Chesapeake Bay Restoration to benefit from Groundbreaking Technology Advancement

Annapolis, MD — Today, the Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP) announced the completion of the Chesapeake Bay High-resolution Land Cover Project. It is a critical and timely step needed to improve information about the natural and human-made features that exist on the landscape of the Bay watershed, such as buildings, tree canopy and water. CBP will use this dataset in 2017 as the foundation of its effort to evaluate stakeholder progress toward meeting reduction targets for Bay pollution loads.

Chesapeake Conservancy, a small nonprofit in Annapolis, Maryland, offered an innovative solution to help CBP improve available data about the Bay watershed. The Chesapeake Conservancy’s Conservation Innovation Center (CIC) spearheaded a partnership with the University of Vermont and Worldview Solutions, Inc. to complete the Chesapeake Bay High-resolution Land Cover Project, one of the largest high-resolution land cover datasets in the nation.

For ten months, the teams of geospatial analysts worked to produce one-meter by one-meter resolution land cover data for nearly 100,000 square miles comprising the Chesapeake Bay watershed and surrounding counties.  This new land cover classification has a high degree of accuracy and provides 900 times the amount of information over the existing watershed-wide dataset. Most importantly, this data will be publicly available and updated periodically, at no cost for anyone to use.

The CBP will use the high-resolution land cover data to improve and refine its current suite of modeling tools. This improved level of detail will enhance the evaluation of progress in support of the 2017 Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load Mid-Point Assessment (Bay TMDL). In addition, the high-resolution land cover data will provide the following specific benefits, as examples:

  • Characterizing, mapping and tracking of wetlands, riparian forest buffers,
    forests and impervious surfaces;
  • Prioritizing and targeting restoration, conservation, education and public
    access efforts; and
  • Verifying riparian buffer and urban tree canopy best management practices.

The Chesapeake Conservancy has piloted the Chesapeake Bay High-resolution Land Cover Project by integrating the data into decision-support tools for restoration and conservation. Efforts of federal, state and local government agencies, nonprofits and for-profit environmental investment firms all have benefited from the data products,

  • The District of Columbia’s Urban Forestry Administration recently turned to the CIC
    for assistance in deciding where to plant trees on public lands by analyzing
    such elements as areas where there is no tree cover and surface water
    accumulates.
  • Ecosystem Investment Partners cooperated with the CIC to obtain information on the best
    places for stream restoration projects in the State of Maryland.
  • The National Park Service partnered with the CIC to determine the viewshed and most
    evocative landscapes in need of protection for the Captain John Smith National
    Historic Trail.

High-resolution land cover data will directly benefit all of CBP’s goal implementation teams, advisory committees and workgroups, and support nearly all outcomes specified in the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.

Facts

Land cover classification data is categorical information about the natural and human-made features that exist on the landscape, such as buildings, tree canopy and water. Datasets vary in the geographic areas that they represent, their spatial resolution and the number of landscape feature types they describe.

Land cover is one of the principal data sets used by the CBP modeling suite to estimate the amount of nutrients and sediments transported across the watershed into the Chesapeake Bay. This high-resolution land cover data will inform the Bay TMDL Mid-Point Assessment.

Issues

Across the board, reliable land cover classification data, especially at high-resolutions, is expensive to produce and requires expert staff, computers and software. This makes it difficult for organizations and government agencies to generate on their own. Without accurate and precise data, however, it often is challenging to set realistic, rigorous pollution targets. To date, CBP had relied on 30-meter land cover data produced by the U.S. Geological Survey and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. While it can describe generalized landscape trends, data at this resolution cannot accurately depict urban tree canopy, turf grass, narrow roads and small buildings.

Importance

The High-resolution Land Cover Project will be useful not only to the restoration efforts of the Chesapeake Bay Program, but also to state and local governments, nonprofits, private businesses and academic institutions throughout the watershed.  It provides partner organizations with the power to practice precision conservation, which is loosely described as getting the right restoration and conservation practices, in the right places and the right times. Effective and impactful decisions about where to target conservation efforts, made based on the foundational land cover data, will save government and nonprofit redundancies and resources.

For example, the U.S. Forest Service is working to integrate the data into their iTree platform, a suite of free urban and rural forestry analysis and benefits assessment tools; the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is using the data to help identify and prioritize potential riparian buffer restoration efforts; and local governments will be able to use the data to characterize the landscape in updates to comprehensive plans and other local planning documents.