tree hugging

To reduce pollution pockets, Los Angeles is using A.I. from Google

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Walking under tree shade is not only good for the soul, it's good for the environment too.

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Trees play a critical role as carbon recyclers and oxygen providers. But in dense cities, tree canopy can be scarce. And where trees are most scarce, "heat islands" often form.

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Heat islands are the product of dense concrete infrastructure — concrete absorbs and holds on to heat, and these areas can create pockets where the air is poor quality and there is increased pollution.

Air pollution can lead to increased rates of chronic diseases like asthma, as well as short-term problems, like dehydration, creating a public health crisis. These places also tend to be in under-served communities, where access to health services is lowest.

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Big data could hold the key to tackling the problem of heat islands. The city of Los Angeles is using Google's A.I. tools and maps to strategically plant trees.

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Planting more trees to provide shade is one solution to this problem, but determining where to plant these trees has historically required slow and expensive block-by-block tree counting.

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That is where Google's A.I. tool comes in...

Tree Canopy Lab

Google has developed a new tool for Angeleno arborists called Tree Canopy Lab. It uses artificial intelligence, aerial imagery, and heat mapping to visualize every single tree in the city.

Tree Canopy Lab

Tree Canopy Lab

City officials, including L.A.’s first City Forest Officer, Rachel Malarich, can use this data to evaluate canopy density and easy spot communities that lack essential shade.

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“This data helps us go beyond assumptions and see where the actual need is,” Malarich said in a statement.

Using this data, officials found that 50 percent of Angelenos live in areas with less than 10 percent tree canopy coverage, and 44 percent live in areas with extreme heat risk. Planting more trees could help solve this problem.

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But not all tree initiatives are created equal. Historically, tree planting in L.A. has not always panned out to the residents' benefit. Underserved communities, where these trees are needed most, are often areas where green space for planting is most limited.

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Malarich hopes to change that using this new tool.

"We talk about right tree, right place, and even now more and more, we're talking about the right reason," said Malarich to LAist.

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Tree Canopy Lab is also a major part of helping L.A. plant 90,000 trees citywide by 2021 as part of L.A.’s Green New Deal.

“With flames on our hillsides and floods in our streets, cities cannot wait another moment to confront the climate crisis with everything we’ve got,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement.

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Right now Tree Canopy Lab is only being piloted in the Los Angeles area, but the tool could enable cities across the country meet their climate goals — and provide a better quality of life to their communities.

Read more stories about climate change here.

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