Mapping the vulnerability of giant sequoias after extreme drought in California using remote sensing

Andres Baeza-Castro, Roberta E. Martin, Nathan L. Stephenson, Adrian J. Das, Paul Hardwick, Koren Nydick, Jeff Mallory, Michèle Slaton, Kirk Evans, Gregory P. Asner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Between 2012 and 2016, California suffered one of the most severe droughts on record. During this period Sequoiadendron giganteum (giant sequoias) in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (SEKI), California, USA experienced canopy water content (CWC) loss, unprecedented foliage senescence, and, in a few cases, death. We present an assessment of the vulnerability of giant sequoia populations to droughts that is currently lacking and needed for management. We used a temporal trend of remotely sensed CWC obtained between 2015 and 2017, and recently georeferenced giant sequoia crowns to quantify the vulnerability of 7,408 individuals in 10 groves in the northern portion of SEKI. CWC is sensitive to changes in liquid water in tree canopies; therefore, it is a useful metric for quantifying the response of sequoia trees to drought. Temporal trends indicated that 9% of giant sequoias had a significant decline or consistently low CWC, suggesting these trees were likely operating at low photosynthetic capacity and potentially at high risk to drought stress. We also found that 20% of the giant sequoias had an increase or consistently high level of CWC, indicating these trees were at low risk to drought stress. These vulnerability categories were used in a random forest model with a combination of topographic, fire-related, and climate variables to generate high-resolution vulnerability risk maps. These maps show that higher risk is associated with lower elevation and higher climate water deficit. We also found that sequoias at higher elevations but located near meadows had higher vulnerability risk. These results and the vulnerability maps can identify vulnerable sequoias that may be difficult to save or locations of refugia to be protected, and thus may aid forest managers in preparation for future droughts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere02395
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 2021


  • California
  • Global Airborne Observatory
  • Sierra Nevada
  • canopy water content
  • climate change
  • drought
  • forest vulnerability
  • giant sequoia
  • imaging spectroscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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