AI used to detect dead trees before 2020 California wildfires

Friday 14 Jun 2024

Scientists at the University of Copenhagen may have uncovered a hidden factor behind California's devastating 2020 wildfires. By applying artificial intelligence (AI) to high-resolution aerial imagery, they created an unprecedented dataset mapping the mortality of individual trees across the entire state. This revealed widespread tree death, both in clusters and scattered among living trees, on a scale far greater than previously understood.

Climate change has thrust forests into the global spotlight, with both positive and devastating consequences. While initiatives to plant trees and expand forests gain momentum for their carbon-capturing potential, massive wildfires fueled by drought and rising temperatures have impacted communities and ecosystems. California, a state hit hard by these dual threats, saw 4% of its land consumed by flames in 2020.

Now, in a study published in Nature Communications, researchers present a new perspective on the health of California's forests. Their findings expose a significant undercount of dead trees throughout the state, potentially offering a critical new explanation for the extent and intensity of the 2020 wildfires. This AI-powered model not only deepens our understanding of tree mortality but could also pave the way for better forest management and wildfire prevention strategies worldwide.

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