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GIS Data Portal Enables Ecosystem-Based Management
A Web-Based Geographic Information System Provides Management Of More Than 400 Datasets Covering New York State Shorelines

By Katie Budreski
Geographic Information System Specialist
Stone Environmental
Montpelier, Vermont

Karen Richardson
Redlands, California

Ecosystem-based management (EBM) is the study of all the complex interactions within an ecosystem. Instead of focusing on one issue or species, EBM strives to understand how humans and nature can coexist in a sustainable manner. Used mainly to study terrestrial environments, EBM has gained popularity recently in marine studies as communities try to help ailing fisheries and struggling ocean ecologies. Spatial data plays a key role in assisting communities practicing EBM because this management approach is focused on activities in specific geographies.

New York uses EBM for the state's northern Atlantic Ocean shoreline, estuaries and portions of two of the five Great Lakes.

To apply EBM effectively, the state created the New York Ocean and Great Lakes Atlas and geoportal. The atlas is used by the general public, as well as local, regional and state decision makers, to view and explore more than 400 datasets about the region. Navigating the vast catalog of data through the geoportal is made possible with ESRI's geographic information system (GIS) technology: the ArcGIS Server Geoportal extension, which was previously the GIS Portal Toolkit.

Innovative Marine Management
The atlas was developed by the New York Ocean and Great Lakes Ecosystem Conservation Council. The council, created in 2006, is chartered with protecting, restoring and enhancing New York's ocean and Great Lakes ecosystems while taking into account sustainable economic development and job creation.

ESRI business partner Stone Environmental helped create the atlas. First launched in July 2008, the atlas is comprised of a Web-based mapping application and more than 200 datasets. Initially, users could view the datasets, download metadata and spatial data in multiple formats, and view attributes of the data. While the council technically met its mandate through this launch, it was clear from the start that an online catalog would be necessary to help navigate the sheer volume of datasets available.
Visitors can seine for fish and crabs in the shallows of the Hudson River, part of the Esopus Meadows, because aquatic wildlife and forest ecology are carefully monitored using resources available through the geoportal.

A Portal Makes Data Searchable
After reviewing several technologies, the council chose to use ESRI's GIS Portal Toolkit because it had the functionality the council required, including search capabilities, flexible metadata authoring tools, user accounts and the ability to give access to data providers. Additionally, ESRI's open software environment aligned with the council's vision for future enhancements that had been outlined in its five-year strategy document.

The atlas and geoportal are used to access more than 400 datasets to help manage the shorelines.

The portal provides a robust way for users to search all the data holdings in the atlas. Users of the portal can perform metadata searches by keyword, data type, data category, date modified and geographic location. Information for specific areas of interest can be easily found and compared in this manner. Once found, search results can be saved in multiple ways: Users can save a search in their profile on the geoportal, subscribe to an RSS feed that tracks new content related to a search or embed the result in other Web pages as dynamic content. Data can also be downloaded in various GIS formats, including the ESRI shape-file format, via a File Transfer Protocol connection.

One-Stop Shop for Data
Collecting relevant data for the atlas was a huge task. Stone employed Internet searches, phone calls, e-mails and face-to-face conversations with staff from more than 300 organizations to find the data included in the atlas today. Since the first launch, more data has been added for a total of nearly 400 searchable datasets.

The data include administrative boundaries; marine data, such as fish distribution, habitat and invasive species; elevations and cadastre; environment and geoscientific information such as geology, groundwater and soils; and societal information such as historic sites and settlement information.

Many datasets are from organizations that had never widely distributed geospatial data before. An example is the Facility Limit Measurement Violation data from the New York Department of Environmental Conser-vation (NYDEC) Water Division. These data provide information necessary for the Clean Water Act National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System and had been identified as a priority through a data-needs workshop. The agency had resource and technical constraints with sharing the data through its own organization, but since NYDEC could provide the data via the atlas without having to host the data, this important dataset could be shared.

Publishers Control Their Data
When the atlas data portal was first launched, the council published the data and metadata that had been provided.

Moving forward, the council will encourage data providers to publish metadata records directly to the portal and, if possible, host their own data through a subportal. Providing direct access will ensure that data are as current as possible for EBM planners and communities.

Data providers have several avenues to easily publish data using the portal. Records can be published by uploading metadata that have been created by a metadata editor based on standards from the Federal Geographic Data Committee and the International Organization for Standardization. Metadata can also be created using an online form.

In addition, data providers can establish a data-harvesting relationship with the data portal through a subportal or Web-accessible folder. This allows the data portal to collect desired Web pages and extract necessary data.

Another control option is to set up a subportal; for example, the Tug Hill Commission GIS Data Portal. Tug Hill is a 2,100-square-mile remote rural region of New York located between Lake Ontario and the Adirondack Mountains. Several geospatial datasets were developed as part of an EBM demonstration project in the Sandy Creek watershed on the eastern shore of Lake Ontario. The subportal was developed so the Tug Hill Commission could manage its own geospatial data holdings but still make the data available to New York Ocean and Great Lakes Atlas users.

Next Steps
This year, the New York Ocean and Great Lakes Ecosystem Conservation Council will work with Stone Environmental to integrate the data portal and data viewer, which are currently two separate applications, by upgrading to ArcGIS Server. Additional enhancements will include the incorporation of thesauruses for enhanced searching and the use of Web map services and Web feature services for data dissemination.

Katie Budreski is a geographic information system specialist at Stone Environmental. She develops applications and mapping services for Stone's clients and for other business units within the company. She holds a Master of Science in forestry and a Bachelor of Science in forestry and natural resources, both from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Karen Richardson is a writer at ESRI. She has been at the company for the last 17 years, where she writes about how organizations apply geographic information systems. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in geography with an emphasis in geographic information systems from the University of Washington.

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