California’s historic drought has led to devastating effects on its residents and environment, including the loss of millions of trees in its formerly lush forests. Low rainfall, wildfires, and beetle outbreaks have caused damage to the health of forests in the state, but until now we did not know just how much. Recently, a study by the Carnegie Institution for Science revealed extensive canopy water loss in 888 million trees. The use of a laser-guided, airborne observatory resulted in detailed scans of forests and satellite data helped to map the slow degradation of the trees from 2011 to 2015.

carnegie institution for science, carnegie airborne observatory, greg asner, california drought, california forest, california wildfire, forest conservation, canopy water loss, forest devastation, tree loss

The aerial scans uncovered an area of 41,000 square miles, or 10.6 million hectares, of affected forest. These trees were found to have lost a measurable amount of canopy water through the observatory’s mounted spectroscopy tools. Of these 888 million trees identified 58 million have reached dangerously low water loss markers, threatening the health of the entire forest. Even though El Niño effects may provide some relief soon, the study’s authors worry that irreparable damage may have already been done.

Related: 10 solutions to California’s drought

Greg Asner, the man behind the Carnegie Airborne Observatory team, states, “Continued airborne and satellite monitoring will enable actions on the ground to mitigate a cascade of negative impacts from forest losses due to drought, as well as aid in monitoring forest recovery if and when the drought subsides.” The results from the expedition have been shared with both state and federal entities and have led to engagement with the California EPA and the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Asner’s research was also influential in the governor’s proclamation of a state of emergency for tree loss. This kind of data seems to be what it takes to get the attention of officials who can implement real change.

Via CBS News

Images via Shutterstock (1,2)