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Google's new tool helps cities plant trees to combat the climate crisis

The tech giant is using AI and aerial imaging to figure out where we need more shade.

Corinne Reichert Senior Editor
Corinne Reichert (she/her) grew up in Sydney, Australia and moved to California in 2019. She holds degrees in law and communications, and currently writes news, analysis and features for CNET across the topics of electric vehicles, broadband networks, mobile devices, big tech, artificial intelligence, home technology and entertainment. In her spare time, she watches soccer games and F1 races, and goes to Disneyland as often as possible.
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Corinne Reichert
2 min read
googletrees

Google is scoping out tree coverage in Los Angeles.

Google

Google is working on bringing more shade to help cool our cities as the climate crisis worsens. The new Tree Canopy Lab combines artificial intelligence and aerial imaging to help cities see where there are gaps in their tree coverage and tree planting projects. Cities will then know where to plant more trees, Google said.

The company is teaming with the City of Los Angeles on the project, and said it plans to make insights from Tree Canopy Lab available to hundreds of cities in the next year. 

"Extreme temperatures are becoming more common in cities where concrete and infrastructure are now creating heat islands -- areas that experience higher temperatures, leading to poor air quality, dehydration and other public health concerns," Google said in a blog post Wednesday. "Trees are increasingly seen as a solution to both lowering street-level temperatures while improving quality of life."

The Tree Canopy Lab shows what percentage of neighborhoods have tree coverage, as well as population density and areas that are subject to extreme heat. It uses images collected by planes during the spring, summer and fall, including color photos and near-infrared photos. Google AI is then used to scan the images and detect trees, and Google Earth Engine helps analyze this data.

Read more: Climate change: 9 ways you can make a difference

Google's tree lab has found that 50% of Los Angeles residents live in area with 10% or less tree coverage, and 44% live in extreme heat risk areas.

"Every tree we plant can help stem the tide of the climate crisis," said Eric Garcetti, mayor of Los Angeles. "When we expand our urban forest, we can sow the seeds of a healthier, more sustainable and equitable future for communities hit hardest by rising temperatures and intensifying heat waves."

Google Trees LA

Tree coverage in Los Angeles.

Google
Watch this: How to stop climate catastrophe | What the Future