Earthwatch Institute launched the Urban Resiliency Program recognizing the need for more data-driven solutions and civic engagement in addressing urban challenges. The program started in 2014 in Los Angeles to fill critical research needs about creating resilient urban environments and providing opportunities for the public to become involved in doing real science about their local environment in a fun way. While the program began in the Southern California area, we aim to expand and engage people globally. 

Co-designed and co-produced as a large scale collaborative venture, the Urban Resiliency Program works with Dr. Darrel Jenerette and his lab at University of California Riverside, and many other partners to create field research programs that engage the public and lead to more informed decisions. To support this research, program partners are then engaged in specific citizen science activities across greater Los Angeles to contribute the large quantities of data needed to improve our understanding of how our actions can help build a more resilient urban biosphere.

 

The Urban Resiliency Program is where citizens and institutions actively contribute in science-informed activities to build communities that are cooler, healthier, and use less water by increasing urban tree cover.

 

Earthwatch Institute is an international environmental non-profit organization based in Boston, Massachusetts. For over 45 years, we bring individuals from all walks of life together with world-class scientists to work for the good of the planet. The Earthwatch community continues to grow rapidly, with participation from members of the general public we call “citizen scientists,” to corporate employees, to educators and students.

Earthwatch volunteers bring their knowledge, passion, and experience to support our work, improve scientific understanding, and inspire change across all touch-points in their lives. Our vision is a world in which we live sustainably, in balance with nature. 

In an increasingly urbanized world, green space is growing more important

Southern California is facing serious challenges from climate change including increasing heat and decreasing water availability. Heavily populated regions across the diverse climates found in Southern California will be particularly hard hit by these impacts with the number of extreme heat days projected to be greater than 30 each year.

Increasing use and access to green space within urban areas have been identified by private and public institutions as an important strategy to help communities build resilience and adapt to climate change. Because trees require water, we need to know how different trees grow and provide benefits under future climatic conditions and water limitations. We need to increase our scientific understanding of these issues and share our results with managers and policymakers.

Science-based decision-making

Together with Dr. Darrel Jenerette and Peter Ibsen of the University of California Riverside, a field research program has been designed to help increase our understanding of how trees are performing in the Los Angeles region, and how they are likely to fare under future climate scenarios. To support this research, program partners are then engaged in specific citizen science activities across greater Los Angeles to contribute the large quantities of data needed to improve our understanding of how urban trees perform.

 

The right tree in the right place with the right support

Our citizen science efforts currently assess the performance of 30 tree species across the climatic gradient represented in Southern California. By examining how different individual trees of the same species fare across the climatic gradient (e.g. cooler and more moist by the coast to hotter and drier conditions in the desert), we are able to understand the degree to which different species are likely to cope with the future climate scenarios. We can then use this information to inform which trees are likely to be appropriate for future climate patterns, yielding more benefits to the surrounding community.

The program has:

  • Involved more than 1,600 community participants from Los Angeles to Riverside
  • Trained nearly 100 team leaders
  • Collected data on more than 1,250 trees
  • Actively engaged over 20 partnerships

The Impact

While urban forests make up only a small percentage of the total forested area of California, the proximity to trees and their ecological benefits is important for human health. Some of the known benefits of urban forests include:

  • CO2 storage and sequestration
  • Cooling of air temperatures through shading and tree transpiration
  • Improved quality of life through aesthetic value, noise reduction, and reduction in stress.
  • Improved human health through minimizing heat effects, and reducing exposure to UV rays
  • Avoided emissions through reduced energy use
  • Air pollution removal through dry deposition
  • Reduced flood risk, and reduced water pollution
  • Increased property value through curb appeal and neighborhood charm
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