Digital Distribution Maps of Birds of the Western Hemisphere

“Habitat for birds and other animals is disappearing quickly from the Earth’s surface. Conservationists are in a race against time to protect remaining habitat to stem the loss of biodiversity. Critical to these conservation efforts is focusing on-the-ground actions on the places where threatened species are found. To aid conservationists in determining where these species occur, NatureServe formed part of a consortium of conservation organizations that joined forces to develop a digital library of the distributions of the birds and mammals of the Western Hemisphere. The goal of the project was to make these maps easily accessible to conservation planners and other interested users. The data presented here represents an updated version of major product of this collaboration—a digital map library of the distributions of the birds of the Western Hemisphere, now covering 4,273 species. The maps are annotated to indicate sources, migratory status, historic versus current ranges, origin (native or introduced) and taxonomic decisions. The migratory status indications are particularly detailed, distinguishing where birds are permanent residents, breeding residents, non-breeding residents, or passage migrants. These maps are presented as a free resource for conservationists, researchers, and the general public. To view the map for each species, visit our InfoNatura website, search for the species you are interested in, and click on “Range Map.” To download the map files in ArcView format, see below. The map files can be viewed using ESRI ArcExplorer software, which can be downloaded for free from ESRI’s website. Please contact ESRI, not NatureServe, for any support needs related to the software.”

ESRI Health GIS Conference Participants Present Solutions for Improving Human Health and Well-Being

esriIdentifying deficiencies in health and human services delivery and achieving better outcomes using geographic information system (GIS) technology were major themes during the 2009 ESRI Health GIS Conference, held September 21–23 in Nashville, Tennessee. More than 200 health and human services professionals from more than 34 states and 10 nations gathered to discuss the use of GIS technology to understand and improve public health and medical care delivery.

Conference speakers included researchers and program directors who are leaders in the use of GIS and information technology in health and human services applications, including keynote speaker David Goodman, M.D., Dartmouth Medical School professor of pediatrics and community and family medicine and coprincipal investigator of the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care.

“The science of health care delivery will provide the greatest gains in terms of improving the health and well-being of populations,” said Goodman. “Changes need to be aligned with patient preferences, developing more efficient delivery systems, and being able to use findings to generalize on ways to make our health delivery system sustainable.”

Goodman described how GIS analyses contribute by identifying the variables that correlate with better-quality health care delivery and health outcomes or, alternatively, by identifying unwarranted variations in health care delivery that reveal inefficiencies. Results provide policy makers with new kinds of information for improving health care quality and cost.

Featured speaker Kim Pemble, executive director, Wisconsin Health Information Exchange (WHIE), described the use of health information exchange networks to organize access to electronic health records and other kinds of health data. “Exchanges provide a way for health professionals to have real-time communication about a patient, regardless of where the encounter occurred, which ultimately helps improve the care for the patient.” Pemble added, “Geography is of paramount importance to how we are thinking about health care delivery into the future. The primary goal of a health information exchange is to improve patient outcomes in a clinical encounter. In the case of WHIE, because we have this data centralized, we know about encounters that are occurring in a broad geography, so it is also a tremendously useful tool for public health surveillance purposes in that it provides them [health professionals] with strictly de-identified data.”

Focused on improving the lives of children in Alabama by connecting communities with information, featured speaker Chris McInnish, Alabama Department of Children’s Affairs liaison to the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center, is using GIS technology to support the Alabama Resource Management System (ARMS). In his presentation, McInnish described how ARMS, based on ESRI’s ArcGIS Server, gives online access to 109,000 layers of information ranging from demographic and juvenile crime data to state statistics relevant to child services. Its innovative dashboard viewer gives state legislators and community partners focused access and easy tools for viewing the data in graphs, maps, or reports. McInnish concluded, “We are teaching our decision makers to think spatially.”

Other highlights of the conference included focused seminars, technical presentations addressing ESRI software innovations, 60 professional scientific paper presentations, a hands-on GIS software learning center, and the biannual meeting of the ESRI Health User Group (HUG).

In the closing session, Stephanie Bailey, M.D., chief of public health practice, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said, “All the data is in, but how do we analyze it?” Bailey recognized GIS as a technology that, through exploration of spatial relationships, promotes understanding that can help in the alignment of health indicators with health resources and help public health organizations take actions that protect the public they serve.

ESRI software is used by all 50 U.S. state health departments, 97 national health ministries, the World Health Organization, and more than 350 hospitals and medical centers worldwide. For more information on the conference, visit

Canadian Research Network Awards $1.1 Million for Geospatial Cyberinfrastructure for Environmental Sensing Project

CANARIECANARIE, Canada’s Advanced Research and Innovation Network, is pleased to announce at the Summit 09 international cyber infrastructure conference, the second-round of winners in CANARIE’s flagship IT research funding program. These nine winners, from research facilities across Canada, represent some of the very best and brightest IT research initiatives in the country.

CANARIE has awarded nine projects with an impressive $10.5 million in funding, in addition to providing CANARIE’s dedicated, high-speed network for these researchers to facilitate data-sharing and collaboration.

One of the winners, Cybera Inc., was awarded $1.1 million for the Geospatial Cyberinfrastructure for Environmental Sensing (GeoCENS) project.   GeoCENS will be an online portal for biogeoscientists to access and share both historical and real-time environmental data from a variety of remote locations. This portal will allow researchers to better analyze Canada’s climate, species, water systems and how its biosphere is changing over time.

[Source: CANARIE news release]

Earth Science Week 2009

October 11-17 is Earth Science Week (“ESW”), organized by the American Geological Institute. The purpose is to encourage people to learn about the natural world and examine the geosciences. This year, particular attention is being given to climate. ESRI is proud to be a sponsor and supporter of ESW. Educators can acquire an ESW Toolkit, which includes a CD from ESRI.

Meanwhile, there are also materials available for download and interaction right from the ESRI EdCommunity ESW page. We’ve broken it down into a quick presentation about what’s GIS, about the use of GIS to study earth science, and the use of GIS to study climate in particular. You’ll find a series of videos, produced and narrated by Joseph Kerski, introducing landscapes in the field plus a couple of explorations of climate and weather patterns. You can see examples of lessons that you can do with ArcGIS Desktop, ArcGIS Explorer, AEJEE, or even just a web browser. The most recent lesson (highlighted in this blog a month ago) uses ArcGIS Explorer and sea surface temperature observations from NASA to begin seeking patterns over time. A classic lesson, of great concern to those in low-lying coastal regions, is found in the “Water World” lesson in Module#7 of Book#2 from the Our World GIS Education series.

It’s easy to think that humans rule the world. One need only watch the headlines for the latest storm, earthquake, or tsunami to recognize that we don’t control everything. And, while events at local scales may not generate big headlines, a solid grasp of earth science is tied intimately to personal lives and to living in a sustainable fashion. Using GIS is key to understanding the relationships between and integration of natural processes with human conditions.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, ESRI Schools Program Manager

Map of the Day: 2007 Corn for Grain Yield per Harvested Acre by County and Ethanol Plants

…from the ESRI Map Book, Volume 24


“Ethanol producing plants as well as those plants under construction are shown along with the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s (NASS) county estimates for corn for grain yield per harvested acre by county. Driven by growing ethanol demand, U.S. farmers planted over 15 percent more corn acres in 2007. The NASS Annual County Estimates Program provides for the collection of crop data through cooperative agreements with each state. NASS field offices set annual county estimates for crop acreage, yield, and production and submit them to headquarters for official dissemination.

“Courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service.”

New Web Site Features Resources for Cave Mapping and Analysis

Bern Szukalski is ArcGIS product manager and technology evangelist at ESRI.  Earlier this year, I spoke to Bern at length about visualization and ArcGIS Explorer, which resulted in a two-part blog post (see “A Conversation with Bern Szukalski about Geospatial Visualization,” Part I and Part II).   What didn’t come out in that interview is Bern’s deep-seated interest in exploring—and mapping—the world’s caves.  I recently spent a few minutes with Bern to talk about the launch of his new web site, which features mapping and GIS resources for cavers.


Matt:  What was the impetus for putting this web site together?

Bern:  The site in general combines more than a “hobby” with the other thing I love to do—make maps and use mapping software.  Digital mapping of caves is somewhat unique, involving specialized software, procedures, and techniques.  One of the driving reasons for the site is that many people have asked me for help, examples, or about how to implement things, so this is a place that I can point out examples.

Matt:  Is cave mapping difficult?

Bern:  Cave mapping, for the most part, is still done the old fashioned way – with a compass, clinometers, and tape. Nowadays the old reel tapes have been replaced by laser rangefinders, which provide not only greater accuracy and ease of use, but are also friendlier on the caves, as you don’t have to worry about the tape snagging formations as you wind it up. And it also eliminates the need to physically go to places to pull the tape; you just use the laser to beam distant walls. So you can keep on a single trail if you’re surveying a delicate cave.

The Hidden River Cave survey data has been georeferenced and exported to DXF format using Compass cave survey software. Using ArcGIS the cave passage is symbolized and is shown here in ArcScene, a component of the ArcGIS 3D Analyst.

The Hidden River Cave survey data has been georeferenced and exported to DXF format using Compass cave survey software. Using ArcGIS the cave passage is symbolized and is shown here in ArcScene, a component of the ArcGIS 3D Analyst.

Matt: So how is the data collected?

Bern: Well, you set stations as you go through the cave and measure the distance, azimuth, and inclination between each station. You also measure to the left, right, above, and below each station. That goes in your survey book, along with a detailed sketch. Some folks use handhelds to record the data.

Matt: So how does that get into a GIS?

Bern: Several cavers have developed cave survey programs that are used to manage the survey data, and create lineplots and even passage wall models and more. These are actually quite sophisticated, and can even import DRGs and so forth. The one I use is called Compass, and is authored by Larry Fish, a Denver area caver who has an excellent Web site where you can download the software. Years ago, there wasn’t a way to get the Compass data into a GIS format, at least not easily. I was doing some volunteer work in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, and the cave resources specialist there–Bobby Camara–was using ArcView 3. He also used Compass, and asked me if there was a way to get the Compass cave survey data into ArcView. At the time I was on the ArcView team and knew it could be done, and spent most of my volunteer time there working on writing an extension for ArcView that would import the Compass cave survey data and create shapefiles. So, while my caving buddies and wife went cave surveying, I’d be in front of the laptop writing Avenue code. That extension was called CaveTools, and was the way many cavers and cave resource specialists originally got their cave survey data into ArcView. Since then Larry has added direct support in Compass for shapefiles, as well as KML, and it’s an easy way to integrate the cave survey data into GIS.

Matt: So what can you say about people using cave survey data and GIS now?

Bern: Many of the federal cave resource managers do a lot of their own GIS work with cave data, or use their park or regional GIS staff for their GIS work. Most of the applications focus on integrating not only the locations of caves and other karst features, but integrating the cave survey data and even final maps, and managing the inventory data and other information that is collected about them. There’s not quite as much GIS analysis being used specifically for caves, but certainly a lot of analysis has been used to manage groundwater in karst areas and things like that. I think the State of Kentucky is a great example of using GIS for managing karst data, and even publishes their sinkhole database online. And there’s many more. There is some excellent work going on and great examples using GIS in this specialized application area. The ESRI cave and karst site links to a bunch of examples.

This map series was created for an article on Bermuda caves and the Bermuda Cave and Karst Information System (BeCKIS) project.

This map series was created for an article on Bermuda caves and the Bermuda Cave and Karst Information System (BeCKIS) project.

Matt: Any general trends you see, or comments about how this is working?

Bern: One interesting thing I have noticed about my experience with this over the years is that people either don’t know how easy some of this can be or they tend to over-engineer things. I’ve seen a few projects struggle over the years because they’ve gotten too complex, and when staff or interests shift it’s hard to keep things going.  My philosophy in general is: less is more, simpler and sustainable trumps an elegant technical implementation, and don’t use a jackhammer when a small tack hammer will do. And so most of my examples represent “easy” rather than “examples of technical elegance,” but they should always also fit well into an existing context, if there is one. But nowadays it’s pretty simple to get cave survey data into a GIS where you can do some really interesting things.

Matt:  Are caves in danger?  Can GIS help?

Bern:  One of the hot issues right now in the US caving community is something called White Nose Syndrome, or just WNS. It’s a fungus that’s affecting bats, stirring them out of hibernation and causing millions to die and threatening several species. It’s called “white nose” because of the distinctive fungal ring around the bats’ noses. It was first identified in the northeast United States, and has since spread and been identified in other states. Many caves are now closed by the state agencies that manage them, and some are closed voluntarily by cavers, to avoid spreading the fungus to other areas. It’s not quite fully understood, so there are lots of precautions being taken. Many of the agencies in the affected areas are using GIS in their work. One of the first maps published about White Nose was a GIS map by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Bat Conservation International, who also got a significant grant from ESRI to support their work, has used ArcGIS in their work to support the various states, and a recent ArcWatch article was written about that.

Call for Presentations: Rocket City Geospatial Conference, Huntsville, Alabama, 17 November 2009

rocket“Directions Media will join with GITA to co-host the 2009 Rocket City Geospatial Conference on November 17th in Huntsville, Alabama.

“Our keynote speaker is Learon Dalby, National States Geographic Information Council president and GIS Program Manager for the State of Arkansas.

“We invite you to participate by submitting a presentation on a broad spectrum of topics related to geospatial technology with particular emphasis on issues important to the Southeastern U.S. Topics of special interest include:

  • Spatial Data Infrastructure
  • Infrastructure Management
  • American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Initiatives
  • Sustainable Development and “Smart Growth Strategies”
  • Critical Infrastructure Protection

Submit an abstract