Maps Show Forest Water Loss During Drought

Taylor Hillman Drought, Environment, Industry News Release, Water

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New maps from the National Academy of Sciences show canopy water loss for California forests from 2011 to 2015.

View the full report here with explanations and map details.

PNAS Water Loss Maps
The state of California has a globally important economy and a population exceeding 38 million. The state relies on its forested watersheds to support numerous services, such as water provisioning, carbon storage, timber products, ecotourism, and recreation. However, secular changes in air temperature, combined with periodic and prolonged drought, pose a compounding challenge to forest health. Here we use new remote-sensing and modeling techniques to assess changes in the canopy water content of California’s forests from 2011 to 2015. Our resulting maps of progressive canopy water stress identify at-risk forest landscapes and watersheds at fine resolution, and offer geographically explicit information to support innovative forest management and policies in preparation for climate change.

We used airborne laser-guided spectroscopy and satellite-based models to assess losses in canopy water content of California’s forests between 2011 and 2015. Approximately 10.6 million ha of forest containing up to 888 million large trees experienced measurable loss in canopy water content during this drought period. Severe canopy water losses of greater than 30% occurred over 1 million ha, affecting up to 58 million large trees. Our measurements exclude forests affected by fire between 2011 and 2015. If drought conditions continue or reoccur, even with temporary reprieves such as El Niño, we predict substantial future forest change. View the full report here with explanations and map details