Every square inch of N.J. plant life, mapped

Every square inch of N.J. plant life, mapped

17 Mayıs 2018 - 02:00

You've heard the jokes. 

The armpit of America. An urban wasteland. We even have our own super hero, the Toxic Avenger, to poke fun at how absurd people feel about "The Garden State." 

Any New Jersey resident knows the stereotypes are mostly bunk. The Garden State is called that for a reason — most of the state is covered in abundant green space. But we're also the most densely populated state in the nation, and have been for some time. 

Is some of the criticism warranted? 

"A lot of places aren't as bad as you might think," said Randall Solomon, executive director of Sustainable New Jersey, a non-profit dedicated to helping municipalities pursue sustainability projects. "But there’s a lot of room for improvement."



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What this is

To produce this analysis, we used Google Earth Engine to analyze every satellite image of New Jersey on a clear day from the last five summers. We then put them all together into a composite image of what New Jersey typically looks like at the height of growing season. 

Using a script based on work by Berliner Morganpost in Germany  we filtered the light bands of the satellite composite to show only light that is reflecting off green vegetation. We superimposed the New Jersey municipal borders over that image and calculated what percentage of each municipality is covered by green vegetation. 

This gives us a measure of how green each town is, to the most literal extent possible. And some pretty cool looking images of the state.

One quick note: If you live in an agricultural area where early season crops, like hay, are harvested during the summer, these regions may show up darker. While this shouldn't affect the analysis of vegetation, it may visually give that impression. 

Find your town

Use the map above to find out how much green space is in your town. Click or tap on any part of the map for details about that town, or use the zoom controls to explore New Jersey's vegetation from space. 

The coming tree genocide

One problem that could complicate matters, even for New Jersey's greenest cities, is the emerald ash borer. 

The invasive species of beetle has been rapidly making its way across the country and the state, destroying every ash tree in its path. There are currently about 24 million ash trees in New Jersey. 

And experts say they'll all soon be gone and there's nothing we can do to stop it. 

"We have to be planning not only for what we're facing now, but what we're facing 10 to 20 years from now," said Solomon. "The reality is in 5 to 10 years, all of our ash trees are going to be dead. They're all going to be dead." 

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How are New Jersey cities doing?

If there's anywhere that needs help, it's the state's most densely packed municipalities. Many of these towns were built out long before sustainability had entered the nation's lexicon. 

But building green space into a community has undeniable benefits. 

"Trees filter the air and increase air quality," Solomon said. "They also help with water infiltration to reduce street flooding. They provide shade, reducing the Urban Heat Island effect, which is a serious public health concern ... They also shade buildings, cooling them and reducing our energy costs." 

Sustainable Jersey has been working with municipalities to boost urban forestry efforts to make their communities more hardy and healthy. 

"We have maps using satellite imagery that show where in New Jersey its getting really hot int he summer," he said, noting that asphalt traps heat far more than soil or vegetation. "We work with communities to show them their hotspots and remedy them by doing plantings." 

Solomon said he believes, on a local level, that New Jersey is a national leader in terms of sustainable practices. But he acknowledged that, particularly in the state's cities, there's much work to be done.  

The slides below show how much vegetation coverage exists in the state's 18 cities with more than 40,000 people, from most to least. Notice how dark the images become toward the end.



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