California Drought Threatens Over 58 Million Trees – Planet’s Oldest Forests Under Threat From Climate Change And Destructive Insects

California Drought Threatens Over 58 Million Trees

California’s unrelenting drought is threatening the oldest forests in the world. As many as 58 million trees are under threat not just from the acute shortage of water but other factors resulting from climate change, a new study revealed.

New research from Carnegie’s Greg Asner and his team revealed that up to 58 million large trees in California have experienced severe canopy water loss between 2011 and 2015 due to the state’s historic drought, reported AZO Cleantech.

California’s forests have some of the world’s oldest trees. Unfortunately, the drought that’s been prevalent in increasing intensity for the last four years has been responsible for severe canopy water loss. The historic drought has directly threatened the survival of California’s forests that house almost a billion trees, many of which have withstood the test of time for quite a few centuries. The ravaging effect of climate change, made worse by El Nino, is expected to have an irreversible effect on the ecology. Apart from the drought, the trees are being threatened by a destructive insect called the bark beetle. Researchers are worried that the mortality risk of trees has gone up considerably, reported Raw Story.

California Drought Threatens Over 58 Million Trees

Consistently high temperatures, coupled with persistently low rainfall and a strong outbreak of bark beetle, has raised the mortality risk, revealed the research. What’s more concerning is the fact that even if El Nino does bring in more precipitation, as is expected, California’s forests will undergo irreversible change.

Speaking about the research, Greg Asner, an ecology expert with the Carnegie Institution said, “California relies on its forests for water provisioning and carbon storage, as well as timber products, tourism, and recreation, so they are tremendously important ecologically, economically, and culturally. The drought put the forests in tremendous peril, a situation that may cause long-term changes in ecosystems that could impact animal habitats and biodiversity.”

The research has revealed that in the past five years, about 10.6 million hectares (41,000 square miles) of forest cover has been facing severe water shortage. From a statistical perspective, about 888 million trees have had to make do with steadily reducing water availability. Many of the endangered trees include the famed sequoias, which are known for their massive growth. The study indicated that as many as 58 million trees have endured major water shortages from 2011 to 2015, reported the Daily Mail.

California’s drought has caused a severe water loss to thresholds that can be considered extremely threatening to long-term forest health. The damage is so severe that even if El Nino attempts to compensate with generous precipitation, in case drought like conditions return in the near future, the forests would undergo substantial and irreversible changes. The domino effect of the drought and the outbreak of the destructive bark beetle could destroy large swathes of the forests.

California Drought Threatens Over 58 Million Trees

In order to learn how California’s drought has impacted the forests, the research team combined traditionally available satellite data going back to 2011, with laser-guided imaging spectroscopy tools mounted on the Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO). Combining the inputs from both the methods revealed the full impact of the drought on California’s forests for the first time, shared Ashley Conrad-Saydah, deputy secretary for climate policy at the California Environmental Protection Agency (CEPA).

“The Carnegie Airborne Observatory’s research provides invaluable insight into the severity of drought impacts in California’s iconic forests. It will be important to bring their cutting-edge data and expertise to bear as the state seeks to address the effects of this epidemic of dying trees and aid in the recovery of our forests.”

High-resolution imagery offered by the team managed to persuade the California governor to proclaim a state of emergency for dead and dying trees across the state. The maps that laid bare the impact of California’s drought have been shared with both state and federal partners in the hopes that they will spur action about forest and water conservation.

[Photo by Mark Ralston/Getty Images]