FROM OUR MANAGING PRINCIPAL
Our actions speak volumes
We are all affected by climate events, even events happening halfway around the world. Wildfires, winds, temperature swings and water (too much or too little) cost everyone $1 trillion last year, according to NOAA1. Such news only makes the teams at Spatial Informatics Group, SIG-NAL and SIG Carbon fight harder. As you will see on the pages that follow, in 2022 we poured our hearts and souls into the climate challenge, and in the end delivered significant accomplishments across the globe. Whether it was collecting data, developing software, publishing research, presenting papers or leading consortia, we influenced change. We have big plans for 2023 and beyond. We look forward to working with many of you as we continue our pursuit of truth in climate science.
SIG FORESTS & AGRICULTURE
Inventory & valuation
“In 2022, the Forestry & Agriculture team introduced an automated process to produce hi-resolution forest inventory data into a database that can be regularly updated to current conditions and incorporate disturbance datasets. Our methodologies allow us to run data out to 150 years in an efficient manner for a multitude of climate measurement scenarios and open up a variety of options for obtaining sensitivity analyses or more elaborate lifecycle assessments for stakeholder engagement and outreach. Peer-reviewed articles support our work. For 2023, we look forward to furthering our work on Avoided Wildfire and Greenhouse Gas Emissions.”
Thomas Buchholz, PhD, Director SIG Forestry & Agriculture
Ground-breaking greenhouse gas research
REPORT: Avoided Wildfire Emissions from Fuel Treatments in the C.C. Cragin Watershed, Arizona
The SIG Forestry and Agriculture team used advanced modeling to quantify the potential greenhouse gas (GHG) benefits of the Cragin Watershed Protection Project. Their report showed clear net GHG benefits of wildfire mitigation strategies including a reduced risk of high-severity wildfire (and avoided wildfire emissions, increased carbon sequestration in remaining trees, carbon storage in wood products and delayed regeneration.
Syncing science, policy & carbon offsets
A SIG-led team collaborated with Climate Forward, an innovative carbon market platform, to get an avoided wildfire emissions methodology approved in Q1 of 2023. The Reduced Emissions from Megafires’ (REM) methodology will help to fund forest restoration treatments in fire-adapted forests. In support of this work SIG and collaborators published the article “Probability-based Accounting for Carbon in Forests to Consider Wildfire and other Stochastic Events; Synchronizing Science, Policy, and Carbon Offsets” in Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change.
SIG NATURAL HAZARDS
Mitigating wildfire risk
“Fire season is a year-round cycle for SIG’s Natural Hazards team. During the active fire season, we are tracking and predicting ongoing wildfires. Off-season, we are typically working on post-wildfire monitoring or supporting NEPA and CEQA efforts for the upcoming season’s fuel reduction projects. Thanks to the hard work of many people on the Pyregence Team, we have open-sourced some of the predictive models available. We always appreciate the opportunity to support pre-fire, during-fire, and post-wildfire planning with our partners across the State of California. For 2023, we will continue to help agencies, communities and land managers prepare for and mitigate against the ever-present risk of wildfires.”
— Jason Moghaddas, SIG Natural Hazards Director
CAMP HESS KRAMER MANAGEMENT PLAN
Preserve the past for the future
Situated on 160 acres bordering California’s Pacific Coast, the Wilshire Boulevard Temple – Camp Hess Kramer (founded in 1952) had experienced wildfires in 1985, 1989 and 1993. The return intervals of large fires have shortened while the size and severity of fires are increasing in Southern California. In 2018 the Woolsey Fire severely impacted the camp. Camp owners initiated a rebuilding project and brought in SIG to develop a wildfire management plan. Our modeling and analysis demonstrated that common fuel management practices could reduce fire behavior enough to allow hand and mechanized firefighting equipment to safely and effectively engage future wildfires.
MIDPENINSULA REGIONAL OPEN SPACE DISTRICT
Prescribe and protect
SIG and partner Panorama Environmental spent much of 2022 finalizing a Prescribed Fire Plan as a key part of the Wildland Fire Resiliency Program for the MidPeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD). This program covers over 60,000 acres of preserve wildlands located in Santa Clara, San Mateo, and Santa Cruz counties which are managed by MROSD. The program identifies the areas where new fuel reduction areas and prescribed fire can be utilized to restore local ecosystems and reduce hazardous fuels. It also includes the detailed fuel treatments needed, including costs and a 5-year plan. The program additionally identifies a monitoring plan and preparation of pre-fire planning and resource advisor maps.
“Wildfire continues to increase in frequency and magnitude around the world, presenting direct and indirect threats to people, property and natural landscapes. SIG oversees the Pyregence Consortium made of academic, government and private sector scientists and specialists with unrivaled expertise in forestry, fire science, systems modeling and computer sciences. The team’s work on the PyreCast near-term fire forecasting models and tools are improving wildfire fire practitioner’s situational awareness of fire spread and likelihood, and has been applied across the continental U.S. in applications such as First Street Foundation’s Fire Factor application.”
— Shane Romsos, Pyregence Project Manager for SIG
2022 Pyregence Working Group Research
Prein, A. F., J Coe, A. Jaye. 2022. The Character and Changing Frequency of Extreme California Fire Weather. JGR Atmospheres Vol. 127, Issue 9. https://doi.org/10.1029/2021JD035350
J. Cobian-Iñiguez, J., F. Richter, L. Camignani, C. Liveretou, H. Xiong, S.Stephens, M. Finney, M. Gollner, and C. Fernandez-Pello. Wind Effects on Smoldering Behavior of Simulated Wildland Fuels. Combustion Science and Technology, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00102202.2021.2019239
Stephens, S. L., A. A. Bernal, B. M. Collins, M. A. Finney, C. Lautenberger, D. Saah. 2022. Mass fire behavior created by extensive tree mortality and high tree density not predicted by operational fire behavior models in the southern Sierra Nevada. Forest Ecol. And Manage. 518. https://doi. org/10.1016/j.foreco.2022.120258
Hudson, N. 2022. Drought Induced Snag Dynamics and Fuel Succession in the Sierra Nevada. UC Berkeley Master’s Thesis.
Sam. J. A., W. J. Baldwin, A. J. Westerling, H. K. Preiser, Q. Xu, M.D. Hureau, B. M. Sleeter, and S. B. Thapa. 2022. Simulating burn severity maps at 30 meters in two forested regions in California. Environ. Res. Lett. 17:10. https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ac939b
Xu, Q., A. L. Westerling, A. Notohamiprodjo, C. Wiedinmyer, J. J. Picotte, S. A. Parks, M. D. Hurteau, M. E. Marlier, C. A. Kolden, J. A. Sam-, W. J. Baldwin, and C. Ade. 2022. Wildfire burn severity and emissions inventory: an example implementation over California. Environ. Res. Lett. 17:8. https:// doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ac80d0.
Xu, Q., A. L. Westerling, A. and W. J. Baldwin. 2022. Spatial and temporal patterns of wildfire burn severity and biomass burning-induced emissions in California. Environ. Res. Lett. 17:11 https://doi. org/10.1088/1748-9326/ac9704
Sam, J. A., P. K. Haiganoush, A. L. Westerling, Q. Xu, W. J. Baldwin, and B. M. Sleeter. Estimation of Burn Severity Fractions in California. (In Prep.)
Benjamin M. Sleeter, B.M, L.Frid, B. Rayfeld, C. Daniel, Z. Zhu and D. C. Marvin. 2022. Operational assessment tool for forest carbon dynamics for the United States: a new spatially explicit approach linking the LUCAS and CBM-CFS3 models. Carbon Balance and Management (2022) 17:1 https://doi.org/10.1186/s13021-022-00201-1
Next-gen wildfire prediction
SIG’s Development team along with the Pyregence consortium made enhancements and optimizations in 2022 to PyreCast, our near-term fire forecasting tool. The fire history tool was improved to view historical fires on the map. Users now have more options for viewing data points and models in the fuels and weather tab. Additional optional layers were added, including US transmission lines, structures and isochrones. There were also general UI/UX improvements and optimizations, including enabling additional geoservers.
What is your property risk?
SIG and the Pyregence Consortium joined First Street Foundation and other collaborators to create Risk Factor™ bringing visibility to any home’s environmental risks from wildfire, flooding or extreme heat.
Introduced in May 2022, the free tool provides historic events, current risks, and future projections based on peer-reviewed research from the world’s leading climate modelers. It included the launch of Risk Factor Pro.
- Custom-built models to calculate property-level climate risk statistics
- Transparent, peer-reviewed methodology that’s proven against real environmental events
- Building details and structure characteristics are used to customize information for each specific property
SIG ECOSYSTEM SERVICES
Pricing natural disasters
“As confirmed by the NOAA report1, the cost of disasters is skyrocketing. Often overlooked is the actual cost of a wildfire. Up to now, this has been a complicated calculation. We are proud of the report we helped prepare in 2022 for the Western Forestry Leadership Coalition introducing a methodology for determining the true cost of wildfires. For 2023, we plan to develop additional tools that will introduce the element of time in assessing ecosystem services, which we believe will be a mindshift for researchers and policy makers.”
— Austin Troy, PhD, SIG Principal and Ecosystem Services Lead
REPORT: The True Cost of Wildfire in the Western U.S., 2022
What does a wildfire cost?
Wildfire valuation has traditionally focused on suppression costs and structure losses. In 2022, SIG’s team of Austin Troy, Taro Pusina, Shane Romsos, Jason Moghaddas and Thomas Buchholz authored a report for the Western Forestry Leadership Coalition shining a spotlight on wildfire costs to human health, water supply, transportation, the labor market and local economics. The report, The True Cost of Wildfire in the Western U.S., 2022, presented a framework for future methods of costing wildfires and raised the question of how that knowledge can inform future policies, legislation and best practices.
SIG Environmental Software Team
Making data actionable
“The SIG Development team had a great year of growth in 2022, and we expect even more in 2023 as we continue to support all parts of SIG. We will focus attention on project-specific initiatives and the development of microservices that automate common processes across the organization. UX and UI are critical to making complex calculations valuable and approachable. Our team is passionate about the work we do at SIG and of our success making climate data available to users of all capabilities.”
— Jordan Combs, SIG Environmental Software Team Leader
SIG Environmental Mapping
Documenting global change
“We have SIG teams tackling environmental challenges on six of the seven continents. Local and global partnerships are important to us, and collaboration supports our dedication to understanding how climate events and trends over time affect the health and economic well-being of Earth’s populations, both human and wildlife. For 2023, we are committed to developing tools, methods, and alliances that will move our mission forward.”
— Karis Tenneson, PhD, Director, SIG Environmental Mapping
The democracy of data
SIG partnered with Google, CAL-PSE, and SERVIRAmazonia to pilot Ground, an open-source mapping and data platform built to empower individuals and institutions. Ground enables in-person data collection and works offline—crucial in areas without wireless service—seamlessly connecting to cloud-based storage. The Ground pilot helped developers validate the tool’s need and provided important insights into empowering communities through inclusive technology. As development progresses, SIG will continue contributing to the design and field testing.
COLLECT EARTH ONLINE (CEO)
Many eyes. One focus.
Collect Earth Online (CEO) brings science to non-specialists through a free, open-source, intuitive platform. Users interpret satellite imagery to answer environmentally critical questions regarding land cover, land use, forestry, and agriculture. CEO has attracted a dedicated global community of users in more than 50 countries who rely on the platform to drive high-impact work monitoring deforestation and other types of land use change. SIG partners with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, SERVIR (a joint initiative of NASA and USAID, working in partnership with leading technical organizations around the world), SilvaCarbon (an interagency technical cooperation program of the US Government), Google, and other technical partners to develop CEO. We look forward to contributing to the continued development of CEO driven by user needs.
Spotlight on illegal mining
In 2022, SIG collaborated on the development of multiple online tools to identify deforestation by mining activities and inform policymakers and other stakeholders. These tools produce near real-time information on deforestation and mining activity and use crowdsourcing to identify and verify potential mining sites. The tools use Collect Earth Online to support these crowdsourcing efforts. In partnership with SERVIR-Amazonia, the Radar Mining Monitoring (RAMI) platform was developed to detect mining activity in the southern Peruvian Amazon. In partnership with the University of Rosario, the Columbian Mining Monitoring (CoMiMo) platform was created to support efforts to stop illegal mining activities in Colombia.
Award winning research
In 2022, SIG’s David Saah, Gary Johnson, Karis Tenneson, and Ate Poortinga won two awards for their paper “Collect Earth: An online tool for systematic reference data collection in land cover and use applications” published in Environmental Modelling & Software. The first award recognizes papers published in Environmental Modelling & Software (EMS) that received the highest numbers of citations in the following three years. The second award recognizes papers published in EMS that received the highest numbers of downloads in the following three years including the year of publication. The two awards recognize the significant contribution made by CEO to the scientific advancement of the environmental monitoring fields.
SIG Thought Leadership
“Open source everything has always been a pillar of SIG. Collaboration, co-development, and multi-group public/private/ academic consortiums are not only the cornerstones to our open science approach but the keys to our success. While we develop proprietary datasets for our clients, our own data remains an open book. This may have come at a high price for growth at our company, as we have refused outside investors who no doubt would demand that our data be locked behind a gate. We want everyone to have access to the world’s top minds working at SIG and to all of SIG’s research and findings.”
— David Saah, PhD, SIG Managing Principal/Co-Founder
— Austin Troy, PhD, SIG Principal/Co-Founder
— Dave Ganz, PhD, SIG Principal/Co-Founder
— Max Moritz, PhD, SIG Principal
GOOGLE EARTH ENGINE
SIG worked to build capacity with local partners throughout 2022. Through our Collect Earth Online (CEO) training and our work as a Google Partner providing Google Earth Engine (GEE) training, SIG empowered groups around the world to address deforestation and other environmental mapping challenges.
SIG-held training sessions included crop mapping workshops in Cambodia using GEE and CEO, workshops on hydrology mapping using GEE in Paraguay and Indonesia, and a training on forest change area estimation in Nepal using GEE and CEO. These workshops and many others enabled our partners from different local government and research institutions to map and analyze key environmental features. SIG co-sponsors training with SERVIR, SilvaCarbon, and other institutions.
ONLINE TEXT BOOK
Opening the book
In 2022, SIG’s David Saah co-edited Cloud-Based Remote Sensing with Google Earth Engine: Fundamentals and Applications along with Jeffrey A. Cardille, Nick Clinton and Morgan A. Crowley. This open-access textbook on the fundamentals of Google Earth Engine enables users to advance from novice to expert guided by exercises and applied examples of analyses.
Additional SIG team members who authored book chapters include Karis Tenneson, John Dilger, Karen Dyson, Ate Poortinga, Andrea Nicolau, Crystal Wespestad, and Brian Zutta.
Incentivizing a green economy
“In a crowded field, SIG Carbon stands out for our transparency and methodical approach. We were founded by academics who believe knowledge should flow freely, and to that end our practices are very much an open book. We further help educate land owners, land managers and agencies about this new field. As we enter 2023, we believe our high standards will continue to propel our success.”
— Tim Kramer, Managing Director, SIG Carbon
Carbon and tribal lands
SIG Carbon is working with Indian Land Tenure Foundation to develop a forest carbon offset project on approximately 70,000 acres belonging to the Blackfeet Nation. Blackfeet tribal lands are located in northwest Montana, bordered by Glacier National Park and the Canadian Border. The carbon project will provide revenue to the tribe and complement the ongoing sustainable timber management efforts. SIG Carbon provides carbon project development services, including inventory, design, statistical guidance, quantification and modeling services related to the development of carbon credits. Ongoing carbon storage will also be regularly monitored through forest inventories. SIG Carbon looks forward to working with Indian Land Tenure Foundation on this project.
“The year 2022 was a turning point for Spatial Informatics Group-Natural Assets Laboratory (SIG-NAL). In June, we transitioned to new leadership. We also completed a significant project in Santa Barbara County, developing a Regional Wildlife Mitigation Program (RWMP) with the University of California Santa Barbara. In 2023 we hope to further refine this pilot project into a valuable program for replication in other communities.”
— Graham Weslowski, MESM, SIG-NAL Executive
Living with fire
COMMUNITY ACTION IN SANTA BARBARA
SIG-NAL, a non-profit organization, and the University of California Santa Barbara received a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to create a framework for increasing wildfire resilience for the wildland urban interface (WUI) communities along Santa Barbara County’s southern coast. The resulting Regional Wildlife Mitigation Program (RWMP), presented to community members in 2022, will transform the area’s front country into a fire-adapted region with reduced wildfire risk to the communities, the built environment and natural systems, while allowing wildfire to play a regenerative role across the landscape. The RWMP works collaboratively to foster resilience and build adaptive capacity so that communities can prepare, respond and recover from the shock of large wildfires.
2023 and beyond
COMMUNITY ACTION IN SANTA BARBARA
This year will be the year of “connecting the dots” across many of our projects and initiatives, with plans to automate and integrate across our company many of the analytics and data we use and are known for. We are particularly proud of our programs and affiliations, including but not limited to:
Pregence and PyreCast
Million Acres Strategy
California Air Resources Board
Climate and Wildfire Institute
California Wildfire & Forest
Resilience Task Force
Forest Data Partnership
The UC System
NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters (2023). https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/access/billions/
On a mission to use science for change.