Chesapeake Conservancy mapping ways to strengthen conservation

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A comparison provided by the Chesapeake Conservancy of the land cover data available for Annapolis before and after the completion of the non-profit’s project.

For years, industries from health care to banking have turned to data to help make decisions about their work.

Now, an Annapolis nonprofit is aiming to bring "big data" to another cause: environmental conservation — specifically restoration of the Chesapeake Bay.


The Chesapeake Conservancy has unveiled a high-resolution land cover dataset of the bay watershed, a project a year in the making. The project maps around 100,000 square miles of the watershed and surrounding areas and the natural and man-made objects that cover it, from trees and buildings to wetlands and bodies of water.

At a resolution of 1-meter by 1-meter, the organization's land cover data provides 900 times the amount of information available on the watershed, according to the Chesapeake Conservancy.


For Joel Dunn, the nonprofit's president and CEO, the project gives the conservation movement the ability to use "big data" the way industries like banking have, relying on it to revolutionize how they spend money and resources.

"From my perspective, this is the next big stage of the environmental movement," Dunn said.

The project, which is free to use and open to the public, will help state and local governments, private businesses, environmental groups, other organizations and even individual landowners practice "precision conservation," Dunn said. Precision conservation moves away from broad conservation and restoration policies and instead relies on information such as land cover data to determine which projects would be most effective to carry out, and in which locations, in what scale and when.

The dataset can be used to pinpoint impervious surfaces that increase stormwater runoff, their proximity to tributaries and to prioritize the most important restoration projects to spend money on.

The Chesapeake Bay Program, which tapped the Chesapeake Conservancy to carry out the project, plans to use the dataset to better evaluate pollution loads flowing from the watershed into the bay, according to a news release.

The program will also use the data to look at how stakeholders are progressing in meeting the Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL, targets set in 2010.

The Chesapeake Bay Program had used 30-meter-resolution land cover data, which showed general landscape trends but could not accurately depict things like urban tree canopy, narrow roads and small buildings.

Nick DiPasquale, the group's director, said restoration and conservation decisions can be made using the dataset that "more closely and accurately reflect real-world conditions."


"This is a technological snapshot, the likes of which we've never had before, of exactly how the land is being used across the entire watershed," DiPasquale said.

The project can be viewed on the Chesapeake Conservancy's website at