2012 EPA Research Progress Report
Developing the "EnviroAtlas" to Support Community Decisions
EPA researchers are developing the EnviroAtlas, a web-based mapping tool that will provide users with an easy-to-use, visual way to explore and better understand the benefits of natural ecosystems and how they can be conserved and enhanced for a sustainable future.
The tool provides information community decision makers need to make strategic choices about development and environmental policy, based on a more comprehensive understanding of the interactions between human activities and the many goods and services (often referred to as “ecosystem services”) that people derive from nature.
The Atlas is a Web-based mapping application that allows users to view and analyze multiple ecosystem services in a specific region such as drinking water supplies or recreational and cultural amenities. Decision makers can use the EnviroAtlas to forecast what will happen to these natural resources under future population growth and climate change.
The Durham Pilot
In 2012, EPA completed the EnviroAtlas community component for the city of Durham, North Carolina. Working with the Durham community, researchers created map layers for supply and demand of ecosystem services (such as tree cover, greenspace, and proximity to parks), and societal implications for the city's natural resources.
Local partners in Durham will use EPA research products like the EnviroAtlas to diagnose environmental problems, analyze alternatives, and track the performance of implemented management approaches. Tools and approaches developed in Durham will be transferable to other communities around the country.
EPA researchers are working with partner agencies to develop this online, interactive decision-support tool. The EnviroAtlas collaborators currently include the Natural Resources Conservation Service and U.S. Forest Service (both part of the U. S. Department of Agriculture), the U.S. Geological Survey (Department of the Interior), the National Geographic Society, the nonprofit organization NatureServe, and the City College of New York.
Other organizations working with EPA researchers to take advantage of the EnviroAtlas include:
- The Strategic Highway Research Program 2 of the National Academy of Sciences is exploring the use of the Atlas for sustainable highway planning.
- LandScope America , an online resource for the land-protection community, which now includes multiple data layers from the EnviroAtlas.
Also, the EnviroAtlas will likely be a major resource for EcoINFORMA, an online digital information system on ecosystem services and biodiversity currently in development. The development of EcoINFORMA was recommended in a report (PDF) (145 pp, 1.7Mb) by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
The EnviroAtlas will also feature detailed data on 50 to 250 cities and towns across the country. The community component of the EnviroAtlas will provide fine-scale information linking human health and well-being to environmental conditions such as urban heat islands, near-road pollution, and other quality of life indicators.
Ongoing development of the EnviroAtlas in 2012 focused heavily on this community component. The EnviroAtlas development team worked with all 10 EPA regional offices to identify communities for the next phase of high-resolution analyses, and current plans include six tribal communities. The first community pilot project is for Durham, North Carolina (see sidebar).
In 2012, the EnviroAtlas became available to EPA’s partners (other federal agencies and several universities). Public access to the tool is planned for 2013.