Cyclone Leaves Its Mark on the Map: Analyzing and Monitoring Myanmar’s Damaged Rice Production Regions with GIS

cyclone1…from the Fall 2009 issue of ArcNews


  • ArcGIS software-based maps provide a detailed perspective of where remediation efforts are needed.
  • Remote sensing and GIS are used to analyze global crop production capacity.
  • Post-Cyclone Nargis GIS maps of Myanmar monitor the ongoing flood recovery.

“With winds of 132 miles per hour, Cyclone Nargis, a category 3 tropical storm, struck the low-lying and heavily populated Myanmar coastline on May 2, 2008. The intense storm produced a 12-foot sea wave that flooded an approximate 2,000-square-mile area with a population of 24 million. Nargis left behind 90,000 fatalities and 56,000 missing persons in Myanmar, the country once known as Burma.

“Adding to the tragedy of the human lives lost, the cyclone destroyed much of Myanmar’s agricultural economy. The provinces of Ayeyardwady, Yangon, Bago, and Mon, which produce 58 percent of the country’s rice crop—or roughly 6.2 million tons on a milled basis—were inundated with saltwater from the flood. In addition to the cropland damage, many villages were destroyed, along with much of their food stocks, livestock, and farming supplies.”

NOAA Awards $243,000 to Prepare New Hampshire Watershed for Climate Change and Population Growth

Syntectic International LLC and Antioch University New England to partner with stakeholders

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has awarded Syntectic International, LLC of Portland, Oregon; Antioch University New England of Keene, New Hampshire; the Lake Sunapee Protective Association of Sunapee, New Hampshire; and partners, $243,000 to prepare the Lake Sunapee watershed for climate change and population growth.

The partners’ objectives are to protect a community comprised of vulnerable stormwater and drinking-water systems, and disseminate results to promote safe communities nationwide. The study accomplishes a key recommendation of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report: providing decision-support for implementation of stakeholder-driven adaptation. By developing a reliable, local-scale adaptation protocol, the project seeks to maintain historical flood protection levels for the study site and other communities facing significant impacts from climate change and population growth.

Funded by NOAA’s Climate Program Office, the interdisciplinary team includes Latham Stack of Syntectic International; Michael Simpson, Jim Gruber, and Colin Lawson of Antioch University New England (AUNE); Dr. Robert Roseen of the University of New Hampshire Storm Water Center; Thomas Crosslin of Climate Techniques in Portland, Oregon; Robert Wood of the Lake Sunapee Protective Association; and internationally recognized adaptation expert Joel Smith of Stratus Consulting in Boulder, Colorado. Five of the eight researchers are either AUNE faculty members or alumni.

The project will study a region that, like many others, is experiencing an unusual and ongoing period of extreme or record rainfalls. These significantly diverge from the historical climate pattern. Previous studies by the team at other sites found that portions of existing stormwater drainage systems are currently undersized as a result of already-changed rainfall patterns.

“Recent experience and scientific studies are clear,” said Latham Stack, CEO of Syntectic. “Storm patterns are worsening and it is no longer prudent to delay action. We will never have perfect science, however sufficient science is available now. This project will protect the community with adequately reliable, local-scale information to support informed decisions.” By encouraging the participation of local stakeholders, the project will empower citizens to choose adaptation plans that are best for their towns. For example, Low Impact Development methods can minimize runoff and significantly reduce the need for more expensive drainage system upgrades.

According to Michael Simpson, director of AUNE’s Resource Management and Conservation program, “The availability of reliable and economical solutions can make the difference between returning to historical protection levels, or continuing to expose people and assets to worsening hazards.” Simpson explained that stormwater engineers and planners have always needed to cope with uncertainty and change, and the construction of water systems designed using best-available knowledge has always proceeded in parallel with the development of theory. “The past was not as certain as we like to think, and problems posed by population growth and climate change are actually not that different from previous challenges,” said Simpson.

The project will be broadly transferable, according to Stack. The team hopes to catalyze similar work nationwide, reducing further loss of life and damage from worsening storms. By demonstrating a practical protocol for action, this study will provide urgently needed decision-support to leaders seeking to maintain historical protection levels in their communities.

[Source: Syntectic news release]

Diverting Sediment-rich Water Below New Orleans Could Lead to Extensive New Land

nsflogoOpenings in Mississippi levees could build new land in sinking delta

Diverting sediment-rich water from the Mississippi River below New Orleans could generate new land in the river’s delta in the next century.

The land would equal almost half the acreage otherwise expected to disappear during that period, a new study shows.

For decades, sea-level rise, land subsidence, and a decrease in river sediment have caused vast swaths of the Mississippi Delta to vanish into the sea.

The anticipated build-up of new land in a portion of the delta, as simulated by a computer model, could compensate for a large fraction of the expected future loss, protect upriver areas from storm surges, and create fresh-water habitat, the researchers say.

“What this model shows is that we can, to a large degree, match future land loss by making these diversions,” says David Mohrig, a geologist at the University of Texas (UT)-Austin who is also affiliated with the National Science Foundation (NSF)’s National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics at the University of Minnesota.

He and Wonsuck Kim, also a geologist at UT-Austin, led the study. Its results are reported in today’s issue of Eos, the weekly newspaper of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

“These authors present the possibility that through numerical modeling, coordinated with river channel diversions on the Mississippi Delta, we can begin to restore wetlands and build new land,” says H. Richard Lane, program director in NSF’s division of earth sciences, which funded the research.

The delta of the Mississippi River has been losing land to the sea at an average rate of about 44 square kilometers (17 square miles) per year since around 1940.

The natural equilibrium between soil loss and sediment deposition has been altered by the levees the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built below New Orleans to prevent the Mississippi from flooding.

The confined waters at the end of the river’s course flow faster and drop their sediments over the continental platform, draining into the Gulf of Mexico.

History recorded in the river deposits shows that the main channel of the Mississippi moved roughly every 1,000 years to a new lowland area, Kim and Mohrig say. The engineering of the levees, they believe, has kept the river from entering lowland areas and depositing sedimentation.

The model looks at potential effects of an existing proposal to divert Mississippi River water through a pair of cuts made opposite each other in the levees 150 kilometers (93 miles) downstream from New Orleans.

Nearly half of the river’s flow would spill out through the cuts, taking sediment with it and depositing it to each side of the river channel.

Despite sea level rise, increased land sinking rates, and a drop in the river’s sediment supply, the diversions would create an amount of new land equal to up to 45 percent of the area that would otherwise be lost to the sea in the coming century, the model predicts.

Enough flow would remain in the main channel of the river to allow navigation there, the researchers report.

Other scientists studying coastal restoration had previously proposed creating these two diversions to allow water and sediment to exit the enclosed river, and build two lobes of new land in adjacent shallow-water sections of Breton Sound and Barataria Bay.

But critics say that dams in the upper sections of the Mississippi River have reduced the water’s sediment content so much that there isn’t enough raw material left to rebuild the delta. Also, detractors argue that future sea level rise and the current high sinking rate of the delta would make restoration impossible.

“Until we put together this model, there was a lot of debate that wasn’t substantiated by anything but by intuition,” says Mohrig. “We needed to move from having very soft impressions of what could be done to making predictions that can actually be tested.”

The modelers used a conservative sediment supply rate, subsidence (sinking) rates from one to 10 millimeters per year, and rates of sea level rise that went from zero to four millimeters per year.

In their calculations, the authors considered diverting only 45 percent of the water to ensure that the section of the river below the diversions remained open to navigation.

The model predicts that the two diversions would create between 701 square kilometers (about 271 square miles) and 1,217 square kilometers (470 square miles) of new land over a century, partially offsetting land loss.

Kim and Mohrig calculate the engineered new delta lobes would make up for 25 to 45 percent of the area expected to vanish throughout the delta between now and 2110.

“Diversions are really the only cost-effective way of building land,” Mohrig says.

The researchers verified their model by running a simulation of the evolution of another delta influenced by an existing diversion of the Mississippi River: the Old River Control Structures.

These structures divert water from the Mississippi to the Atchafalaya River, which also empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

The Atchafalaya River is currently building new land both in the Atchafalaya Delta and its subsidiary, the Wax Lake Delta.  The model was able to accurately predict the amount of land that has been built since 1980.

Mohrig and Kim collaborated on the model with scientists from Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge; the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

[Source: National Science Foundation press release]

Thetus Unveils Semantic Modeling and Analysis Solution

Savanna brings a new standard of user experience and model-driven analysis tools to cultural, geo-cultural and human terrain analysis

Thetus Corporation, a pioneer of semantic knowledge modeling and discovery software, delivers a new standard of solutions to address complex modeling and analysis challenges. The Savanna solution builds upon the proven foundation of the Thetus Publisher, a semantic modeling platform, to provide an off-the-shelf analysis solution designed for rapid integration and customization.

Savanna provides users with a model-centric environment that is optimized for analysis involving multiple perspectives, confidence and detailed lineage tracking. The solution provides extension points at every level of the architecture, allowing customers to adapt models, analysis tasks and user experience to meet their individual needs. “We recognize that users have unique needs, and we believe that the analysis environment should be as dynamic as the challenges our customers face,” said Philip Pridmore-Brown, Vice President of Product Services at Thetus.

Savanna is a great development for our customers and partners,

“The Savanna solution changes the way we model and understand complex analysis challenges by using flexible knowledge models uniquely suited to cultural, geo-cultural and Human Terrain analysis,” noted Pridmore-Brown. “We are excited to be able to bring together the best products available in the Savanna framework.”

The Savanna solution framework includes out-of-the-box connectors to leading providers of content management, entity extraction, geospatial analysis and temporal analysis products including MarkLogic, Janya, MetaCarta, and ESRI. These integrations deliver a new level of deployment speed and ease to customers and enable Savanna to address a broad range of structured and unstructured data typical of today’s intelligence process.

“Savanna is a great development for our customers and partners,” said Craig Abod, President of Carahsoft Technology Corporation, a government solutions provider and Thetus Savanna reseller. “The Savanna solution leverages the strengths of numerous products in our portfolio in an integrated and open platform that delivers substantial value to the customer.”

Savanna couples a powerful data harmonization and ingestion pipeline with a browser-based front end that gives users access to search, models, geospatial tools, temporal visualizations and link charting. Savanna changes the analysis process by providing unique contextualization views and dynamic document and report assembly capabilities. The Savanna solution will be demonstrated at the 2009 GeoInt Symposium in San Antonio at the Thetus booth, #249.

[Source: Thetus news release]

Texas A&M Oceanographer Receives Grant to Study Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone

Oceanographer Steve DiMarco of Texas A&M University, a leading authority on the Gulf of Mexico’s “dead zone,” and his team of researchers have been awarded $725,467 for the first year of a five-year, $3.72 million project that seeks to better understand and predict where and when the dead zone will happen each year. This new project builds on six prior years of funding.

The Northern Gulf of Mexico Ecosystems and Hypoxia Assessment Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently announced first-year funding for a new study under DiMarco titled “Mechanisms Controlling Hypoxia: Integrated Causal Modeling,” which is expected to continue for the next five years.

Dead zones, or hypoxia, occur when oxygen in water drops below 2 milligrams per liter. Severe hypoxia levels can result in fish kills and adversely affect many types of marine life.

DiMarco and his team have examined dead zones off the Louisiana and Texas coasts to track the size and frequency of these occurrences and, more importantly, identify key factors that contribute to them.

The official size of the dead zone found in 2008 off the coast of Louisiana, as measured by a group of investigators in Louisiana, was 7,988 square miles, the second largest since measurements began in 1985. This represents a land area greater than the state of Massachusetts.

The 2009 dead zone was predicted to be among the largest ever recorded, but actual observations showed it instead to be the fourth smallest on record. The predictions were based largely on the amount of nutrients entering the Gulf via the Mississippi River. The low levels of oxygen in dead zones are caused primarily by nutrient pollution from farm fertilizers and other sources as they empty into rivers and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico.

DiMarco and colleagues have found, however, that other factors such as wind and current reversals, low waves, summer heat and upwelling from coastal marshes and estuaries also contribute to hypoxia.

“This year’s forecast, which did not do a very good job of predicting the actual size of the dead zone, underscores the importance of our research at Texas A&M,” DiMarco said. “Unraveling the complex system of processes that create dead zones will lead us in the direction of better predictions. This has always been the overarching premise of our team’s research. We also look forward to the continuation of our research efforts and working with other researchers around the Gulf on this important issue.”

DiMarco is program manager and principal investigator for this new round of funding from NOAA, of which Texas A&M and Texas A&M University at Galveston will receive $501,398 this year and $2.82 million over five years, pending Congressional approval. Collaborating researchers at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium and Virginia Institute for Marine Sciences will receive the remaining funds.

Five other oceanography faculty and one Galveston faculty member are co-principal investigators for the study. Other principal investigators are from Dalhousie University, Coastal Carolina University, Louisiana State University, Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium and Virginia Institute for Marine Sciences.

DiMarco’s earlier hypoxia studies were funded by NOAA from 2003 through 2009. With this most recent funding, the researchers plan to continue pursuing their quest to develop models that can predict when and where hypoxic, or dead, zones may occur.

Together with Oceanography Professor Tom Bianchi, DiMarco discovered a Texas-created dead zone area off the Texas coast in August 2007, a result of unusually heavy rains that poured water into the Brazos River. This first proven dead zone area that originated from Texas rivers was created where the water emptied into the Gulf.

In completing 16 research cruises and collaboratively sharing data with other programs, the Texas A&M researchers have already collected tens of thousands of data points through their hypoxia studies. More than 50 Texas A&M graduate students have participated in the project, logging more than 1,000 student days at sea. The work has also led to collaborative studies of hypoxia in other regions of the world, specifically the Yangtze and Huanghe (Yellow) rivers in China.

[Source: Texas A&M University news release]

Map of the Day: California’s Agricultural Land Cover—2007 Cropland

…from the ESRI Map Book, Volume 24


“This map focuses on crop-specific land cover by identifying over forty crop categories and also includes major noncrop categories. The categorized Cropland Data Layer imagery shown on the map was produced by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“A decision-tree classification approach was applied using ground-truth data from NASS and the USDA Farm Service Agency; a combination of satellite imagery from Indian Remote Sensing Advanced Wide Field Sensor, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer sensors; and ancillary data sources.

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

Spatial Trends of Breast and Prostate Cancers in the United States, 2000 and 2005

…from the International Journal of Health Geographics 2009, 8:53…

Rakesh Mandal, Sophie St-Hilaire, John G Kie, DeWayne Derryberry


“Breast cancer in females and prostate cancer in males are two of the most common cancers in the United States, and the literature suggests that they share similar features. However, it is unknown whether the occurrence of these two cancers at the county level in the United States is correlated. We analyzed Caucasian age-adjusted county level average annual incidence rates for breast and prostate cancers from the National Cancer Institute and State Cancer Registries to determine whether there was a spatial correlation between the two conditions and whether the two cancers had similar spatial patterns.


“There was a significant correlation between breast and prostate cancers by county (r =0.332, p<0.001). This relationship was more pronounced when we performed a geographically- weighted regression (GWR) analysis (r =0.552) adjusting for county unemployment rates. There was variation in the parameter estimates derived with the GWR; however, the majority of the estimates indicted a positive association. The strongest relationship between breast and prostate cancers was in the eastern parts of the Midwest and South, and the Southeastern U.S. We also observed a north-south pattern for both cancers with our cluster analyses. Clusters of counties with high cancer incidence rates were more frequently found in the North and clusters of counties with low incidence rates were predominantly in the South.


“Our analyses suggest breast and prostate cancers cluster spatially. This finding corroborates other studies that have found these two cancers share similar risk factors. The north-south distribution observed for both cancers warrants further research to determine what is driving this spatial pattern.”

Assessing Economic Biomass Resources in California with GIS

p31p2…from the Fall 2009 issue of ArcNews

“California has a large and diverse biomass resource base that could potentially provide the state with renewable energy, according to research from the California Biomass Collaborative. Feedstock for biomass energy production in California comes from forestry and forest products; agriculture; and urban sources, such as municipal wastes. Biomass may also emerge in the form of new crops as the state moves to reduce consumption of fossil fuels and petrochemical feedstock and use more sustainable and renewable resources for energy and products.

“In a recent report, the California Energy Commission asserted that dedicated biomass crops for energy, fuels, chemicals, and other bioproducts may develop given sufficient market incentives or in association with new agronomic practices.”

Spatial Analysis of Social Facts: A Tentative Theoretical Framework

…manuscript published in “Handbook of Quantitative and Theoretical Geography or Advances in Quantitative and Theoretical Geography (2010) 000-046″…

Author: C. Grasland, Université Paris Diderot

“This document presents an attempt to build a theoretical framework for the spatial analysis of social facts, derived from Tobler’s first law of geography (‘Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things’) and Blau’s theory of macro sociology and multilevel structural analysis. At individual level four basic times of position and interaction are defined (geographical/sociological and discrete/continuous). It is then necessary to discuss the effects of scale aggregation and time dynamics on the elementary levels of position and interaction. This part is illustrated by examples about airflows between world cities in 2000 and euro coins diffusion across borders between 2002 and 2007.”