The Nature Conservancy

I served as a conservation projects intern for the New Jersey chapter of The Nature Conservancy from November 2012 to April 2013.  This was a paid internship.

I worked on many different projects during my five months with the Conservancy, including GIS work and field projects.  Field work included coastal vegetation mapping and fish surveys on Delaware Bay, and native plant seeding of a riparian area near Cape May.

I have featured three GIS projects below.  For all of these projects, I was the sole GIS analyst.

Disclaimer: The maps below are property of The Nature Conservancy.  The use of these maps is prohibited without written consent from The Nature Conservancy.  Please direct all inquires to Moses Katkowski (mkatkowski@tnc.org) or Ellen Creveling (ecreveling@tnc.org).  Thank you. 

1.) Native Pollinators

I was asked to model habitat suitability across the entire New Jersey landscape, with respect to native bees.  My supervisors and I decided to use the Shannon Diversity Index, a commonly used index in the field of ecology, to measure the diversity of land cover types and their evenness over the landscape.  Our idea was that native bees would find more floral and nesting opportunities in a diversified landscape.

I used a freely distributed tool from Jenness Enterprises to complete the analysis.  I also used some modeling tools from ArcGIS to run the model in batches, as this was a memory-intensive operation.  The product was a map of New Jersey, cut into 10-meter grid squares, ranked by their suitability as habitat for bees.  I ran this analysis for bees with a 300-meter flight range and 1500-meter flight range.   Below is the map for bees with a 300-meter flight range.

pollinatorsClick on the map to see a full-sized version

I also used The Natural Capital Project’s InVEST crop pollination model as another method of measuring habitat suitability.  You can read about the Natural Capital Project here.  They are doing some very exciting work on valuing the economic services provided by natural resources.

Our analysis will help a partner agency to prioritize farmland for enrollment in habitat improvement programs.  By improving habitat for native bees, farmers can improve their crop yields and lessen their dependence on honey bee colony rentals.  To read more about the New Jersey chapter’s work on native pollinators, go here.

I also helped distribute a social survey to farmers.  The survey was designed to gauge farmer awareness of habitat improvement plans and the issues facing native bees and crop pollination.  I made contacts with university agricultural extension agents, the NJ Farm Bureau, USDA employees, and several farmer assistance organizations in order to distribute our survey to farmers.  This was a nice change of pace from all the GIS work.

2.) Marsh and Forest Retreat on Delaware Bay

My next project was helping a marine scientist measure marsh retreat on a portion of the Delaware Bay.  Due to rising sea levels and wave energy, salt marshes on the bay have eroded over time.  I used a series of aerial photographs (from 1978 to 2012) and a USGS model to measure the changes in the marsh.  Some areas of the marsh have retreated at a rate of 9 meters per year!

marsh_edge

Click on the map to see a full-sized version

I also looked at forest loss in Maurice River Township, a small bayside community.  Many trees have died at the changing forest-marsh interface, due to saltwater intrusion from rising sea levels.  I was able to complete this analysis with aerial photographs and some simple polygon subtraction in ArcGIS.  MRT has lost over 600 acres of forest in the last 34 years (1978-2012).

forest_change_MRT

Click on the map to see a full-sized version

3.) Coastal Vulnerability Index

My last assignment was to create a vulnerability index for Maurice River Township.  I followed a set of  guidelines created by New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection.  The vulnerability index incorporates five vulnerability indicators: storm surge, erosion potential, soil drainage, flood prone areas, and slope (percent rise).  

To complete this analysis, I needed LiDAR data for the study area.  It took some time to figure out, but I eventually was able to download hundreds of zipped, raw LiDAR files (.laz) from NOAA’s website, unzip them using Lastools software, process them through several ArcGIS tools and stitch  them all together to be a seamless, high resolution digital elevation model (DEM).  Quite a process, but I’m glad I learned how to process raw LiDAR!

I collected the rest of the data from USDA’s Soil Data Mart, The National Hurricane Center’s SLOSH model and FEMA’s flood insurance rate maps (FIRMs)

The index is a raster that shows which areas of MRT will be most vulnerable during a storm event.  This will help residents and planners in protecting homes, buildings and infrastructure.  The raster has a 2-meter resolution so that vulnerability levels can be assessed for individual properties.

mrt_vulnerability

Click on the map to see a full-sized version

I also looked at how different levels of sea-level rise would affect the township in the future.  I was able to model a few predicted levels by adding them to the storm surge raster I created for the overall vulnerability analysis. Below is a map of the southern half of MRT with a 0.5-meter sea-level rise surge raster.  I layered this map with a 2012 aerial photograph.

sealevelrise_MRT

Click on the map to see a full-sized version

I owe a big thank you to The Nature Conservancy for offering this wonderful opportunity to me.  I hope to work with this innovative organization in the future.

And thank you for checking out my work!

If you have any questions, contact me at laurenvanderlugt@gmail.com.

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