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Mountain Legacy Project

November 6, 2014

Scientists are using the science of computer vision to document climate change in the Rocky Mountains.



A new view of the mountains. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The Clearwater Forest in 1924 (left), and in the present day from the same point of view (right). Note the change in the tree line over time. (Courtesy of the Mountain Legacy Project)

Human activity and climate change have been altering the face of the Canadian Rockies for over a century. But how do scientists document such long-term changes? At the University of Victoria, researcher Alexandra Branzan Albu programs computers to recognize different patterns in mountain landscapes.

ALEXANDRA BRANZAN ALBU (University of Victoria):

The texture of an image is very different for forests, meadows, lakes, and rocks, so that is a very intuitive way to try to separate those areas of the image.


The computer programs then detect differences between modern photos of the mountains and archival photos taken during the 19th and 20th centuries.


For instance we see that the tree line has gone up because of the climate warming.


To see before and after photos for yourself, visit I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.