Google Introduces Tree Canopy Lab, Pilots Tree Mapping in Los Angeles

Google has introduced its new Tree Canopy Lab as part of its Environmental Insights Explorer platform and is piloting the tree mapping tool in the city of Los Angeles.

The Tree Canopy Lab uses AI and aerial images to assess a city’s tree cover density. Google collects the aerial imagery using images the company already takes by plane for Google Maps. In addition to aerial imagery-based data, it uses public data from external sources – including heat risk data, population density data, land use data, and neighborhood boundary data. It creates an interactive map along with additional data on which neighborhoods are more densely populated and are more vulnerable to high temperatures.

Currently, tree inventories are performed by individuals surveying each block. Los Angeles has also used LIDAR technology – using a laser sensor to detect the trees – to map its urban forest but that process was expensive and slow. Google claims that its new tool can save cities like Los Angeles time and expense in taking a tree inventory. It’s expected that city planners and arborists will be able to use the Tree Canopy Lab to determine which new areas need more trees planted, with the goal of reducing heat islands, reducing CO2 emissions, and improving air quality in the city.

“We’ll be able to really home in on where the best strategic investment will be in terms of addressing that urban heat,” says Rachel Malarich, Los Angeles’ city forest officer.

Data from hundreds more cities will be available within the next year and Google has a form for city planners to use if they wish to express interest. The service is free to use and will be updated regularly.

“We want to hear more about how L.A. is using this and how other cities will use this,” said Ruth Alcantara, program manager for Google’s AI for Social Good initiative. “We are hoping to expand to hundreds of cities in the coming years.”