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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Global analysis of the slope of forest land

Lundbäck, Mikael; Persson, Henrik; Häggström, Carola; Nordfjell, Tomas


Forests of the world constitute one-third of the total land area and are critical for e.g. carbon balance, biodiversity, water supply and as source for bio-based products. Although the terrain within forest land has a great impact on accessibility, there is a lack of knowledge about the distribution of its variation in slope. The aim was to address that knowledge gap and create a globally consistent dataset of the distribution and area of forest land within different slope classes. A Geographic Information System (GIS) analysis was performed using the open-source QGIS, GDAL and R software. The core of the analysis was a digital elevation model and a forest cover mask, both with a final resolution of 90 m. The total forest area according to the forest mask was 4.15 billion hectares whereof 82 per cent was on slope<15 degrees. The remaining 18 per cent was distributed over the following slope classes, with 6 per cent on a 15-20 degrees slope, 8 per cent on a 20-30 degrees slope and 4 per cent on a slope>30 degrees. Out of the major forestry countries, China had the largest proportion of forest steeper than 15 degrees followed by Chile and India. A sensitivity analysis with 20 m resolution resulted in increased steep areas by 1 per cent point in flat Sweden and by 11 per cent points in steep Austria. In addition to country-specific and aggregated results of slope distribution and forest area, a global raster dataset is also made freely available to cover user-specific areas that are not necessarily demarcated by country borders. Apart from predicting the regional possibilities for different harvesting equipment, which was the original idea behind this study, the results can be used to relate geographical forest variables to slope. The results could also be used in strategic forest fire fighting and large-scale planning of forest conservation and management.

Published in

2021, Volume: 94, number: 1, pages: 54-69