From: Carnegie Institute for Science via EurekAlert
Published December 29, 2015 05:13 AM

California drought putting many trees at risk

California's forests are home to the planet's oldest, tallest and most-massive trees. New research from Carnegie's Greg Asner and his team reveals that up to 58 million large trees in California experienced severe canopy water loss between 2011 and today due to the state's historic drought. Their results are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In addition to the persistently low rainfall, high temperatures and outbreaks of the destructive bark beetle increased forest mortality risk. But gaining a large-scale understanding a forest's responses to the drought, as well as to ongoing changes in climate, required more than just a picture of trees that have already died. 

A higher-tech approach was necessary; so Asner and his team used the laser-guided imaging spectroscopy tools mounted on the Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO) to measure the full impact of the drought on California's forests for the first time. They combined the CAO data with more-traditional satellite data going back to 2011. 

Their new approach revealed a progressive loss of water in California's forest canopies over the four-year span. Mapping changes in canopy water content tells scientists when trees are under drought stress and greatly aids in predicting which trees are at greatest death and fire risk.

This image shows progressive water stress on California's forests.  CREDIT Courtesy of Greg Asner.

Read more at Carnegie Institute for Science.

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