Highlighting 2013: Previewing 2014


It’s hard to believe we’re already into the fourth week of the new year! 2013 seemed to fly by, and the ESI world felt busier than ever–2014 is off to a similar start. This is the excuse I offer, along with my apologies, for the substantial gap between blog posts! I’ll try to make up for that now by summarizing some of the highlights of 2013, as well as providing some news about our goals for the next 12 months.

A small island with palm trees, a large home, and a riprap perimeter.At the start of last year, ESI mapping was in progress in South Florida, the Upper Coast of Texas, and Louisiana. The South Florida GIS data were completed and posted to the NOAA Downloads page in early November. This is one of the regions for which a hard copy atlas was not generated. Because we know there are still many users who prefer a physical “map,” we plan to generate a product for that area, similar to the PDFs produced for the Florida Panhandle. Be watching for those sometime this spring!

The Upper Coast of Texas update was also completed late last year. Work on this atlas was done jointly with NOAA and Texas General Land Office (TGLO). Texas funded and conducted the ESI shoreline work with the Harte Research Institute (HRI). The completed shoreline was provided to Research Planning, Inc. (RPI), who integrated the biology and human-use data they collected. This portion was funded by NOAA. A similar funding approach was used for the last Florida atlases, as well. Both the Texas and Florida updates were much-needed, as the last round of ESI data for those regions was collected and published in the early to mid-1990’s.

The Louisiana ESI data will be undergoing a final review this month, and will hopefully be ready for posting sometime in February. Both the Texas and Louisiana projects included hard copy maps, so the traditional PDFs are (or in the case of Louisiana, will be) available for download.

Mapping of Delaware Bay began in early 2013. This work is nearly complete, so look for the data on the Downloads page early this spring!

Following Post Tropical Cyclone Sandy, Congress provided funding to several agencies for a variety of mapping efforts to ensure that accurate and current data are available to federal, state, and local authorities for preparedness and response activities in Sandy-affected areas. OR&R received funding for ESI mapping in areas ranging from Maine to South Carolina. ESI mapping for this region will include some additional features to increase the utility of the ESI data for other hazards, particularly coastal storms. We don’t want to lose focus on the traditional role of the ESIs for oil spill planning and response, but some data that might be particularly useful in storm-related emergencies could also benefit the original audience. Most of the enhancements will become part of the management or human-use data layers, and will include things such as storm surge inundation areas, evacuation routes, and additional jurisdictional boundaries.

We have been exploring how to better use some of the internal skills and knowledge of other NOAA offices, as well as working to increase capacity by linking to NOAA contracts that are currently in place for similar mapping efforts. Avoiding duplication is especially important with regard to the Sandy-related work, where multiple government agencies are working in the same area doing complementary projects. There is a government-wide committee tracking all the Sandy efforts and helping to bridge communications between offices that are working on similar projects.

The first Sandy-related ESI mapping has begun in Long Island Sound. For this effort we have partnered with NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Services (NCCOS) office for compilation of the biology and human-use data. The National Geodetic Survey (NGS) office is updating shoreline for the northern portion of the sound; their contractor, Woolpert, will be conducting the ESI shoreline classification. The next areas to be mapped will be Maine and South Carolina. We hope to have those contracts in place within the next 2 months.

Of course, Sandy work does not mean that other ESI mapping comes to an end! RPI is working on the other coast, mapping the outer shoreline of Washington and Oregon. ESI classification is already underway. Later this month, the biology and human-use data collection will gear up and by February and March, should be well underway. We anticipate completion of this work in late fall of this year. And, if the final budget allows, we hope to begin updating the Georgia ESI later this year.

So, you see, there may have been silence, but work did continue! 2014 looks like it will be even busier with lots of areas to be mapped, new features to include, and some new ways of doing things.

We’re looking forward to the challenges and anticipate a prosperous year ahead for ESIs. We wish you equal success!

Updated ESIs to Improve Disaster Response and Planning

In addition to causing devastating damage to manmade structures, the strong winds and waves of Post Tropical Cyclone Sandy caused considerable change to shorelines in the northeast, particularly in the metropolitan New York area, northern Long Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey. In the wake of Sandy, under the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, funds were allocated to update OR&R’s existing northeast ESI maps to reflect changes caused by the storm and to add information that would enhance the maps’ value when another disaster strikes. You can read more about the ESI updates in this OR&R Blog post.


You can see representative coastal habitat in a large wildlife conservation area managed by Bass River State Forest at the north end of Brigantine Island, a popular beach destination located on the New Jersey coast. (NOAA)

Announcing ESI Data Online!

Thanks to NOAA’s Special Projects office (SPO), in particular Nipa Parikh, Robb Wright, and Robby Wilson, NOAA’s online ESI Data Viewer is ready to launch. For the past several months, this group has coordinated with the ESI team to provide a user-friendly, online interface, enabling viewing and simple querying of the ESI GIS data layers, as well as viewing and download of individual ESI PDF maps. The area covered includes all but three of the ESI atlases (which will be added soon), representing the majority of the contiguous U.S. coastline, Alaska, Hawaii, and the U.S. territories. It’s been a BIG job, and we’re excited to roll it out!

The project is comprised of three distinct services: the ESI Data Viewer; an online viewing option for the Threatened and Endangered Species databases; and the National ESI Shoreline. We encourage you to test the features of these services (currently in beta version) and provide your feedback.

ESI Data Viewer

The new Environmental Sensitivity Index Data Viewer allows you to pick your region of interest, divided up by ESI atlas boundaries, and turn on individual ESI layers to query.

Screenshot of the Environmental Sensitivity Index Data Viewer, showing a section of Mobile, Alabama.

In the screenshot of the Mobile, Alabama area, seen above, the following layers are turned on: birds, ESI lines, and the map index. These layers are displayed on top of the ArcGIS Topographic basemap; you can select from a variety of ArcGIS Basemaps using the drop-down list in the upper right corner of the map. The NOAA Raster Navigational Charts and, in some areas, the tiled ESI PDF maps are also options for backdrops; these can be selected at the top of the Layer Selection panel, located to the left of the map.

In this example, a bird polygon has been selected, as well as the index map polygon in which it lies. The selected bird polygon is shown as a solid red map object; the selected index polygon has a transparent yellow hue, and is outlined in red. A pop-up window provides some information about the index polygon, and includes a link to the corresponding ESI PDF. The bird species found within the selected polygon are listed in the right panel. In this list, clicking the plus sign next to one of the species’ common names will provide additional information about that species, particular to the polygon selected. Above, you see the details for the Osprey. Its genus/species is Pandion haliaetus, it is State protected (the State/Federal designation, S_F, is “S” for state; the Threatened/Endangered designation, T_E, is “P” for protected*), and it is present in the area year round (Jan-Dec). Clicking the plus sign next to Sources, you learn that the source of the data was Mark Vanhoose at Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (AL DCNR). Any attributes associated with the ESI Base Layers listed in the top section of the left panel, will be shown using the pop-up window. The attributes of layers listed under the header, ESI Relate Layers, will be shown in the right panel, as in the above example for the bird layer. Only one of the Relate Layers can be shown at any given time.

Threatened and Endangered Species databases

The second product developed in this effort is an online viewing option for the Threatened and Endangered Species databases. (A recent blog post provides more information about these databases.)

Screenshot of the Threatened and Endangered Species geodatabase, showing the location of several threatened/endangered species in Alabama.

The screenshot above shows the location of several threatened/endangered species in Alabama: the Mississippi sandhill crane, the Bald eagle, and the Gulf salt marsh snake. In this example, the ArcGIS imagery basemap is used but, as in the ESI Data Viewer, you can select the ArcGIS basemap of your choice. If pop-up windows are enabled for the layer, clicking on a species polygon will show a window with details of the species in that area. In this case, the selected Bald eagle polygon, highlighted in blue, represents an area where the eagle is present year round (Jan-Dec) and is nesting December through May. You can also see that this species was listed as State protected (S_F shows “S” for state; T_E shows “P” for protected) in 2007, the year the atlas was published. It’s important to remember that protection status is not static, and that the ESI data are a snapshot in time. The status shown reflects the listing status at the time of the atlas publication.

National ESI Shoreline

Our third new online product is the National ESI Shoreline. The shorelines from approximately 45 ESI atlases were merged to create this seamless, attributed shoreline. The shoreline has four display options:

  • National ESI Shoreline is a simple black line presentation of the ESI shoreline, showing the land/water interface.
  • National ESI Shoreline – Cartographic displays a shoreline symbolized by ESI value. In cases where there are multiple ESI types occuring within a shoreline segment, multi-colored lines are used to represent each ESI type present. For example, for a shoreline segment with the ESI value of 1B/3A, the landward shoreline color will be purple, representing type 1B (exposed, solid man-made structures), and the seaward color will be blue, representing type 3A (fine- to medium-grained sand beaches).
  • National ESI Shoreline – Most Sensitive is a shoreline symbolized by a single colored line, based on the most sensitive ESI type present. Since increased sensitivity to oiling is indicated by higher numeric values in the ESI field, a shoreline with an attribute of 1B/3A/9A would have a “most sensitive” value of 9A (sheltered tidal flats), and be shown on the map as an orange line.
  • National ESI Shoreline – Aggregate is a shoreline symbolized using a simplified shoreline classification scheme. Values range from 1 to 5. As an example, ESI types 1A (Exposed rocky shores), 2A (Exposed, wave-cut platforms in bedrock, mud or clay), 3C (Tundra cliffs), and 8A (Sheltered rocky shores), among other types, are all condensed to a more general category, 1 – “Armored,” and symbolized by a purple line. The other general shoreline types are: 2 – “Rocky and steep shorelines (rock, sand or clay),” 3 – “Beaches (sand or gravel),” 4 – “Flats (mud or sand),” and 5 – “Vegetated (grass/marsh/mangroves/scrub-shrub).” All ESI values have been mapped to the appropriate “general” field for this presentation. The symbolization is based on the highest numeric general ESI type present in the segment.

If pop-up windows are enabled, you can select a shoreline segment to see the ESI rank and description, as well as the generalized classification and description. Below you can see an example of the cartographic presentation along with the shoreline pop-up box.

Screenshot of the National ESI Shoreline, showing the ESI rank for a section of shoreline in Alabama.

All of the data used in the online data products are also available as a map service. This means you can bring the data into your own ArcMap session and offers an alternative to downloading the dataset to your computer. This is particularly useful if you want a quick look at the data in reference to other items on your map. For more in-depth viewing and analysis, it may still be appropriate to download the ESI data from the ESI downloads page, where you can get the geodatabase and a supporting map document for the atlas of your choice.

So, take the new products for a spin! Be sure to let us know of any problems you experience, or any suggestions or ideas for future development! And thank you again to Nipa, Robb and Robby. It has been a pleasure working with all of you!

*The Data Viewer’s online help section (available via a Help button in the upper right corner of the window) provides an overview of the application’s features, and information about how to navigate within the program. We will soon be expanding the help section to include detailed explanation of the feature layer names and the attribute headers and values. [Back to text]

PDF Maps for the Florida Panhandle

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and NOAA OR&R recently took delivery of the digital Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) data for the Panhandle of Florida. Unlike most ESI projects, hard copy and PDF maps were not part of the contractor’s deliverable. Instead, all contract funding was focused on the actual acquisition, collection, and synthesis of the ESI data.

Though we seem to be transitioning to a largely “digital world,” PDF/printable maps are still the format of choice for many. To try to meet the needs of that user group, we used the ArcMap Seasonal Summary tool, in conjunction with some supporting Python scripts, to develop a PDF ESI atlas project for the Panhandle, similar to what we have published for other areas. Check out the new Florida Panhandle PDF maps on our ESI Downloads page.

The New ESI Product

Although the new “on the fly” maps created with the Seasonal Summary tool are similar to OR&R’s existing PDF maps, there are some subtle differences. The new maps show the ESI shoreline and polygons, and the “back of the map” summarizes the biological, human-use, and shoreline resources found in the area; however, these maps are less complex than their predecessors, and locational information less refined.

Sample ESI map page, showing Map 10 (Eglin Air Force Base) of the Florida Panhandle ESI maps.
Sample ESI map page

One of the outcomes of last year’s ESI user survey and Workshop were many good presentation suggestions, based on some examples of a simplified ESI map. Workshop participants recommended that we include a locator map and some coordinate reference marks, both of which have been integrated into the current map layout. The participants also had suggestions about the resource summaries, with the majority of them preferring the traditional layout, particularly for the seasonality. Those suggestions were also taken into consideration when designing the “back of the map.”

Sample ESI 'back of the map,' showing the seasonal presence of biological resources for Map 10 (Eglin Air Force Base) of the Florida Panhandle ESI maps.
Sample of biology summary—the “back of the map”

A new feature on these maps is a summary of the shoreline resources. The summary provides the length of shoreline on the map, as well as the length and percentage of each shoreline type. Of course, the length measurements are influenced by the scale of the underlying data, so the numbers may seem larger than what you would expect to see if all the “ins and outs” of the shoreline were ignored. The percentage of each shoreline type present is relatively independent of the mapping scale.

Sample summary of shoreline resources, showing the length of shoreline on the map, as well as the length and percentage of each shoreline type, for Map 10 (Eglin Air Force Base) of the Florida Panhandle ESI maps.
Sample summary of shoreline resources

Next Up

The State of Florida has been hard at work extending the functionality and data content of their Florida Marine Spill Analysis System (FMSAS), in which ESIs play a crucial role. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, they will be willing to post on this blog about some of this work. I will also try to find some time to write up a brief description of the Seasonal Summary/“Maps on the Fly” tool—its functionality and limitations—and how it might work for you!

Hitting the Road for the South Florida ESI Review


Before NOAA OR&R releases a new Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) atlas, it provides a rigorous review and testing of the data. It’s particularly important to review the draft product with key data providers to insure that the resources mapped are as accurate as possible within the ESI product. Biologists at our contract partner, Research Planning, Inc. (RPI), recently conducted a “road trip review” of the ESI data for South Florida. Jen Weaver, a biologist for RPI, provides an overview of that adventure. Thanks, Jen.


                                       Manatee sampling red mangrove leaves.                                             Source: Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC). Photo: John Parker.


Chris Boring and I, from RPI, and Richard Knudsen, from Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI), recently traveled through South Florida to review the draft ESI data for that region. It was a busy week – in 5 days, we drove 1,000 miles and met with state, federal and NGO scientists! The draft product was well-received by all and the comments we received were really helpful. RPI conducted a digital only review for the two draft Florida ESI products (Panhandle and South Florida) with data providers throughout the state. Participants were willing and able to successfully review the draft ESIs in this format without the use of draft hardcopy ESI maps.

Among the state and federal agencies and NGOs we consulted, and who provided input or data to the new product, were:

The staff at the NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center was particularly excited to see their data used in a new and interesting way. There was interest from our data providers in making this a dynamic product and being able to access the data using a Web service. Just a few more great ideas for the future of ESIs!