Frequently Asked Questions - EnviroAtlas

General questions

Using the EnviroAtlas interactive map

EnviroAtlas development questions

What are ecosystem services?

Ecosystem services, also referred to as nature's benefits, are the goods and services derived from ecosystems. These goods and services include clean and abundant water; clean air; recreational opportunities; protection from weather extremes; a stable climate; food, fiber, and other materials; as well as spiritual and cultural amenities. Learn more about ecosystem services and how to use the ecosystem services data in EnviroAtlas.

Who can or should use EnviroAtlas?

EnviroAtlas has been designed for use by any individual, government, or organization with an interest or curiosity about the environment. It requires no special expertise or software to use and includes diverse data from a variety of disciplines and sources. The intended audiences for EnviroAtlas are very diverse and generally can be categorized into three groups:

  • The interested public: includes individuals generally interested in environmental and societal information; they tend to be involved in their communities and can have an influence on decisions made in their communities.
  • Analyzers of information: includes technical staff analyzing information to support decision-making in various governmental and non-governmental organizations. This group also includes researchers and educators and their students. EnviroAtlas provides an amazing data resource for this group of users who would otherwise have to locate, organize, and compile the data.
  • Decision-makers: includes decision-makers at various levels of government as well as non-profit associations and corporations.

Do I need any special expertise or special software to use EnviroAtlas?

EnviroAtlas has been designed for use by any individual, government, or organization with an interest or curiosity about the environment. It requires no special expertise or software to use and includes diverse data from a variety of disciplines and sources. There are no special software requirements to use EnviroAtlas, all that is needed by the user is an internet browser and Adobe® Flash®. Adobe Flash allows the web-based interactive map viewer to function properly and is available free of charge. Flash is frequently pre-loaded on personal computers, but if this is not the case, the user will be prompted to download and install the software when accessing the EnviroAtlas Interactive Map.

What kind of information is presented in EnviroAtlas?

EnviroAtlas houses and combines an extensive collective of spatial data, including modeled results, field research, and results of literature reviews from a variety of government and non-government sources. This information characterizes the benefits derived from the natural environment, community infrastructure, demographics, and health outcomes. This information helps provide an understanding of the relationship between the environment and human health and well-being. Our definition of well-being includes economic well-being as well as social equity.

The EnviroAtlas interactive map contains ecosystem services data which is organized into several categories characterizing the production of ecosystem services, the demand for ecosystem services, and the attributes that may impact an ecosystem's ability to continue producing those services. Most of these data for the nation are summarized by 12 digit hydrologic watershed basins (12 digit HUCs); for the EnviroAtlas community component the data are primarily summarized by U.S. census block group.

EnviroAtlas also includes supplemental data (e.g., land cover, water bodies, wetlands) and demographic data, which reflects the distribution and composition of the population. Access to demographic data allows the user to investigate the distribution of environmental attributes in the context of impacts and equity across different sectors of the population.

EnviroAtlas will also provide information on features of the built environment and community infrastructure including transportation, materials and waste management, building infrastructure, and urban land use.

How might I use EnviroAtlas?

EnviroAtlas brings together many different types of data to help inform a variety of decisions and projects. There are many possible uses for EnviroAtlas data, tools, and resources and we are still learning about the range of current uses. Visit our example uses page to get some ideas about how EnviroAtlas might be used.  

Contact us and let us know how you have used EnviroAtlas or how you think you might use it in the future. Feedback from the user community increases our understanding of how EnviroAtlas data and tools benefit individuals and communities and helps guide the development of new tools and data.

How do I cite EnviroAtlas?

If you are referencing a specific data layer, please use the following convention:  

United States Environmental Protection Agency. EnviroAtlas. Enter Data Layer Name from Metadata. Retrieved: Enter Month, Day, Year, from enviroatlas.epa.gov/enviroatlas 

If you are referencing a specific web page, please use the following convention:  

United States Environmental Protection Agency. EnviroAtlas. Enter Web Page Title. Retrieved: Enter Month, Day, Year, from Enter Exact URL Accessed or enviroatlas.epa.gov/enviroatlas for a general citation. 

If you are mentioning EnviroAtlas overall, and not a specific dataset or web page, please cite this EnviroAtlas publication:

Pickard, B. R., Daniel, J., Mehaffey, M., Jackson, L. E., & Neale, A. 2015. EnviroAtlas: A new geospatial tool to foster ecosystem services science and resource management. Ecosystem Services14, 45-55.

How do I access the metadata for EnviroAtlas data layers?

Metadata is available for each EnviroAtlas data layer. Users can access the metadata via the interactive mapping application. Once in the interactive map, go to a map of interest and select the blue i icon next to the layer name. Select 'Metadata/download' and a new page will open. Scroll down to the bottom of that page and select the 'Metadata' hyperlink.

What is a data layer?

EnviroAtlas contains many different mapped attributes or variables; each of these attributes in the interactive map is referred to as a data layer.

Why does it take the national data such a long time to load?

There are roughly 80,000 spatial units at the national scale. This is a lot of data and may take a longer time to load than the community or other data. The loading speed for maps also depends on the quality of your internet connection and bandwidth.

There seem to be layers with the same name in multiple places; do they contain the same data?

Many of the map layers appear in multiple benefit categories in the table of contents because they contribute to multiple ecosystem services or are closely related to both the production and consumption of an ecosystem service. Each individual map layer has a unique name, so same name = same data.

Is there a way to identify the values of a specific polygon on the map just by clicking it?

Yes, for any of the data listed under the "ecosystem services and biodiversity" tab, you may click anywhere on the map when the map display is turned on and the attribute value for that particular polygon will show up in a pop-up window.

What are web services and how can I use EnviroAtlas web services? 

Web services are widely used by geographic information system (GIS) professionals to share geospatial data. A web service is a representation of a GIS resource (spatial data) that a server makes available to other computers or applications. EnviroAtlas implements Esri's ArcGIS Server Exittechnology to create, publish, and share web services for data developed for EnviroAtlas. EnviroAtlas web services are used to display data in the EnviroAtlas Interactive Map table of contents and are also available for public use in desktop mapping applications or web-based mapping applications.

EnviroAtlas web services provide access to data layers through ESRI's ArcGIS Server Exit and Open Geospatial Consortium Exit (OGC) service formats. The services are published in EPA's GeoPlatform Hosting Environment and include metadata that is discoverable through EPA's Environmental Data Gateway (EDG) and Data.gov. Each EnviroAtlas web service can be imported into applications, such as ArcGIS Desktop, ArcGIS.com, Bing Maps, Google Maps/Google Earth, or OpenLayers, or into many other online mapping interfaces. Application developers can incorporate EnviroAtlas services into custom mapping applications. In some cases, EnviroAtlas uses web services created by other organizations.

Each data layer in the EnviroAtlas Interactive Map table of contents includes a link to Fact Sheets, EDG metadata, and ArcGIS Server services. These links help the user understand the data and provide information about data limitations, additional resources, and contacts. OGC web map services (WMS) and web feature services (WFS) are also available for use; the links to these services are located on the ArcGIS Server service page.

How accurate are the data and analysis in EnviroAtlas?

In many cases, data from multiple sources are combined in a model to produce a map or a data layer. In some cases, this produces a map with a known confidence interval and in other cases; it produces a map with an unknown confidence interval (uncertainty). The EnviroAtlas team is currently investigating methods for producing better estimates of uncertainty. For questions about uncertainty for a particular data layer please refer to its metadata or Fact Sheet.

Can I download the data?

Summarized data and some of the non-summarized data developed for EnviroAtlas are available directly from the data download page.  For data that EnviroAtlas accesses from external sources, users will be directed to the original source of the data; this ensures the user will have access to the most current version or release of the data.

EnviroAtlas utilizes web services technology to consume and publish data. Essentially, each map layer displayed in EnviroAtlas is published as a web mapping service. Web services can be easily accessed through a variety of interfaces (e.g., Esri Desktop products, Esri arcgis.com, Google Earth, Open Source GIS, etc.). Eventually, the application will also include a "clip and ship" feature which will allow users to define an area of interest (AOI) and download only the specified data layer(s) within the AOI. Learn more on our web services page. 

Can I incorporate my own data into EnviroAtlas?

Yes. In the EnviroAtlas interactive map, users can upload shapefiles, import excel/CSV/lat/long files, and bring web services from other sites directly into the map. This functionality is accessible from the 'Mapping Tools' tab in the interactive map. 

Can I provide feedback to the EnviroAtlas Development Team?

Yes, we value your feedback; it allows us to improve and expand EnviroAtlas. The user community is an active participant on the EnviroAtlas Team and involvement is encouraged and appreciated. Please contact us directly to provide suggestions or comments. 

Is EnviroAtlas a finished product?

No, EnviroAtlas is a work in progress. EnviroAtlas was released publicly in May 2014 but continues to evolve to incorporate additional functionality and data. There are many data layers, tools, and additional components that are still under development. On the status page you can see what is new and what is coming for EnviroAtlas. Feedback from the user community is very important to the success of EnviroAtlas and comments are encouraged! Please contact us directly to provide suggestions or comments. 

Can I access EnviroAtlas from my mobile device (e.g., smartphone, tablet, phablet, etc.)?

Yes and no. Though the EnviroAtlas website is accessible on most mobile devices, it has not been optimized for use on those devices. The interactive map and the Eco-Health Browser require Adobe® Flash® which is not available for many mobile devices. However, third party developers have developed "apps" that work around this limitation. By installing one of these apps, the user can access more of the functionality experienced on a personal computer. We are working toward a mobile device-friendly version of EnviroAtlas. Currently, for the best user experience, EnviroAtlas should be accessed from a personal computer.

EnviroAtlas seems to include data predominately related to current condition. Can I use it to predict future scenarios or potential changes?

With few exceptions, the data in EnviroAtlas relate to current conditions. As new data become available, the existing data will remain to allow users to view temporal changes. Additionally, the EnviroAtlas Development Team is working on creating tools to use the current data to investigate how potential changes in land cover, land use, climate, demographics, and other factors may affect ecosystem services and other aspects of the environment or community. Climate, land use, and ecosystem services scenarios will be incorporated into EnviroAtlas in the future.

It seems like you don't have much data for Alaska or Hawaii; why not?

There are actually quite a few data layers for both Alaska and Hawaii in the Interactive Map. However, they are not included in the initial state selection dropdown upon entering the Interactive Map because we do not have a complete set of data for those two states. The biggest issue has been that some of the fundamental data that we use to develop the data layers have not existed in the past for Alaska or Hawaii. This is changing, though, and we will endeavor to include Alaska and Hawaii in future iterations of EnviroAtlas.

How often are the data in EnviroAtlas updated?

EnviroAtlas was released publicly in May 2014. Periodic updates are made to the map layers, tools, and components as they become available. Many of the data layers derived specifically for EnviroAtlas are based on the Multi-Resolution Land Characteristics Consortium's (MRLC) National Land Cover Database (NLCD) which is updated every five years. Currently, EnviroAtlas data layers use the 2006 version of the NLCD data. These data layers will be refreshed to use the 2011 NLCD data that were made available in early 2015. Other updates that include new data or updated versions of existing data will be added as they become available. Please refer to the metadata for each particular map layer in question to determine when the data were developed or updated.  In the future, the data download section will include a log detailing data updates. 

How do I locate more information about each of the data layers?

There are multiple options available to learn more about data included in EnviroAtlas. To learn more about all of the data included in EnviroAtlas, for both the national and community component, visit the EnviroAtlas data webpage . Additionally, each map layer in EnviroAtlas has its own metadata and fact sheet accessible from the interactive map. The fact sheet includes an overview of the data contained in the layer, how it relates to ecosystem services and potential impacts/benefits to individuals and/or communities, information on how the map layer was developed and the individuals who created it, and a brief listing of additional resources that may be useful. Visit the fact sheets page. The metadata contains more of the technical details about how the data were generated.

Fact sheets are also available in the interactive map. To get to the fact sheet, select the blue "info" icon next to the data layer name. 

How can I tell how old the data are?

Each dataset has metadata that details when the data and any inputs were created and updated. The metadata can be found through the blue "info" icon next to the data layer name in the interactive map, or by selecting the metadata link within the data layer matrix

Will you keep older versions of the data as newer data become available?

When we update the data using more recent versions of foundational data such as NLCD 2011, rather than 2006, we will make both versions of the data available, although we may not always make all of them available through the Interactive Map.  Many data sets are constantly evolving and improving (e.g., national soils data and hydrography data).  As these improved data sets become available, many of the interactive map layers in EnviroAtlas will reflect the more recent improved data. In this instance, it would not be appropriate to keep the older data. 

Where are the data stored that are displayed in EnviroAtlas?

EPA developed a GeoPlatform environment to house and serve geospatial data to users, both internal and external to EPA. The EPA GeoPlatform environment consists of multiple servers which implement Esri's ArcGIS Server technology and allows for configuring and deploying web services displayed in EnviroAtlas. The data layers derived specifically for EnviroAtlas are stored and deployed from the EPA GeoPlatform environment on EnviroAtlas-dedicated servers. Web services added to EnviroAtlas from agencies and organizations outside of EPA are typically stored (along with associated data) and served from the originating agency or organization.