Monday, May 05, 2008

GIS Supports Work of Woods Hole Research Center

How do we retrace our ecological footprints? Where will the footprints lead? Scientists with the Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC) are using geographic information system (GIS) software from ESRI to track ecological footprints across the globe. With GIS, researchers are able to analyze and illustrate changes in our world, manage findings in an easily accessible database, and model through maps the effects of various future paths.

"Almost all ecological research is inherently spatial and needs to be put into a local or regional context," said John P. Holdren, director of the Woods Hole Research Center. "Among a text-weary public, maps are perhaps the most direct route to understanding research results and the status of the earth's natural resources."

For conservation efforts to have a discernible impact, research must not only be collected and understood but also acted on, according to David Maguire, ESRI's chief scientist. ESRI provides the support and technology conservation groups need to be effective in performing as well as promoting their work. GIS software solves problems by bringing together many layers of information from a variety of data sources to show a comprehensive view of a situation and a vision of possible solutions.

"Conservation is about understanding the natural environment, looking at the causes of change in the environment, and demonstrating the political and/or economic effects," Maguire said. "GIS, better than any other technology and tool, is very good at integrating and interfacing with the policy context and bringing the information to the attention of a wide public."

WHRC is currently using ESRI technology to obtain global GIS data for the following projects:
• Research climate change by studying current and historic releases of carbon and exploring how forests might be used to withdraw carbon from the atmosphere.
• Define the agricultural aptitude of lands in Amazonia and look at farmlands now in conservation reserve status in the United States.
• Map land cover of the Chesapeake Bay watershed to examine water quality, urban expansion trends, and habitat connectivity.
• Derive from laser remote sensing the forest canopy structure in Maryland as it correlates with bird species richness.
• Evaluate habitat connectivity between the Adirondacks and New England to help define optimal wildlife corridors and outline roadless areas.
• Examine the pan-Arctic rivers that supply the Arctic Ocean with freshwater and could determine the future of the region with respect to global warming.
• Quantify the amount of biomass and carbon in the forests of Russia and the contiguous United States.
• Monitor and map the great apes population of Africa.
• Research, model, and plan for ecological concerns in Brazil with a large outreach effort among Brazilian professionals, government officials, farmers, and the agriculture industry.

"The work of our GIS users depends on the symbiosis of digital image processing software and ESRI GIS software," Holdren said. "Many of the center’s GIS users have become highly skilled through ESRI's online courses and classroom training. ArcGIS is ubiquitous among our spatial analysts.”

About the Woods Hole Research Center
The Woods Hole Research Center is dedicated to science, education, and public policy for a habitable earth, seeking to conserve and sustain forests, soils, water, and energy by demonstrating their value to human health and economic prosperity. The center has initiatives in the Amazon, the Arctic, Africa, Russia, Asia, boreal North America, the Mid-Atlantic, and New England including Cape Cod. Center programs focus on the global carbon cycle, forest function, land cover/land use, water cycles and chemicals in the environment, science in public affairs, and education, providing primary data and enabling better appraisals of the trends in forests.

About ESRI
Since 1969, ESRI has been giving customers around the world the power to think and plan geographically. The market leader in GIS, ESRI software is used in more than 300,000 organizations worldwide including each of the 200 largest cities in the United States, most national governments, more than two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies, and more than 7,000 colleges and universities. ESRI applications, running on more than one million desktops and thousands of Web and enterprise servers, provide the backbone for the world's mapping and spatial analysis. ESRI is the only vendor that provides complete technical solutions for desktop, mobile, server, and Internet platforms. Visit


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