Esri’s Commitment to Understanding Our Oceans

On this World Oceans Day, I’d like to share some words from Dr. Dawn Wright, Esri’s chief scientist, about Esri’s new Ocean GIS Initiative.

“As a company with the mission to inspire and enable people to positively impact their future through a deeper, geographic understanding of the changing world around them, Esri recognizes that this understanding must involve a strong commitment to the oceans,” Wright said today in a post on the Esri Insider blog. “And that’s why Esri recently launched a major Ocean GIS initiative across the entire company.

“To support a better understanding of our oceans, Esri is focused on improving and expanding our products, tools, services, partnerships, and connections with the broader ocean community.”

Esri’s Ocean Basemap is a a crucial first step in the establishment of an oceans GIS

Esri’s Ocean Basemap is a crucial first step in the establishment of an oceans GIS.

As part of the Ocean GIS initiative, Esri is developing mapping and spatial analysis tools, geospatial data, associated resources, and engagement with the oceans community in five main areas:

  • Research and Exploration
  • Ecosystems and Environment
  • Coastal Protection and Marine Spatial Planning
  • Fisheries and Aquaculture Management
  • Recreation and Adventure

Wright has been working on a new e-book detailing the Ocean GIS initiative, which will be available later this month on the Esri web site. Meanwhile, the Esri oceans team is already engaged in a wide variety of projects supporting the Oceans GIS initiative.  Below are excerpts of some of the project descriptions from her forthcoming e-book:

The Ocean Basemap.  On World Hydrography Day of 2011, Esri officially released the world’s first ocean basemap on ArcGIS Online. The focus of the basemap is to provide the best possible cartographic representation of authoritative bathymetric data, as well as ocean floor feature names, water body names, and, in certain regions, derived depth values in meters. Release of the ocean basemap represents a crucial first step in the establishment of an oceans GIS.

SeaSketch map interface with forum categories.

SeaSketch map interface with forum categories.

SeaSketch.  Esri is working in collaboration with Will McClintock of the UCSB Center for Marine Assessment and Planning to deliver a cutting edge decision-support tool for effective ocean planning, for a range of end-users, including government, industries, and regional institutions. UCSB is nearing completion of the initial version of SeaSketch, a web-based ocean geodesign platform that will be accessible via ArcGIS Online.

Ocean Health Index.  The Ocean Health Index (OHI) is a project co-founded by Conservation International, the National Geographic Society, and the New England Aquarium with the ambitious goal establishing a new world standard for measuring ocean health by representing that health as a single number. The index will aid managers, policymakers, and the public in quickly diagnosing where problems lie and identify possible solutions.

ArcGIS for Maritime. ArcGIS for Maritime is a comprehensive geospatial platform for chart production and nautical and bathymetric data management. It includes workflows for nautical chart viewing and converting among International Hydrographic Organization data transfer standards, quality control/quality assurance, for management bathymetric data (load into a Bathymetric Information System; interact with grids, collections and metadata; create surfaces, features, and queries; share in various modes), for integration with data models such as Arc Marine, various map services such as the ocean basemap, and new tools as they are developed by the community.

Wind energy site suitability web app

Wind energy site suitability web app linked in ArcGIS for Ocean Use Planning showing site selection of Outer Continental Shelf blocks based on multiple criteria.

Ocean Use Planning Portal. Esri has developed an Ocean Use Planning portal based on ArcGIS Online. ArcGIS for Ocean Use Planning is a collection of maps, apps, and templates primarily for the coastal and marine spatial planning community seeking to manage US coastal and marine resources while also evaluating the impacts of human use on ocean and coastal ecosystems. A hallmark of ArcGIS for Ocean Use Planning is the many featured web apps, the most popular of which is one for wind energy site suitability.

Benthic Terrain Modeling.  The Benthic Terrain Modeler (BTM) provides a set of geoprocessing tools to analyze benthic terrain for the purposes of classifying surficial seafloor characteristics that may be in studies of benthic habitat, geomorphology, prediction of benthic fish species distribution, marine protected area design, and more. Esri has placed resources toward collaborating with NOAA CSC on porting the original code from Visual Basic to Python for deployment in ArcGIS 10.x as a toolbox. In addition, certain functions in the tools will be available as separate web-based geoprocessing services.”

Wright’s new e-book will contain much more detail about partnerships, strategic goals, and other components of the initiative. It will be available on the Esri web site later this month.  As soon as it is available, I will be sure to announce it here as well as on Twitter.

Fledermaus and ArcGIS Integration

Output of the Fledermaus mid-water mapping tool over the source of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico

The importance of visualizing the water column is shown by this output of the Fledermaus mid-water mapping tool over the source of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The visualization, produced by and courtesy of UNH-CCOM (, shows acoustic backscatter data over the wellhead collected after it was successfully capped in mid-July of 2010. Although the wellhead was indeed capped, the visualization suggests a small amount of natural gas was still escaping.

Satellites can clearly map the ocean surface, and acoustic sensors can map the ocean floor, but ocean scientists currently have a limited view of the water column between the ocean surface and the ocean floor. There is a critical need to study the internal structure of features in the water column such as plumes (hydrothermal vent plumes, oil well plumes as in the Gulf of Mexico spill) or schools of fish to obtain fish stocks dynamics, spawning grounds, seasonal habitats, and to discern the impact of the climate change on these vital resources. To exploit water column data, an efficient means of reading, processing, and analyzing the data is required.

To improve support for multidimensional data and analyses in the ArcGIS environment, Esri has been working closely with partner Quality Positioning Services (QPS). QPS is a maritime technology and services provider with headquarters in The Netherlands, with US-based operations in Portsmouth, NH and Houston, TX. They are a highly specialized company and are well known in the hydrographic, petroleum, and oceanography communities for their domain knowledge and excellent software. QPS recently acquired Esri partner IVS 3D, makers of the Fledermaus scientific visualization system, and are consolidating product lines.

Fledermaus 3D visualization of the northeast Atlantic Ocean.

Fledermaus 3D visualization of the northeast Atlantic Ocean.

Fledermaus is heavily used at the world-famous Scripps Institution of Oceanography Visualization Center and is a defacto scientific visualization standard throughout the marine geology and geophysics arm of the ocean science community, including the large international NSF-sponsored programs Ridge 2000, Margins, and the Ocean Observatories Initiative. It is also used at many national hydrographic and naval agencies.

Esri and QPS are now working together to integrate Fledermaus tools into the geoprocessing framework of ArcGIS for Maritime—Bathymetry at version 10.1.