Conclusions and Recommendations
This report describes the major coastal zone spatial information requirements of federal agencies and the user groups they support, identifies high-priority needs, evaluates the potential for meeting those needs, and suggests steps to increase collaboration and ensure that the need for spatial information in the coastal zone is met in an efficient and timely manner. Information was gathered through a review of relevant literature and through interviews, presentations, and written submissions from a broad range of agency personnel, user groups, and other individuals working in the coastal zone. Due to the huge scope of coastal mapping activities throughout the nation, it is possible that some issues have been overlooked. Nonetheless, we are confident that the major needs and activities of those involved in coastal mapping and charting in the United States are included, making it possible to identify gaps, overlaps, and major issues. The consistency and commonality of the needs expressed and issues raised allowed the committee to develop a vision for the future of U.S. coastal zone mapping and charting, and to make targeted recommendations for achieving that vision.
While the range of coastal zone mapping and charting applications is as varied and diverse as the user community, there is a striking commonality to certain elements of the community’s needs, encompassing:
A consistent spatial framework for coastal data that allows a seam-
less transition from onshore to offshore, including clarification of offshore boundary definitions and a framework to allow consistent shoreline definitions;
Increased collection and availability of primary reference frame and thematic data, including shallow-water bathymetry, acoustic and satellite imagery of the seafloor, bottom type, habitat distribution and classification standards, land use, land cover, and coastal change data.
Easy access to up-to-date digital, geospatial data, imagery, and mapping products;
Compatibility among data formats, or standards and transformation protocols that allow easy data exchange, and a means to evaluate the accuracy of geospatial data; and
Increased inter- and intra-agency communication, cooperation, and coordination.
Addressing these critical issues, which are described in more detail below, will provide the basic reference frame, source data, and tools necessary to create the wide range of derivative products needed to efficiently and effectively manage the coastal zone.
A Consistent Spatial Framework
Any discussion of the coastal zone must acknowledge the unique aspects of this dynamic region. Coastal zone data collection and mapping present a special challenge because most coastal processes are both continuous across the land-sea interface and are subject to constant natural and anthropogenic change. The historical divisions between topographic mapping techniques onshore and bathymetric charting approaches offshore, and the fundamentally different vertical reference frames used, have resulted in a serious incompatibility between existing maps and charts. In particular, offshore features must be measured with respect to the constantly changing tide level, adding considerable complexity to coastal zone mapping and creating enormous difficulties in seamlessly merging onshore and offshore data. A multiplicity of tidal datums, and their dynamic nature, has produced ambiguity in the definition of the shoreline, creating considerable confusion and difficulty in integrating coastal zone studies and management. Additionally, the ever-shifting land-water interface poses significant logistical challenges for mapping. Shallow water, waves, turbidity, and longshore currents all contribute to the difficulty of operating vessels and equipment accurately and safely. These issues are all reflected in the unified call from the user community for a consistent spatial framework that allows a seamless transition from onshore to offshore.
Primary Reference Frame and Thematic Data
A strong common thread was also found in the specific types of data needed. By far the greatest demand is for bathymetric data, to provide the fundamental geospatial framework to which all other offshore data can be linked. Bathymetric data in the shallowest regions of the coastal zone, where logistical challenges make data collection more difficult, are essential to provide the “missing link” between onshore topographic data and more easily collected deeper bathymetric data. Derivative needs that were highlighted by the community include bottom type, human-use, land-cover, and time-series data describing coastal change. Acoustic and satellite imagery of the seafloor and onshore coastal zone would be particularly useful for understanding bottom types and habitat. The value of each of these derivative datasets would be greatly enhanced if referenced to a continuous, seamless, onshore/offshore geospatial framework.
Access to Data and Products
The second most common need expressed by the user community was the desire for easy access to up-to-date, digital coastal geospatial data, images, and maps. The range of data collection activities related to coastal geospatial data collection is staggering. Although some of these data remain buried within the organizations that collected them, much is becoming accessible through Web sites that allow public access to some or all of the data. There is not yet, however, a single Web portal to access coastal zone data. A search for all available data from a given region can be a costly, frustrating, or even an impossible task. Whatever mechanism is established for better data distribution, the dynamic nature of coastal processes requires that the data be updated regularly and made available in a very timely manner.
Data Compatibility and Accuracy
In order for the accessed data to be most useful, data collected by different organizations at different times and using different sensors must be in forms that allow easy exchange and integration. The user community must also have a way to evaluate the accuracy of the data it accesses. This means that standards must be established, metadata provided, and tools developed for data transformation and data fusion.
Agency Communication, Cooperation, and Coordination
There is widespread demand by the user community for increased inter- and intra-agency communication, cooperation, and coordination of
coastal mapping activities. Particularly in the area of data acquisition, which is the most costly aspect of mapping in the coastal zone, redundancy and lack of communication appear to exist. Of particular concern were the large number of shoreline and habitat mapping efforts being undertaken by different agencies and by different offices within agencies. Some overlap might be expected, given the large number of organizations involved, the varied histories and mandates of these organizations, the complex definitions of shoreline and habitat, and the many other difficult issues facing those working in the coastal zone. Although not surprising, it is unquestionably inefficient and often counterproductive. In contrast, there are also a number of examples where laudable cooperation and collaboration among agencies have been achieved. Examples of such collaborative efforts include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Bathy/Topo/ Shoreline Demonstration Project, NOAA-Office of Coast Survey (OCS)/ USGS efforts to maximize survey value by collecting data relevant to both organizations on a single cruise, USGS/National Park Service (NPS) collaborative mapping programs, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) collaboration with NOAA, USGS, Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and a number of state agencies to determine national water quality conditions, and numerous NOAA-Coastal Services Center (CSC) initiatives with respect to standards and data distribution. These positive examples are often the result of fortuitous information exchanges between the right people at the right moment. To build on these successes, mechanisms are required to promote full information exchange and make collaboration and cooperation the rule rather than the exception.
A VISION FOR THE FUTURE
The commonality of the issues raised and the needs expressed forms the basis for a vision for the future of coastal zone mapping and charting. This vision requires the development of an integrated and coordinated coastal mapping strategy for the nation, based on a foundation—a reference frame—on which all data collection, analyses, and products can be built. To establish this foundation, there must be a national effort to collect the information and develop the tools necessary to seamlessly blend topographic (onshore) and bathymetric (offshore) data. These data and tools will permit the establishment of a nationally coordinated digital database across the land-sea interface consisting of seamless elevation and depth data that can be referenced or transformed to common vertical and horizontal datums.
This database will provide the basic geospatial framework for all subsequent data products, much like the USGS topographic sheet basemaps
have formed the foundation for a multitude of subsequent studies. Unlike the USGS topographic sheets, however, a coastal zone database must take account of tidal variation and be able to reconcile the differences between land and offshore datums.
The committee’s vision for the future of coastal zone mapping and charting also includes mechanisms to ensure communication among all agencies and entities involved in order to minimize redundancy of efforts and maximize operational efficiencies. There will be national—and perhaps international—standards and protocols for data collection and metadata creation and readily available tools for data transformation and integration. With these tools the user community will be able to evaluate the accuracy and timeliness of data, change scales and projections, and seamlessly merge disparate datasets. The database and data integration tools will be easily accessible to all users, public and private, from a single digital portal accessible through the Internet.
This is a bold vision but at the same time an obvious one. Who would argue with a system that is efficient and produces easily accessible, fully interchangeable, accurate, and timely data? The vision may be simple to define, but its implementation will be anything but simple. The recommendations that follow are intended to address the root causes of the existing problems, help overcome the barriers to their solution, and begin to turn this vision into reality.
A Seamless Bathymetric/Topographic Dataset for All U.S. Coastal Regions
One of the most serious impediments to coastal zone management is the inability to produce accurate maps and charts so that objects and processes can be seamlessly tracked across the land-water interface. Differences between agency missions, onshore topographic versus offshore bathymetric mapping techniques, differing vertical reference frames, and the inherent difficulty of collecting source data in the surf and intertidal zones have combined to produce this fundamental incompatibility. It will be impossible to properly understand processes, undertake planning, and establish boundaries in the coastal zone while two sets of disparate and non-convergent maps and charts are being separately maintained.
The barrier to the production of continuous integrated mapping products across the land-sea interface is the inherent difference in the horizontal and vertical reference surfaces (datums) and projections used for maps and charts. Horizontal datum and projection issues can be readily resolved with existing transformation tools, although these tools must be
made more readily available to the user community. However, vertical datum issues present a serious challenge. In order to seamlessly combine offshore and onshore data, vertical datum transformation models must be developed. These models depend on the establishment and maintenance of a series of real-time tidal measuring stations, the development of hydrodynamic models for coastal areas around the nation, and the development of protocols and tools for merging bathymetric and topographic datasets.
The Tampa Bay Bathy/Topo/Shoreline Demonstration Project, a collaborative effort between NOAA and the USGS, has developed a suite of such tools (called Vdatum) and has demonstrated the feasibility of generating a seamless bathymetric/topographic dataset for the Tampa Bay area. This project has also demonstrated both the inherent complexity of such an undertaking and the substantial benefits that arise from interagency collaboration and coordination.
Recommendation 1: In order to combine onshore and offshore data in a seamless geodetic framework, a national project to apply Vdatum tools should be initiated. This will involve the collection of real-time tide data and the development of more sophisticated hydrodynamic models for the entire U.S. coastline, as well as the establishment of protocols and tools for merging bathymetric and topographic datasets.
This dataset must be documented and disseminated in such a way that it can become the base for a wide range of applications, including the definition of local, regional, or national shorelines. As a result of this effort, it will be possible to merge data collected either on land or offshore into a common geodetic reference frame, while at the same time allowing application-specific maps and charts to be generated that maintain traditional tidal-based datums (e.g., for navigational charts) or orthometrically based datums (e.g., for topographical maps).
Shoreline Definition Protocols
Numerous agencies have identified the lack of a consistently defined national shoreline as a major barrier to informed decision making in the coastal zone. While a consistent shoreline is certainly desirable, many different definitions of the shoreline remain embedded in local, state, and federal laws, making it impractical to call for a single “National Shoreline.” Rather, the key to achieving a consistent shoreline is the seamless geodetic framework referred to in Recommendation 1. With a seamless bathymetric/topographic dataset across the land-water interface, appro-
priate difference or tidal models, and consistent horizontal and vertical reference frames, any shoreline definition can be transformed and integrated within the common framework. The Vdatum tool kit and associated Web sites will be the key to establishing internally consistent shorelines between and among disparate surveys and studies.
Recommendation 2: To achieve national consistency, all parties should define their shorelines in terms of a tidal datum, allowing vertical shifts to be calculated between and among the various shoreline definitions, while at the same time permitting different agencies and users to maintain their existing legal shoreline definitions. In situations where legislation or usage does not preclude it, the committee recommends that the internationally recognized shoreline established by NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey be adopted.
The committee encourages the Federal Geographic Data Committee’s (FGDC) Marine and Coastal Spatial Data Subcommittee to pursue implementation of this recommendation.
Easy Access to Timely Data
Easy access to timely data is an essential component of effective coastal zone management. Many agencies have created Web sites that offer access to data in a variety of forms as well as data manipulation tools. However, these sites still represent only a small percentage of existing coastal zone data.
Recommendation 3: A single Web portal should be established to facilitate access to all coastal mapping and charting data and derived products. The site should be well advertised within federal and state agencies, state and local governments, academic institutions, nongovernmental organizations and conservation groups, and to other potential users. The portal should work well with all Web browsers and on all computer platforms, to make it easily accessible to all users.
The single portal is not intended to host all coastal data. Rather, it should serve as a focal point that links to many distributed databases maintained by individual agencies or organizations. This site would represent the one place where users, particularly new users, could begin their search for coastal data and derived products. A single, easily accessible data portal with appropriate data manipulation tools should also promote the timely entry and retrieval of data. Coordination of such a site logically
falls under the purview of the FGDC, and is fully consistent with the Geospatial One-Stop concept.
Data Integration, Interchangeability, and Accuracy
Providing easy access to data through a single Web portal is a critical starting point for addressing the needs of the coastal zone community. However, users must also be able to combine and integrate data collected by different agencies using a range of sensors and often based on different datums or projections. Users must also be able to assess the attributes and accuracy of the data provided. Integration of data and assessment of data quality are made possible by the establishment of data and metadata standards and the application of tools for data transformation.
Recommendation 4: All thematic data and other value-added products should adhere to predetermined standards to make them universally accessible and transferable through a central Web portal. All sources should supply digital data accompanied by appropriate metadata.
The FGDC is in the process of establishing a series of standards for the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) that will be applicable to all coastal zone data. Unfortunately, implementation of the NSDI continues to be problematic for the coastal/marine community due to highly variable levels of commitment by different agencies and insufficient incentives to fully implement its principles. This may, in part, be due to the structural and budgetary barriers discussed in Chapter 6, the inability of a single set of standards to serve all applications, and disconnects between those developing the standards and the user community. One approach to addressing this issue is for additional involvement by the private sector.
Recommendation 5: The private sector should be more involved in developing and applying data standards and products. Agency procurement requirements can be used to encourage the private sector to deliver needed products in a timely fashion.
The committee is aware of numerous examples where private-sector initiatives established well-accepted and easily used data protocols—in effect de facto standards—that significantly enhance the effectiveness of data products. The private sector is often capable of greater speed and efficiency in the adoption of standards and tools than its government agency counterparts. Access to data, metadata, and data standards must
be complemented by readily available tools to easily convert between and among different data formats, scales, and projections.
Recommendation 6: Government agencies and the private sector should continue to develop tool kits for coastal data transformation and integration. This will facilitate data analyses and the production of a range of value-added products. The tools should be accessible through the Web portal.
Documentation of the tools and techniques used to process data must also be provided to help the user community understand the limitations and appropriate uses of various datasets. A variety of training courses and workshops will be essential to provide end-users with the knowledge and tools necessary for intelligent application of the available data.
Improved Coordination and Collaboration
Any activity that involves multiple federal, state, and local agencies, academic researchers, and the private sector has the potential for redundancy and overlap of effort. This is amplified when the activity requires expensive platforms, technologies, and sensors. In the area of coastal zone mapping and charting, the large number of agencies involved, their differing histories, the breadth of their mandates, and the complexity of the task offer ample opportunities for redundancy and inefficiency. Because data acquisition is unquestionably the most expensive aspect of coastal zone mapping, elimination of redundancy and overlap in this area is likely to yield large savings. Ensuring that all relevant agencies are aware of one another’s activities will be an important first step toward improved coordination.
Recommendation 7: All federally funded coastal zone mapping and charting activities should be registered at a common, publicly available Web site. This combined registry should be accessible through the single Web portal for coastal zone information.
Each entry in the registry should include a description of the mapping activity, its location and purpose, the agency collecting the data, the tools to be used, the scales at which data will be collected, and other relevant details. Non-federally funded agencies conducting coastal mapping activities should be encouraged to register their activities at the same site. A section of the registry should be dedicated to descriptions of planned but unfunded coastal mapping activities, as well as a prioritized compilation of coastal areas where surveying would be particularly helpful to state or local agencies. Technically, components of such registration may
already be required under Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Exhibit 300, but Recommendation 7 suggests a considerably expanded effort focused on making all federally funded coastal zone mapping efforts more widely known.
Once implemented, this registry could serve as the focal point for national coordination of geospatial data collection and analysis efforts. Individual agencies would continue to set their own priorities, but through the registry process any overlapping efforts could be quickly identified and avoided. The registry would also facilitate increased efficiency by highlighting opportunities for “incremental” surveys, where one agency takes advantage of the mapping activities of another agency in a region of common interest by providing a small amount of additional funding to achieve an additional objective. Such “piggyback” collaborative efforts would allow additional agencies to acquire data that meet their needs at minimal incremental cost.
Recommendation 8: To be effective, coordination should be carried out among all the primary agencies involved in coastal zone mapping; it should be mediated by a body that has the authority and means to monitor and ensure compliance; and it should involve people who are knowledgeable enough to identify the most critical issues.
Structurally, the FGDC appears to be an appropriate body to oversee such coordination, but many concerns remain about its effectiveness. Some restructuring of FGDC, and perhaps an empowered Marine and Coastal Spatial Data Subcommittee, will be required to allay these concerns. In this light the committee endorses the recommendations of a recent design study team that calls for major structural and management changes for the FGDC (FGDC, 2000). A less appealing alternative might be either a new government office or an extra-governmental body charged with establishing oversight of all national coastal mapping and charting activities.
Recommendation 9: Whichever body is charged to carry out the needed coordination activities, dedicated staff personnel should be assigned to maintain the Web portal (Recommendation 3), the activities registry (Recommendation 7), and associated Web sites, and to proactively search for areas where efforts can be coordinated, supplemented, or combined to increase efficiency.
Specific areas where better coordination among federal agencies is urgently needed (with the agencies likely to be involved listed in parentheses) include the following:
High-resolution topographic and bathymetric data acquisition at the land-water interface, including aerial and satellite imagery, Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) surveys, and bathymetric surveys (Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA], National Aeronautics and Space Administration [NASA], NOAA, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers [USACE], and USGS).
National seamless topographic/bathymetric Digital Elevation Models/Digital Depth Models (National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency [NGA], NOAA, and USGS).
Derived products for mapping shoreline change (Bureau of Land Management [BLM], FEMA, NOAA, USACE, and USGS), habitat change (EPA, FWS, NOAA Fisheries, NOAA-National Ocean Service, and USGS), hazard vulnerability (FEMA, NOAA, and USGS), and coastal inundation and erosion hazards (FEMA, NOAA, USACE, and USGS).
Increased Data Collection
There is a widespread need for more and better data to be collected in the coastal zone. Growing pressure from a variety of constituencies (e.g., fisheries, shipping and navigation, Law of the Sea implementers, resource managers) will lead to ever-greater demands for useful information. The single most consistently cited need among the agencies and the user community is for enhanced bathymetric data, particularly in very shallow coastal waters. These data provide the basic geospatial framework for almost all other studies and are a key component for derived products such as offshore habitat maps.
Recommendation 10: The fundamental reference frame data for the entire coastal zone should be collected, processed, and made available. The dynamic nature of the coastal zone requires that there should be specific plans for repeat surveys over time. The important role of qualified private survey contractors in coastal zone mapping and charting should also be acknowledged. Much of the work done by this sector is contracted by government agencies, and accordingly the prioritization and tracking of surveys can be coordinated by the body called for in Recommendation 8.
Given the number of agencies and private-sector companies involved in coastal mapping, and their disparate missions and budget directives, it is unrealistic to expect agreement on a single, unified and prioritized national mapping initiative. While each agency has responsibility for its own mapping priorities, a strong and enforceable mechanism for tracking and coordinating existing, ongoing, and planned mapping efforts (as out-
lined in Recommendation 7) would increase efficiency to the point where considerably more survey work could be carried out for each dollar spent. Inconsistencies in scale and resolution for new data collection efforts could be resolved by the coastal zone coordinating body called for in Recommendation 8. After surveying agency needs, the coordinating body could determine whether the incremental value of collecting data over a larger area or in a slightly different form (e.g., at higher resolution) warrants modification of a planned surveying effort.
Severe challenges remain for those attempting to map the coastal zone. As well as the fundamental conceptual problem of reconciling terrestrial and tidal datums, there are also a number of logistical challenges, including shallow depths, waves, turbid waters, and longshore currents, that make it difficult to operate survey vessels and other equipment safely, accurately, and efficiently.
Recommendation 11: New remote sensing and in situ technologies and techniques should be developed to help fill critical data gaps at the land-water interface.
There are a number of promising new technologies and techniques:
Integrated bathymetric/topographic LIDAR, multispectral, hyperspectral, and photographic imaging systems;
Sensors deployed on autonomous underwater vehicles;
“Opportunistic” mapping using volunteer recreational boats equipped with specialized mapping sensors approved by issuing agencies;
Autonomous bottom-crawling vehicles;
Improved satellite imaging capabilities; and
Data fusion capabilities.
Continued support from funding agencies for development of coastal remote sensing tools, combined with an increased emphasis on coastal needs, will greatly accelerate the development and implementation of these critically needed technologies. The private sector can play a major role in addressing this recommendation.
Underestimation of the importance of the coastal zone threatens the well-being of the nation, and those charged with management and maintenance of this critical environment carry tremendous demands and responsibilities. In order to understand and address the effects of complex natural and anthropogenic forces in the coastal zone, a holistic multidisciplinary framework must be developed to account for the interconnectivity of processes within the system. At the base of this framework is accurate geospatial information about the locations of important features
and processes, both onshore and offshore. The recommendations and strategies outlined above call for the establishment of a consistent geospatial framework and the application of innovative new acquisition, integration, and data management technologies that should allow coastal zone scientists, engineers, and managers to efficiently produce easily accessible, fully interchangeable, accurate, timely, and useful geospatial data and mapping products that seamlessly extend across the coastal zone. The recommendations also suggest simple mechanisms to enhance collaboration and cooperation among those charged with acquiring data in this complex region. These mechanisms should facilitate efficiency gains that will allow most of the nation’s coastal zone to be mapped in a timely manner. While simple in concept, implementation of the suggested strategies will require a focused effort on the part of the coastal zone community. If implemented, however, the committee believes that a major step will have been taken toward assuring the long-term well-being of the coastal zone.