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52 Million Points and Counting: A New Stratification Approach for Mapping Global Marine Ecosystems

16 Dec 2016

We report progress on the Ecological Marine Units (EMU) project, a new undertaking commissioned by the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) as a means of developing a standardized and practical global ecosystems classification and map for the oceans, and thus a key outcome of the GEO Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO BON). The project is one of four components of the new GI-14 GEO Ecosystems Initiative within the GEO 2016 Transitional Work plan, and for eventual use by the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). The project is also the follow-on to a comprehensive Ecological Land Units project (ELU), also commissioned by GEO. The EMU is comprised of a global point mesh framework, created from 52,487,233 points from the NOAA World Ocean Atlas; spatial resolution is ¼° by ¼° by varying depth; temporal resolution is currently decadal; each point has x, y, z, as well as six attributes of chemical and physical oceanographic structure (temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, nitrate, silicate, phosphate) that are likely drivers of many ecosystem responses. We implemented a k-means statistical clustering of the point mesh (using the pseudo-F statistic to help determine the numbers of clusters), allowing us to identify and map 37 environmentally distinct 3D regions (candidate `ecosystems') within the water column. These units can be attributed according to their productivity, direction and velocity of currents, species abundance, global seafloor geomorphology (from Harris et al.), and much more. A series of data products for open access will share the 3D point mesh and EMU clusters at the surface, bottom, and within the water column, as well as 2D and 3D web apps for exploration of the EMUs and the original World Ocean Atlas data. Future plans include a global delineation of Ecological Coastal Units (ECU) at a much finer spatial resolution (not yet commenced), as well as global ecological freshwater ecosystems (EFUs; in earliest planning stages). We will also be exploring how to conceptually and spatially connect EMUs, ELUs, and EFUs at the ECU interface.

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Tags: ecosystem marine environment

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