Esri’s Ocean GIS Initiative

On a planet where 71 percent of the surface is covered by water, the oceans are critical for life itself. They feed us, regulate our weather patterns, provide over half of the oxygen that we breathe, and provide for our energy and economy. Yet only 5 to 10 percent of the ocean floor and of the waters beneath the surface have been explored and mapped in a level of detail similar to what already exists for the dark side of the Moon, for Mars, and for Venus.

GIS technology, which has long provided effective solutions to the integration, visualization, and analysis of information about land, is now being similarly applied to oceans. Our ability to measure change in the oceans (including open ocean, nearshore, and coast) is increasing, not only because of improved measuring devices and scientific techniques, but also because new GIS technology is aiding us in better understanding this dynamic environment. This domain has progressed from applications that merely collect and display data to complex simulation, modeling, and the development of new research methods and concepts.

The amount of data being collected about the oceans presents a grand challenge.

The amount of data being collected about the oceans presents a grand challenge.


The Ocean GIS initiative

As a company with the mission to inspire and enable people to positively impact their future through a deeper, geographic understanding of the changing world around them, Esri recognizes that this understanding must involve a strong commitment to the oceans. And that’s why Esri recently launched a major Ocean GIS initiative across the entire company. The team supporting this initiative is comprised of professional services staff, GIS software engineers, project managers, instructors, business partners, and many others.

The Esri oceans team

The Esri oceans team.

The Oceans GIS initiative has been motivated in great part by the need to provide effective mapping tools and techniques to respond to recent disasters such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the Tohoku-Oki earthquake and tsunami in Japan. It is also motivated by a sincere desire to assist in the implementation of the US National Ocean Policy, particularly in the area of coastal and marine spatial planning (CMSP), for which GIS provides a crucial decision-support engine.

As part of this initiative, Esri is expanding from an initial emphasis on nautical chart production and applications for commercial shipping, maritime defense/intelligence, and offshore energy (e.g., oil and gas, wind energy) to ocean science and resource management. Esri is pursuing a greater engagement with the ocean science community, as complex ocean science questions and ocean science data are increasingly used to inform the responsible use and governance of the oceans, as well as effective management and conservation.

Esri’s vision for bathymetry in the cloud.

Esri’s vision for bathymetry in the cloud.

To support a better understanding of our oceans, Esri is focused on improving and expanding our products, tools, services, partnerships, and connections with the broader ocean community. Some of the strategies we will be pursuing towards this goal include:

Dr. Dawn Wright

Dr. Dawn Wright

  • Grow the Ocean Basemap
  • Build a More Integrated Elevation Service
  • Provide Intelligent Bathymetry in the Cloud
  • Grow Ocean Use Planning Tools
  • Create Additional Ocean Portals
  • Expand the ArcGIS for Oceans Resource Center
  • Convene an Oceans Summit
  • Update and Support the Arc Marine Data Model
  • Develop Vertical, Time-dependent Data Transformations
  • Improve Support for Multidimensional Data and Analyses
  • Support Ocean Numerical Models

In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing more details of our Ocean GIS Initiative through the publication of a free e-book. (The e-book is now available [PDF])

Dawn Wright

About Dawn Wright

Dawn Wright joined Esri as Chief Scientist in October 2011 and is responsible for formulating and advancing Esri's goals in the environmental, conservation, climate, and ocean sciences. She is also professor of geography and oceanography at Oregon State University and has participated in several initiatives around the world over the past 20 years to map, analyze, and preserve ocean terrains and ecosystems. Follow her on Twitter @deepseadawn.
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