Sandy ESI Status Update

So many new and exciting things are happening in the world of ESI mapping! The first half of 2014 focused on developing work plans and contracting for the north- and mid-Atlantic “Sandy” updates. As you may recall, following Post Tropical Cyclone Sandy, Congress provided funding to several agencies to ensure that current and accurate spatial data are available for preparedness and response activities in the Sandy-affected areas. As part of this venture, the Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) received funding for ESI mapping from Maine to South Carolina. The enormity of the geographic area and time constraints, coupled with the unique opportunity to coordinate with and benefit from the mapping being done by other agencies as part of this effort, led us to approach the Sandy work in a slightly different manner than most of our prior ESI mapping projects.

Example aerial photo taken with MIST digital sensor.

Many of the upcoming ESI data sets for Sandy-related regions will include imagery acquired with a MIST digital sensor. This example image was taken from an altitude of 25,000 feet.

Our Partnerships and Projects

Our long-time partnership with Research Planning, Inc. (RPI) continues, and is being complemented by the addition of three other highly respected coastal mapping groups. The first is another NOAA National Ocean Service office—the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science’s Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment (NCCOS/CCMA). This group has been a frequent contributor of ESI data for previous atlases, but this time they are taking the lead in developing the biology and human-use data components for the Long Island Sound region. This requires summarizing the coastal and near-shore species deemed to be at risk in the event of a spill, identifying and brainstorming with the regional experts regarding each species, then compiling and integrating the data from the diverse sources. The same process is followed for the human-use data components, after which these data sets are integrated with the classified ESI shoreline and wetland polygons to produce the final ESI product.

The next addition to our mapping team is Woolpert, a prime contractor on the NOAA Coastal Geospatial Service Contract. In that capacity, they perform a variety of tasks for NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey Office (NGS). They have also been involved in several Sandy-related projects with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), including LIDAR collection for much of the north Atlantic coasts. These data, along with imagery they collect as part of the ESI effort (more details below), will enable Woolpert to validate existing NOAA shoreline data, and to extract current data where the shoreline has seen significant change. Their ESI mapping area covers the Maine and New Hampshire region, as well as the Massachusetts and Rhode Island region. For these areas, Woolpert will be responsible for compiling the complete ESI product—shoreline, biology, and human use. They will also be working in the Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey regions, where they will be leading the ESI shoreline classification phase of the project.

We also welcome Quantum Spatial! This group was previously known as Photo Science, so you may hear them referred to by either name. As Photo Science, they have served as the prime contractor for NOAA’s Coastal Geospatial Service Contract since 2005. They are currently flying parts of the mid-Atlantic coast, acquiring LIDAR and high resolution imagery for NGS, as part of a separate Sandy project. The shoreline extracted under that task will serve as the base shoreline for much of the North Carolina ESI, where Quantum Spatial will be mapping all of the ESI data components. They will also be lead for mapping the biology and human-use data layers for the tidal estuary of the Hudson River, south Long Island, and the New York/New Jersey metro area. In the past, we have tried to coordinate our ESI mapping with the acquisition of new shoreline and imagery by NGS, but it has been very challenging. It is an extra bonus for us to have Quantum Spatial working for both offices in the same region.

RPI will be mapping the remaining Sandy areas, which encompass Maryland, Virginia (including Chesapeake Bay), and South Carolina. I’m sure we will benefit from the knowledge RPI has of their home state, and the experts they deal with locally on a regular basis. Last mapped in 1996, South Carolina is one of the Sandy areas most in need of updating. At the same time, we’re lucky to be able to update Georgia (last mapped in 1997) as part of our regular ESI program. RPI will be doing that work, and will be continuing work on the outer coast of Washington and Oregon.

Sandy ESI regions, contractors, and delivery dates

Sandy ESI regions, contractors, and delivery dates

Enhanced ESI Data Product

Several enhancements are planned for the Sandy ESI atlases and we anticipate that these additions and changes will continue in future ESI development. The geographic extent of the ESI data has been expanded, aiding not only in identifying coastal resources at risk in the event of a spill, but offering increased utility of the ESI data for planning and response to other natural disasters, such as storms. The inland extent will include an area covered by a 3–5 mile shoreline buffer. Offshore, the data will extend to the territorial water mark, approximately 12 nautical miles.

Several human-use and management features will also be added. These include storm surge inundation areas, additional jurisdictional boundaries, beach wash-over sites, potential pollution sources, long term sampling sites, transportation routes, and more.

Comprehensive Tiled Imagery from Maine to New Jersey

As part of the Sandy ESI work, Woolpert will be acquiring approximately 11,700 square miles of 15-cm GSD (ground sample distance), natural color orthoimagery. This imagery will be collected at mean low–mean lower low tide, at a time when there is little-to-no cloud cover, smoke, or atmospheric haze to interfere with the image quality. The imagery will be tiled and will provide a complete, high resolution view of the coastal areas from Maine to mid-New Jersey. The result will be a unique data product that we envision being used for many purposes beyond the ESI development. For the data acquisition, Woolpert will be using a MIST digital sensor, a new and exciting digital camera technology. (Perhaps they will provide greater detail in a future blog post!) Ancillary oblique imagery will also be collected and delivered as part of this project.

Map of east coast, showing flightlines to be used to obtain orthorectified imagery.

Proposed flightlines for the acquisition of orthorectified imagery

Map Products and Data Tools

A contract has been awarded to Quantum Spatial to produce hard-copy ESI atlases for the seven Sandy ESI regions. The maps will be produced at an 8.5 x 11 inch size, and may be somewhat simplified from the current ESIs. For this part of the project, the ultimate goal is a static product that optimizes the transfer of resource information to those who prefer a printed map. Soft-copy PDF products, including the GeoPDF, will be evaluated as potential approaches to enhance data sharing.

In addition, Quantum Spatial will be revisiting some of the ArcMap tools and making recommendations regarding other distribution and use options for the ESI data, such as the use of mobile devices for field applications. As ideas are proposed, I anticipate we will be requesting feedback from all of you, so stay tuned!

Until then, enjoy the summer!

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)

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!