In April 2016, the Carnegie Airborne Observatory team mapped forests throughout the Malaysian Borneo state of Sabah. In collaboration with the Sabah Forestry Department and multiple non-government partners, the CAO team used its airborne high-resolution laser scanning to discover 50 trees over the height of 90 meters. These 50 trees exceed the height of the tallest reported tropical tree of 89.5 meters. The team’s very tallest tree was discovered at a height of 94.1 meters, exceeding the height of the Statue of Liberty, as widely reported in the news.
CAO leader Greg Asner announced the discovery of the tallest tree, and 49 runners up, at the annual Heart of Borneo conference in November 2016. Prior to the announcement, Asner and colleagues visited the tree by helicopter for a preliminary assessment of the stature of their tallest tree discovery. They confirmed the existence of the unusually large individual in the Dipterocarp genus Shorea.
In late February 2017, specialists visited the tree to confirm the find. They confirmed it to be the species Shorea faguetiana (F. Heim) in the family Diptocarpaceae. Using tree climbing and tape measuring devices, they measured the tree, which confirmed the earlier CAO laser measurements. The field team also reported a tree stem diameter (above the buttress) of 2.14 meters.
The results of the CAO airborne survey reveal that Sabah of Malaysian Borneo harbors the largest known trees in the global tropics, including the world’s tallest tropical tree. The results of the field visit confirm the existence of the tallest tree, and set the path for increasing forest protection in Sabah’s remaining forests.