Announcing ESI Data Online!

UPDATED AUGUST 31, 2016 — Several ESI online viewing systems have been discontinued due to reorganization of the offices that support them. We are working to build similar functionality into our online mapping tool, ERMA®; however, it will take some time to complete that work. As an alternative to online viewing of ESI data, you can download the data from our ESI Downloads page. As our ESI data are updated, they will be published there. Please let us know if you have questions.


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

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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.

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

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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!

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Zeroing in on Threatened and Endangered Species

I’m happy to announce a new ESI product – the Threatened and Endangered (T&E) Species Geodatabases!  The T&E geodatabases comprise a subset of the original ESI data, focusing on the coastal species and habitats that are federally and/or state listed as endangered, threatened, protected, or as a species of concern. The complexity of ESI data can make it difficult for those who use the data intermittently to quickly extract the information they need. These T&E databases will offer a more user-friendly option to access some of the most critical biological information for a region.

The geodatabases are offered on our ESI Downloads page, but read on to learn more about them.

The T&E data are provided in a personal geodatabase format (.mdb). In addition, a map document (.mxd) and separate layer files are available. These replicate the standard ESI symbology and contain links to the supplemental data tables. Each geodatabase corresponds in coverage to an original ESI atlas and contains individual species layers (feature classes), along with the land/water interface (hydro layer) for geographic reference.

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Some T&E species found in the Great South Bay of Long Island Sound

For each atlas, a map document (.mxd) has been created to incorporate all of the T&E species data. These documents, for use in Esri’s ArcMap software, use all of the standard ESI colors and hatch patterns. In the above example, you see Great South Bay from the Long Island ESI atlas. Polygons indicate where several threatened or endangered species occur in June, and are symbolized as shown below.

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Sample legend for map above

The table of contents, shown above on the left side of the map, lists all the T&E species found in the Long Island atlas. At the top of the list, in bold, is the data frame name: Long Island T&E Species – 2009. Because the listing status is dynamic, each map document and data frame name includes the year of the atlas publication. As always, it is important to remember that the ESI data are a “snapshot in time.” The publication year is also included in each record of the feature attribute table, as shown below.

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Sample feature attribute tables for two of the T&E species layers

The feature attribute tables include all of the basic information associated with each polygon, point, or line. The tables include fields for subelement (an ESI grouping of species with similar habitat preferences and feeding styles), common name, genus and species, threatened and endangered status, atlas publication date, concentration, seasonal presence, and life history summaries. There are also “month” fields, to simplify searching for presence of a species in a particular month or season.

Three related tables are available if more information is desired. These are the sources table, the breed_dt table, and the ThreatenedEndangered table. These provide search capability  within a species for monthly breeding activities and  information about the original data source.

Aside from viewing these data in the “canned” ArcMap T&E documents, they can easily be brought into existing map projects. Layer files are available that include the symbology, as well as links to the three supplementary tables if they are added to the ArcMap data frame. In the near future, these data will also be available within NOAA’s online mapping tool, ERMA, and as a separate map service. These additional products will bring ESI data to many users who lack access to Esri’s ArcMap.

If you have any questions about the new geodatabases, please contact us or post a comment if you think it may be of interest to others.

On the topic of comments, I want to thank all of you who wrote publicly or privately about the utility of the new ESI blog. I appreciate your feedback and am pleased to hear that we have an enthusiastic group looking forward to sharing information and ideas. So you know, due to personnel leave schedules, there may be a delay in the posting and response to any comments submitted over the next several days. I appreciate your understanding and look forward to hearing your thoughts on this new product and/or anything ESI!

Happy New Year to all!

Jill Petersen

Welcome to the new ESI blog!

Participants at the 2012 Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) workshop unanimously agreed that we need an easier way to share information and ideas amongst each other. My hope is that this blog will serve that purpose. I envision this as a forum where we can make announcements regarding new atlases, tools, and ESI products, but more importantly, I envision this as an opportunity to hear from all of you. As we found at the workshop, sharing what you are doing with the ESI data can benefit other users, as well as the data producers. Guest bloggers and comments on blog posts will be welcomed and encouraged!

On the topic of the ESI workshop, I want to thank everyone who made our time in Mobile, Ala. such a wonderful success! This includes those who attended and presented at the workshop, those who took the time to complete the pre-workshop survey, and those who helped with the logistics and planning. Thanks to all of you, we were able to improve our insight into the “who’s and how’s” of the current ESI product and garner valuable ideas of what might improve the ESI experience in the future.

Workshop participants from across the U.S. shared their experience and ideas to help define the future of ESI mapping. (NOAA)

We had a wonderful, amazingly diverse group of people gathered in Mobile. The 40 participants represented 12 coastal states and two countries. Federal and state governmental agencies, industry, and non-profit organizations were all represented. There were new faces, as well as the faces of a few ESI users who had attended the very first ESI workshop back in 1992. And we were among the first to use the new NOAA Disaster Response Center, which proved to be a wonderful venue for this sort of meeting.

We have been busy updating the workshop Web page. Presentations and notes from the break-out sessions are posted and available for download. Please check it out!

I hope this blog will keep our conversations and ideas flowing and I look forward to broadening our group to those who were unable to join us in Mobile. Watch for posts in the near future that will address the status of the ESI work in progress, announcements of new ESI work for 2013, and a new Threatened and Endangered “ESI” offshoot. I also have some guest bloggers in mind, so be forewarned—I may be contacting you soon!

Jill Petersen