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AI-powered tech helps re-green australia's suburbs


Apr 2023

Nearmap imagery, artificial intelligence, and the vegetation insights these provide, help governments understand, monitor, and improve tree cover across Australia.

Apr 2023

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The liveability of our cities has never been more topical, as we emerge from our homes and once again enjoy the community around us. This reawakening also reminds us of the critical roles trees play in our wellbeing. Nearmap data shows how fundamentally Australia’s tree canopy is changing. If we use this information as a baseline, we can put in place plans to plant more trees and measure how they grow over time.
Nearmap has proprietary artificial intelligence capability that can analyse current and historical aerial imagery to understand and map the changing tree canopy across Australia’s suburbs. This is the first time a study of this type has been done using a consistent methodology and a large, high-resolution data set.
What's happening with our tree canopy?
Nearmap is the only organisation with access to a nationally consistent, high-resolution data set updated up to six times a year. In Adelaide, for example, our decade-long study of tree cover change shows it is one of the capital cities with the lowest tree cover. Our analysis reveals just under three in ten Adelaide residents live in suburbs where the tree cover is greater than 20%.
It’s important to note access to high-quality insights like these has not been readily available in the past. Now, using our data, urban planners have the information they need when planting trees to monitor changes over time, to ensure there’s ample shade and vegetation to create places where people want to live and work.
It’s worth comparing Adelaide to other capital cities. Greater Brisbane has the highest tree cover of all, where more than 79% of people enjoy life in suburbs with total tree cover greater than 20%. In Hobart, the figure is 71%, Darwin 66%, in the ACT it’s 58%, and in Greater Sydney 44% of people live in suburbs with more than 20% tree cover. In Greater Melbourne its only 30% and in Perth the figure is 22%.
In the case of Adelaide, our study found substantially more suburbs have lost than have gained tree canopy over the past decade. Across 281 suburbs in the city, half have lost at least 9.8% of their residential tree cover, while just 18 suburbs have gained 10% or more.
We’re also able to use the same data set to hone-in on what’s happening in individual suburbs, such as St Clair. A decade ago, much of St Clair was an old racecourse with some mature vegetation. Today, while those trees have been removed, many new trees have been planted and there are lots of fully-grown trees, established dwellings and a wonderful wetland walk at its centre.
Encouragingly, our data shows saplings planted a decade ago have grown into fuller, more mature trees. This is a good indicator the trees will continue growing healthily. The St Clair experience shows even when the tree canopy is compromised, there's lots of potential to turn this around.
The power of current, regular, consistent data
It’s been possible to perform deep learning on aerial imagery for some time. But it’s only been fairly recently that Nearmap has built up a petabyte-scale repository of machine learning data to enable this kind of analysis. It draws on huge tracts of tree canopy and bulking footprint data to produce Australia-first insights into how trees interact with our built environment.
The journey starts with standard Nearmap products, with pixels of aerial imagery the size of playing cards converted to incredibly high-resolution polygons for buildings and trees. This forms a continually updated map covering up to 95% of Australia’s population.
It opens up some wonderful opportunities to contribute to science and our collective understanding of how we live as a nation.
Even better, we can effectively jump in a time machine and rerun this analysis on our back catalogue of imagery, with the potential for multi-time analysis in future.
Building a better future together
How we adapt our cities to be more liveable and greener is at the core of the work of so many different groups - local governments, urban planners, property developers and more. The tree canopy insights Nearmap provides are a great springboard to support many different stakeholders to better understand how our environment is changing.
Nearmap location intelligence: speed, accuracy, and consistent quality
  • Compare current vegetation baseline with 10+ years of historical data using a consistent methodology and process
  • Calculate trends over time in the same location, or apply analysis across an entire city
  • Downloadable, high-resolution data sets that easily integrate into preferred GIS software
  • Imagery captures and tree cover calculated consistently at 5.5-7.5cm resolution
  • Coverage that spans up to 95% of Australia’s population, updated up to six times per year
  • Trusted by more than 250 government organisations across Australia
Editor's note: This article was initially published in the August/September 2022 issue of the Surveying and Spatial Sciences Institute's Position Magazine
To LOOK CLOSER at Nearmap AI, watch Nearmap NAVIG8 2022 on-demand where Senior Director of AI Systems at Nearmap, Dr. Michael Bewley, will be taking a deep-dive into the fifth and latest iteration of the technology and the capabilities it will unlock.
To understand how you can calculate your LGA’s tree canopy data, speak to the team.
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