Learn about the state-of-the-art technology making field data collection more accurate and efficient and ever, leaving time and providing more robust and secure datasets for navigating the ever-evolving landscape of Waters of the United States.
This topic was covered in the 21st episode of Ecobot's webinar series, Convergence of Wetland Science and Technology. View recorded episodes here.
- Accessing geospatial datasets
- Tools, software, and hardware for the regulatory and mitigation wetland workflow
- Overview of field and office utilization if IPaC, Ecobot, Field Maps, and ArcGIS Pro
Jeremy Schewe, PWS, Chief Scientific Officer, Ecobot
Presenters & Panelists
Gale Shea, GISP, Mapping Representative, Seiler Instrument Co.
Scott Denham, Wetlands & Permitting Manager, ESI
Olivia Haney, Environmental Scientist, Burns & McDonnell
Geospatial Data & Tools
The different layers and vectors of a GIS dataset can begin to tell the story of a place, says Jeremy Schewe, PWS, Chief Scientist at Ecobot, before the information gained from visiting a site refines that story and makes it more comprehensive. Using GIS datasets before heading into the field can inform expectations in advance of a site visit. There are a number of resources for these, including:
- Web Soil Survey (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
- National Wetlands Inventory Mapper (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)
- topoView (U.S. Geologic Survey quadrangles)
- ArcGIS Living Atlas (Esri)
- IPaC (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)
Web Soil Survey
First, using the Web Soil Survey made available by the USDA, Schewe locates his project area and pulls the soil layers, which provide specifics on the soil at the site. He can find, for example, how likely it is that there are hydric soils in the area.
Wetland data is available through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) National Wetland Inventory (NWI) Mapper. This tool provides geospatial files, and provides even more information about the likelihood of wetland presence at the site. Shapefiles are available for download through the Web Soil Survey and NWI Mapper, and Schewe can then pull into his GIS file and project the layers in his model. Shapefiles are available on multiple scales through the NWI Mapper, either by watershed (HUC 8) or by state. Once downloaded, the files can be clipped to the project area to limit file size.
U.S. Geologic Survey’s topoView
There are several sources for U.S. Geologic Survey (USGS) maps. Many regulatory reviewers like to see these maps as part of a jurisdictional report. topoView is a free resource with maps available from various periods in history. USGS maps are available for download in a variety of file types, including JPEG, KMZ, GeoTiff, or GeoPDF.
ArcGIS Living Atlas
ArcGIS Living Atlas by Esri is the most robust and current collection of geographic information, featuring maps, apps, and data layers which are consistently curated. Living Atlas can be access for free through ArcGIS Online, ArcGIS Pro, and ArcMap. Data is stored on the cloud, enabling quick access and cloud computing. Data on elevation, NWI, soil (including hydrologic group, drainage class, and hydric class), and are readily available as layers. Other available wetland-related data includes hydrography, live stream gauges, flood hazard, green infrastructure datasets, land use and land cover, and water quality.
Lastly, the IPaC program put out by the USFWS streamlines the environmental review process, specifically for Threatened & Endangered Species (T&E) assessments, Incidental Takes, Section 7 and Section 10 assessments, and Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs). Users can build biological assessments for their projects, run initial screenings and practice tests, and more, helping to formulate their plan prior to visiting a site.
Putting the Data in Action
Using the Base Map
Now that the preliminary GIS data has been compiled, the layers can be added to the base map on ArcGIS Pro, revealing to the scientist where they should concentrate their efforts. As a wetland scientist, Schewe is primarily considering the soil and wetland layers. As a final step before heading into the field, he uses the Mobile Map Export function in ArcGIS Pro to share the map with his teammates, who are then able to download the map to their mobile devices using ArcGIS Field Maps. This way, the team is able to geospatially reference themselves, and they have a sense of what to expect, such as what soils they’re in at a given point, whether they’re within property boundaries, whether they’re in a known or supposed NWI wetland unit, et cetera.
GNSS is a robust geolocating system with access to hundreds of internationally operated satellites. The difference between GPS and GNSS lies in the number of satellites each system accesses: GPS is limited to North American Satellites, while GNSS geolocates using hundreds of internationally-operated satellites, and therefore achieves a much higher level of accuracy. Historically, GPS methods were bulky, cumbersome, and expensive. Fortunately, current GNSS devices are much smaller, cost-effective, and easier to use–many can be paired with applications on smartphones and tablets to enable seamless data collection. Data can be hosted in a cloud to keep it easily accessible to the data collector and their teammates.
In the field, Schewe primarily uses three apps:
- Ecobot: Schewe uses Ecobot for field data collection to save time, cut costs, and win more bids. It keeps data consistent across individuals and teams, and ensures data security. Ecobot makes data available to engineers and reviewers more quickly, and the increased efficiency and accuracy of jurisdictional reports facilitates quicker concurrence for WOTUS reports.
- ArcGIS Field Maps: Schewe downloads his basemaps into ArcGIS Field Maps before heading into the field.
- iNaturalist: Schewe makes a point to feed information into this app in order to improve the tool. iNaturalist is helpful for identifying unknown vegetation.
For hardware, Schewe and his colleagues Scott Denham, Wetlands & Permitting Manager, ESI, and Olivia Haney, Environmental Scientist, Burns & McDonnell, use:
- An iPhone or iPad to run their field data collection software
- An external battery pack to support their devices
- An external GNSS device, such as a Trimble R1, Eos Arrow, or Juniper Geode
This combination of technology enables their teams to collect field data efficiently, accurately, and securely.
“[Digitizing field data] is our way as field scientists, as consultants, as conservationists, to be able to leverage our data, to potentially work together on projects, and conglomerate that data. And thus be able to tell a better story that can help to influence policy,” says Jeremy Schewe, Chief Scientist at Ecobot. “Biology, especially out in the field, does not have a lot of representation in respect to the digital sphere. And so I think this is really important as we understand the evolution of the digital ecosystem moving forward.”