Google today (November 18, local time) released a tool that can help city dwellers stay cool by mapping out where trees are most needed,media reported. Cities tend to be warmer than their surroundings because buildings and asphalt absorb heat. An easy way to cool the city is to plant more trees in sparse communities.
Google’s new Tree Canopy lab uses aerial imagery and Google AI to calculate the location of every tree in the city. The lab places this information on an interactive map with other data that shows which communities are denser and more susceptible to high temperatures. It is hoped that planting new trees in these areas will help cities adapt to global warming and save lives when heat waves hit.
Google conducted the Tree Canopy experiment in Los Angeles. The company says data from hundreds of other cities is being released. Future urban planners interested in using the tool can also contact Google through a Google announcement.
Rachel Malarich, Los Angeles’ first urban forest official, said: “In terms of solving the city’s heat problem, we’ll really understand where the best strategic investments are. “
Google claims its new tools could save cities like Los Angeles — when it starts to inventory trees. This is usually done by sending someone to investigate each block. According to Malarich, Los Angeles has used lidar technology in the past to map urban forests — but the process is expensive and slow. However, Google’s new service is free to use and is updated regularly.
Tree Canopy’s lab found that more than half of Los Angeles residents live in places where trees shade less than 10 percent of the community’s area. The survey also found that 44 percent of Los Angeles people live in areas at high risk of extreme heat. Over the past 50 years, heat waves in Los Angeles County have become longer, more frequent, and more intense, according to a study released this year by researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Extreme heat is one of the most evidenced effects of climate change, accounting for more deaths each year in the United States than any other weather-related disaster. Because of the so-called urban heat island effect, hot temperatures can be more dangerous in cities. There are more heat-absorbing surfaces and fewer green plants in urban areas, where the average temperature is 6 degrees Fahrenheit higher than in rural areas. Night is a critical time for people’s bodies to recover from the hot day.
Trees can cool hot communities in a variety of ways. They shade people and buildings. As the temperature rises, they release moisture through evapotering — a process similar to how our bodies cool down through sweating. According to the EPA, these two mechanisms can reduce the maximum summer temperature by 9 degrees Fahrenheit.
Google’s Tree Canopy lab shows that in Los Angeles, communities with the highest thermal risk tend to have higher population densities, but less tree cover. Basically, those most at risk of heat stroke and death have fewer resources to deal with these diseases.
In American history, systemic racism has pushed people of color into urban hot spots. The “red line” community was the result of a policy in the 1930s that prohibited people of color from obtaining home loans and insurance. Today, these communities are among the most popular in their cities.
Right now, the city of Los Angeles is trying to make some communities green, and it’s preparing for a warmer world. By 2028, the city hopes to increase canopy coverage to 50 percent in low-income, heat-affected communities. In addition, the government has set a target of planting 90,000 trees across the city by 2021. It is believed that this should bring an additional 61 million square feet of shade to the city.