advertisement
advertisement
advertisement

A Detailed Map Of The World’s Ecosystems, So We Can Understand How We’re Changing Them

Before we figure out how climate change is affecting the planet, we need to understand the planet.

As humans impact the environment through climate change and development, it’s important to have a record of what we stand to lose. Take a look at the maps in the slideshow and at the link here. They’re the finest-grain renderings to date of some of the basic components of the planet, including land-cover and climate type. They show Earth in greater detail than we’ve had previously and set a baseline for the world as it is now.

advertisement

“We know about ecosystems at a macro scale, for example the Amazon, Everglades, or the Congo Basin. But our knowledge of finer resolutions has been incomplete,” says Roger Sayre, a data scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey who developed the maps. “Previously, we could only talk in generalities about very big ecosystems. Now, we can talk about 4,000 ecosystems across the planet.”


The new maps incorporate four data-sets for bioclimate, landform, rock type and land cover. Type in “Spain” or “the Himalayas” and you’re taken to a page where you can zoom in on different regions. The area around Santander, in the Pyrenees mountains, for example, is “warm semi dry,” with “flat plains,” “carbonate sedimentary rock” and “sparse vegetation.” Areas of the Sahara Desert, in North Africa, may be “hot dry plains, with sparse vegetation, over unconsolidated sediments.”

“We consider these areas a meaningful accounting unit for climate impact assessment–what are the impacts from climate change on ecosystems, what we’ve done, and what ecosystems are being impacted,” Sayre says. “Now, we know what they are and where they are.”


The maps are a collaboration between USGS and Esri, mapping software company. There’s a public web version, plus an Esri “story map” version, with several areas explained in more detail. More broadly, the effort is part of a White House Office of Science and Technology Policy initiative to use publicly-held data for new, useful purposes.

The idea with the USGS/Esri maps is they’ll now be taken on by other data scientists who’ll build their own work.”The map is a baseline for these ecosystems, so we’ll be able to assess them for climate change or other disturbances,” Sayre says. “We see the value of the dataset as a spatial accounting framework. {In the future] we’ll be able to show them as a temporal sequence [of the world unfolding].”

advertisement
advertisement

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

More