NASA-USGS National Blue Carbon Monitoring System

Science Center Objects

The NASA-USGS National Blue Carbon Monitoring System project will evaluate the relative uncertainty of iterative modeling approaches to estimate coastal wetland (marsh and mangrove) C stocks and fluxes based on changes in wetland distributions, using nationally available datasets (Landsat) and as well as finer scale satellite and field derived data in six sentinel sites.

NASA-USGS Blue Carbon banner image showing a map of the US along with satellite and landscape photos of study areas.


National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Carbon Monitoring System
NASA Project Number NNH14AY67I
Title: Linking satellite and soil data to validate coastal wetland "blue carbon" inventories to inform the U.S. national greenhouse gas inventory and to develop monitoring, reporting and verifcation (MRV) and reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD+) protocols

Follow Up NASA Project: NASA Carbon Monitoring System


Project Description

NASA-USGS Blue Carbon Monitoring System

The NASA Carbon Monitoring System (CMS) is poised to fill a missing gap in "blue carbon" (vegetated coastal ecosystems) accounting by providing a national-scale data framework to integrate and extrapolate field measurements that support national greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory requirements, and testing data needs for quantification of stock-based changes in coastal wetland sediments (soil) and vegetation for eventual REDD+ eligibility. We propose to develop a verifiable carbon (C) monitoring protocol appropriate for national policy and market-based interventions.

Our approach is to refine Landsat-based land cover change data from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Coastal Change Analysis Program, with C-relevant attributes from finer scale NASA-derived spectral and radar data, as well as broadly available field-data from partner agencies. Synthesizing previously-collected data for 6 sentinel sites along representative coasts of the U.S., we will refine and validate an Integovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)-relevant, temporally-explicit (1992-2011) accounting method for coastal wetland C stocks and annual fluxes. Our approach leverages a recent surge in research on the key processes that regulate soil C accumulation in tidal wetlands, which we propose can be captured at large spatial scales using remotely sensed data and GIS modeling.

Net annual C flux into tidal wetland soils is largely a function of vertical accretion due to organic accumulation with sea level rise, or C losses due to oxidation and erosion. Dated soil cores (137Cs, 210Pb) provide quantification of C stocks and long-term rates of net C accretion or loss. The IPCC default value for soil C sequestration in tidal wetlands is 140 grams of carbone per square meter per year, but rates in U.S. tidal wetlands range from 20-800 grams of carbon per square meter per year.

The greatest uncertainty in current "blue carbon " inventory-approaches arises from categorical upscaling, or distributing point data through the estuarine landscape. Both the updated U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) National Wetland Inventory (NWI) and NOAA’s Landsat-based Coastal Change Assessment Program (C-CAP) program provide current and historic national distributions of estuarine intertidal wetlands. As linked with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Resource Conservation Service Soil Survey (SSURGO) dataset, the raster-based Landsat-derived C-CAP land cover maps will be used as the primary spatial dataset for tidal wetland distribution and initial estimates of U.S. coastal wetland GHG annual inventories.

Field data provide both a) attributes in a land cover model (tide gauges, elevation) and b) validation datasets (soil cores, biomass, salinity, methane fluxes). While analyses are focused on 6 sites, these field-based data are broadly available across the U.S. through partner agencies such as NOAA, Smithsonian, National Science Foundation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, USFWS, and Louisiana’s CRMS databases.

One goal will be to determine the "price of precision" or extent to which finer habitat classifications (hydrology, salinity, sea-level rise) continue to inform C accounting with greater accuracy. Remotely-sensed data products will be derived from ongoing NASA Earth Observations, specifically Landsat, SWOT, Aquarius, PRISM, ALOS-2, UAVSAR, and HICO. Where available, airborne datasets (AVIRIS, AirSWOT) may illustrate the value of future satellite missions (HyspIRI, SWOT) for wetland C accounting.

This project will provide a fundamental data platform to aid the U.S. in quantifying emissions and removals in response to the IPCC Wetlands Supplement (2014) as requested to support the national report in 2017. We recognize that MRV in coastal wetlands will require both remote sensing and field-based data to hindcast and continue monitoring C emissions and removals. Critical products will include network building, data compilation, algorithm development, and validated maps across a series of data-driven scales. Our intensive site validation supports testable indices for accurate C flux accounting, and thus meets several CMS goals such as 1) future application at continental scales, 2) model testing of key drivers of coastal C sequestration and 3) intercomparison and collaboration with associated NASA-supported coastal C cycling research and scenario testing.



  • Project Contracting - October 2014
  • Postdoc Hired - December 2014
  • Gulf Team Local Planning Meeting / Review - March 2015
  • Western Team Local Planning Meeting / Review - April 2015
  • Eastern Team Local Planning Meeting / Review - May 2015
  • Field Data Collection - Summer 2015
  • Remote Data Collection - Summer 2015
  • Data Evaluation – ALL TEAM MEETING - December 2015
  • Data – Statistics/Uncertainty - March 201
  • 5Field Data Collection - Summer 2016
  • Remote Data Collection - Summer 2016
  • Protocol Evaluation – ALL TEAM MEETING - December 2016
  • Model Verification/Sensitivity Report - March 2017
  • Draft Report - July 2017
  • Final Report and Associated Publications - October 2017


Data Sources

NOAA Digital Coast

NOAA National Estuarine Research Reserve System

NOAA Tides and Currents 

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

USDA National Resources Conservation Service Soil Survey

USFWS National Wetlands Inventory

U.S. Geological Survey Earth Resources Observation Systems

U.S. Geological Survey Wetlands and Aquatic Research Center and Louisana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority



Principal Investigators (PI)

Postdoctoral Associates

Publically Available Presentations

NASA CMS Science Team Meeting
November 12-14, 2014, Bethesda, MD
Windham-Myers et al. - Linking Satellite and Soil Data to Validate Coastal Wetland 'Blue Carbon' Inventories: Upscaled Support for Developing MRV and REDD+ Protocols

5th North American Carbon Program Principal Investigators Meeting
January 26-29, 2015
Feagin et al. - Spatial quantification of blue carbon at landscape and continental scales Windham-Myers et al. Title: Developing Policy-Relevant 'Blue Carbon' Protocols for Monitoring and Verification  (poster)

NASA Carbon Cycle and Ecosystems Joint Science Workshop
April 20-24, 2015
Feagin et al. - Spatial quantification of blue carbon at landscape and continental scales Windham-Myers et al. Poster Title: Developing Policy-Relevant 'Blue Carbon' Protocols for Monitoring and Verification  (poster)