for height resulted in site biomass 21% and 25% less than reference values. At the other three study sites, the pantropical equation resulted in errors of less that 2%, and the regional allometry produced errors of less than 12%. As an alternative to measuring all tree heights or to using regional and pantropical relations, we recommend measuring height for a well-distributed sample of about 100 trees per site. Following this methodology, 95% confidence intervals of transect biomass were constrained to within 4.5% on average when compared to reference values.