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Keeping Nature and Man in Balance
GIS data portal enables ecosystem-based management
By Katie Budreski, Stone Environmental, and Karen Richardson, Esri

a photo of people seining for fish in the Hudson River shallows
Visitors seine for fish and crabs in the shallows of the Hudson River, part of the Esopus Meadows, which has abundant aquatic wildlife and forest ecology.

This article as a PDF .

An online atlas and geoportal makes more than 400 datasets available for managing the shoreline of the North Atlantic Ocean, estuaries, and portions of two of the five Great Lakes that are within the State of New York.

Developed by the New York Ocean and Great Lakes Ecosystem Conservation Council, the atlas and geoportal are used for ecosystem-based management (EBM). EBM is the study of activities within specific geographies with the goal of finding ways for humans and nature to coexist in a sustainable manner. Used mainly to study terrestrial environments, EBM has gained recent popularity in marine studies as communities search for solutions to ailing fisheries and ocean ecologies. Spatial data plays a key role in assisting communities practicing EBM because this management approach is place based and studies are focused on activities in specific geographies.

New York State uses EBM for managing the shoreline of the Northern Atlantic Ocean and its estuaries as well as portions of two of the five Great Lakes. To do this effectively, the state created The New York Ocean & Great Lakes Atlas (nyoglatlas.org) and geoportal (portalnyoglecc.nyoglatlas.org). The atlas is used by the general public as well as local, regional, and state decision makers to view and explore more than 400 datasets about the region. The GIS Portal Toolkit [now known as the ArcGIS Server Geoportal extension] helps visitors easily navigate the vast catalog of data accessed via the geoportal. The Geoportal extension includes a catalog service and a Web application.

An Innovative Way to Manage the Marine Environment

The New York Ocean and Great Lakes Ecosystem Council, created in 2006, is charged with protecting, restoring, and enhancing New York's ocean and Great Lakes ecosystems while taking into account sustainable economic development and job creation. The council is chaired by the commissioner of Environmental Conservation and composed of commissioners from Agriculture and Markets, Economic Development, and Transportation, as well as the secretary of state, the president of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, and the interim chancellor of the State University of New York.

a photo of the Greenport harbor
The deep-water harbor of Greenport has been a working seaport since the 18th century and continues to be a vital hub both environmentally and economically for the area.

Stone Environmental, an Esri business partner based in Montpelier, Vermont, helped create the atlas. When launched in July 2008, the atlas was composed of a Web-based mapping application and more than 200 datasets. Users could view the datasets, download metadata and spatial data in multiple formats, and view attributes of the data. While the council had technically met its mandate, it was clear that an online catalog would be necessary to help navigate the available datasets.

Portal Makes Data Searchable

After reviewing several technologies, the council implemented the GIS Portal Toolkit because it had—out of the box—the functionality that the council required. Sophisticated searching capabilities, the ability to establish user accounts and data provider access, and flexible metadata authoring tools were very important and readily available in the software. In addition, Esri's open software environment aligned with the council's vision for future enhancements outlined in its five-year strategy document.

The portal provides a robust way for users to search all the data holdings at the atlas. Users of the portal can perform metadata searches by keyword, data type, data category, date modified, and geographic location. Information for specific areas of interest can be easily found and compared in this manner. Once found, the search results can be saved in several ways: to a user profile, to a GeoRSS feed, or as an HTML page or HTML fragment that allows users to embed a defined block of HTML inside documents at key locations. Data can also be downloaded in various GIS formats, including Esri shapefile format, via an FTP link.

One-Stop Shop for Data

When Stone first began looking for relevant data, it discovered this was a huge task. To find the data included in the atlas, the company employed Web searches, phone calls, e-mails, and face-to-face conversations with staff from more than 300 organizations. Since the first launch, more data has been added for a total of nearly 400 searchable datasets.

Data includes administrative boundaries; elevations; cadastre; environment and geoscientific information, such as geology, groundwater, and soils; marine data, such as fish distribution and habitat, and invasive species; as well as cultural information including historic sites and settlement information.

Many datasets are from organizations that had never before distributed geospatial data widely. For example, the Facility Limit Measurement Violation data from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC)–Water Division provides information necessary for the Clean Water Act National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Program that had been identified as a priority through a data needs workshop. The agency had resource and technical constraints with sharing the data internally. Providing the data via the atlas—without having to host the data—allowed this important dataset to be shared.

a photo of the wetlands on Lake Ontario
Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, comparable to rain forests and coral reefs. These wetlands located in Wilson, New York, on Lake Ontario are an example of one of the "biological supermarkets" that can be managed using The New York Ocean & Great Lakes Atlas.

Facility Limit Measurement Violation data from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC)–Water Division provides information necessary for the Clean Water Act National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Program that had been identified as a priority through a data needs workshop. The agency had resource and technical constraints with sharing the data internally. Providing the data via the atlas—without having to host the data—allowed this important dataset to be shared.

Publishers Control Data

When the Atlas Data Portal was first launched, the council published the data and metadata provided by the data providers. Moving forward, the council will encourage data providers to publish metadata records directly to the portal and, when possible, host their own data through subportals. Providing direct access will ensure that data is as current as possible for EBM planners and communities.

To make it easier, data providers have several avenues for easily publishing data using the portal. Records can be published by uploading metadata that has been created by a metadata editor based on Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards, like the metadata included within the Geoportal extension. Metadata can also be created using a Web form. Data providers can establish a data harvesting relationship with the portal through a subportal or Web-accessible folder. This allows the data portal to collect desired Web pages and extract necessary data.

The Tug Hill Commission GIS Data Portal (24.39.214.21/GPT9/catalog/main/home.page) is an example of a subportal. Tug Hill is a 2,100-square-mile area in a remote rural region of New York located between Lake Ontario and the Adirondacks mountain range. Several geospatial datasets were developed as part of an EBM demonstration project in the Sandy Creeks watersheds on the eastern shore of Lake Ontario. A separate data portal, the subportal, was developed so the Tug Hill Commission could manage its own geospatial data holdings but still make the data available to New York Ocean & Great Lakes Atlas users.

Next Steps

This year, the New York Ocean and Great Lakes Ecosystem Conservation Council will work with Stone Environmental to integrate the Data Portal and Data Viewer, currently two separate applications, by upgrading to ArcGIS Server. Additional enhancements will include the incorporation of thesauruses for enhanced searching and the use of Web Map Services (WMS) and Web Feature Services (WFS) for data dissemination.

For more information, contact

Becca Newhall
Program Coordinator
New York Ocean and Great Lakes Ecosystem Council
E-mail: Rebecca.Newhall@dos.state.ny.us
Tel.: 518-486-7736
or
David Healy
Stone Environmental, Inc.
E-mail: dhealy@stone-env.com
Tel.: 802-229-1879

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