Conservation Technology Support Program: GIS Experiences from Prior Recipients

Woods Hole Research Center


By Michael Ernst, Computer Systems Administrator, The Woods Hole Research Center,

A Report to the Conservation Technology Support Program from The Woods Hole Research Center for the period Aug. 1, 1995 - July 31, 1996.


Mission Statement of the Woods Hole Research Center: The Woods Hole Research Center was founded in 1985 to address global environmental problems. The thirty-member staff is engaged in scientific research, global environmental policy, and education. Research focuses on the structure and function of natural ecosystems with a special emphasis on forests and their role in global ecology. Projects include effects of fire on the Amazonian rain forest and the boreal forests of Siberia, measurement of the carbon stored in, and released from, global forests including those of New England, and helping forest dwellers in Brazil preserve their habitat as a sustainable resource.

Using satellite imagery, the Center's remote sensing unit creates computer generated maps to monitor the earth's vegetation. The science in public affairs program was instrumental in the creation of the World Commission on Forests and Sustainable Development and is an active participant in advancing the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diversity both of which emerged from the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.

(Research Associate Peter Schlesinger (l.) and Senior Research Associate Tom Stone examine a plot of their1-km vegetation- classification of South America produced on a Hewlett Packard DesignJet 650C plotter).

1. Summary of GIS Progress and Achievements: The CSTP award has enabled the Remote Sensing and GIS lab of the Woods Hole Research Center to make considerable progress in research, training, public relations and publishing. The most notable advances have been made in the area of research, where the Hewlett Packard workstation and its UNIX operating system have allowed us to work with large data sets that had been previously unavailable to us or simply beyond the capacity of our equipment. The acquisition of a large-format plotter has opened up new possibilities for our group in the areas of public relations, education, and ground- truthing.

(Research Associate Peter Schlesinger analyzes vegetation phenology data from the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program (IGBP) Global 1km AVHRR dataset using an HP-UX 71580 workstation).

The workstation is being used regularly for downloading data via the Internet from sites around the world, including the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Brazilian National Space Agency (INPE). Similarly, the Hewlett Packard workstation allows us to collaborate more effectively with colleagues at federal agencies in the United States such as NASA and the US Forest Service, as well as with various NGOs and a large number of universities. The HP platform has enabled us to participate in the NASA BOREAS Long term Ecological Research (LTER) project in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, as the data sets from this multi-institutional and multi-national research have been distributed only in UNIX formats. We are also making significant use of global 1-km resolution satellite data obtained via the Internet from the USGS.

Significant GIS Achievements: One of the two most significant projects accomplished with the new equipment would have to be some work we have undertaken with funding from NASA which uses the GRID module of ArcInfo to analyze vegetation cover in the former Soviet Union. While we had already been using the PC version of ArcInfo regularly in the laboratory, the donation of the UNIX version of the software gave us the ability to acquire new databases that were previously unavailable to us, including a truly massive vegetation cover map of Russia that had been digitized in Moscow and provided to the World Conservation Monitoring Center in England. This dataset is crucial to work we are engaged in to produce a 1K resolution vegetation cover map of this region. Before we had ArcInfo GRID, we were unable to use this dataset because of its enormous size and complexity, but we are now able to engage in research using such datasets without hesitation.

(Rio Bajo Urubamba, Peru - a classified image of 2 Landsat TM scenes from two dates in 1988 and 1989, (Path/Rows 004/68 and 005/68). This tropical forest region belongs to the Machinguenga indigenous peoples who have been working for several years to establish legal title to their lands. A distinct type of mixed bamboo forest known as "pacales" is dominant in this region. The Machiguenga people of this nearly undisturbed region are now facing the prospect of large scale natural gas extraction and the ecological and social disruption that attends this type of industrialization). (Full size Urubamba map: 199kb)

Our second accomplishment of significance is the production of large format plots using the HP DesignJet 650C Plotter to aid in our field work in South America. We are working in conjunction with Oxfam America to create a geographical database of forest cover and a description of land and vegetation cover for the purpose of developing a baseline estimate of forest biomass.

(Villagers of the Brazilian Amazon region use WHRC satellite images to assess local land-use changes).

(Researcher Marli Mattos explains the use of satellite imagery to villagers of the Rio Capim region in northern Brazil---------->).

The Oxfam project partners have been working for several years on establishing legal tenure for indigenous territories located in tropical forest regions within Bolivia and Peru, and the HP equipment has been vital for producing maps to aid in this work. Map resources of this type are very highly valued by forest managers and researchers in tropical forest regions, where useful base maps are often badly outdated or nonexistent. In our various research sites in Brazil, our scientists find that these compelling large-format plots are a tremendous aid in their work. Large scale color plots of TM imagery of the state of Acre have been produced here in Woods Hole with the support of various private foundations and the Universidade Federal do Acre, Brazil, using the CTSP equipment. Several images or plots were taken to Acre in June 1996 by Dr. Foster Brown, a geochemist. There they are being used in classroom exercises with university students and members of the military, and in the field with rubber tapper families for the delineation of traditional plot boundaries and forest trails. They are extensively used for field-checking of vegetation cover, as well.

2. GIS Goals: As our GIS lab is well-established, our goals do not change rapidly. We will continue to produce land cover maps of different parts of the world for evaluating land conversion and land use change. We have a particular focus on modeling the implications of land use change on the regional and global carbon cycle, and our GIS work will feed into our policy program which seeks to connect our research to international policy at the highest levels of government. Lastly, we will continue to teach principles and applications of GIS to Russian and South American scholars in the field and here in our lab.

3. Needs for our GIS program for the coming year: We feel that we have only begun to utilize the capabilities of the new workstation, plotter, and software. Our primary needs now are to train more staffers here in the uses and capabilities of the software and equipment, and to acquire a few more items of software and equipment to optimize the equipment we have. These items are: a. NFS software on the UNIX platform to link to PCs and Novell and NT servers. b. CD-Recordable to transfer and archive aging 9-track tapes. c. Software to link HP workstation to Plotter via JetDirect LAN card. d. More manuals and technical support.

In addition, we will continue to have a series of visiting scholars in residence for a few months at a time from Amazonia and from Russia as we have in the past. We are much interested in helping them learn the capabilities of this new equipment and software.

-- Michael Ernst Computer Systems Administrator The Woods Hole Research Center


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Text and graphics: The Woods Hole Research Center
January 2, 1997

Design and Layout: Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc.
January 2, 1997