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How Abu Dhabi is turning data into knowledge

The habitat mapping project by the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi is considered to be the largest and most detailed in the world.

By Olivia Olarte-ulherr/senior Reporter

Published: Wed 17 Jun 2015, 1:08 AM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 3:09 PM

The habitat map released by Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi.  —Supplied photo

Abu Dhabi - Abu Dhabi’s habitat mapping — considered to be the largest and most detailed in the world, covering 59,640 square kilometres of terrestrial and 28,220 square kilometres of marine environments of the emirate — has been completed and can be accessed online.

The habitat mapping project by the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) was finalised in December last year. The satellite-based mapping is validated through extensive field surveys and has a data accuracy of over 90 per cent in land and 75 per cent in marine areas.

The project provides the fundamental data for all future conservation planning and decision-making and is expected to provide a crucial baseline for developmental activities in the next five years.

Speaking during the launch of the mapping project on Monday, Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, secretary-general of the EAD, said the habitat database will enable better urban and conservation planning.

The innovative mapping has combined several terrestrial and marine habitats into an integrated classification schema — 41 classifications for land and 13 for marine environments.   “The habitat map will also serve as an invaluable tool while responding to emergencies, such as oil spills, and help responders identify environmentally sensitive areas that are in need of immediate protection. We ... are turning data into knowledge and the power to make better and more informed decisions.

“This project supports the UAE government’s efforts to fulfill its commitment for the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) to ensure a minimum of 17 per cent of terrestrial habitats and 10 per cent of marine habitats are protected and conserved by 2020,” said Al Mubarak.

Protected area delineation, environmental permitting, land-use and conservation planning, quantifying ecosystem services, estimating blue carbon, detecting land degradation and habitat loss, are just some of the areas where the mapping is being utilised.

In addition, the map is expected to track overall changes in the environment, especially caused by human intervention, through developmental activities; quantify desertification and identify the affected areas; and support food security initiatives by helping identify areas with potential for irrigated agriculture.

The satellite-based mapping approach adopted for this project has resulted in significant savings in terms of time, effort and money, compared to the traditional field survey methods, which would have taken several years to complete, EAD officials said.

This detailed mapping includes habitat, landuse and landcover layers at 1:10,000 scale, an Abu Dhabi wide coverage of 50-centimetre resolution, Worldview 2 Satellite imagery, bathymetry (ocean depth) of Abu Dhabi coastal area up to 15-metre contour.

According to Anil Kumar, director of Environment Information Management at EAD, the mapping of habitats will be repeated once every two years. The mapping follows scientific principles that give the advantage of comparing which habitats were preserved, gained or lost.

All data related to the project are available through EAD’s Environmental Data Geoportal (enviroportal.ead.ae). The data can also be accessed on iPad and through an app ‘Beatty’, which can be downloaded from Apple’s Appstore. The app will also be made available for android phones next week. The data is expected to aid stakeholders in planning and preparation of environmental assessment studies for development proposals. -olivia@khaleejtimes.com

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