If you zoom in on a new map of California, you’ll start to see that the fields of green that represent the forest are actually made up of individual green points, and each point represents a real, individual tree. The tool, called the California Forest Observatory, uses AI and satellite images to create an ultradetailed view of the state’s forests—aiding work to prevent the type of catastrophic megafires that the state is experiencing now.
Scientists at Salo Sciences, a startup that works on technology for natural climate solutions, began creating the tool after interviewing dozens of experts in California about the state’s challenges with wildfires: They need more detailed, up-to-date information about the forests so they can better predict how fast and in what direction fires will spread, and remove the most hazardous fuels. Even the rough satellite maps that exist now are often three years out of date, making it hard for agencies to plan their work.
The new tool will be updated annually after the fire season ends, if not more often. Firefighters can use the tool to predict how current fires may spread as they’re burning. But just as critically, the state can also use the map to plan forest management to prevent future megafires. “What we really found was California more than anything has a vegetation and fuel load problem,” says David Marvin, cofounder and CEO of Salo Sciences. “This has occurred because, for the last century, we’ve been suppressing wildfire, and we’ve gotten really good at doing so. CalFire, the state fire agency, puts out something like 96% of fires, and we have thousands of them every year.”