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The Nature Conservancy

Habitat and biodiversity in the ‘Urban Century’

This month, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) released “Nature in the Urban Century”, a report on the rising threat that urban growth and the proximity of people to wildlife will have on habitat loss. Dubbed the “urban century,” the report details the challenges of managing urban growth. It is estimated that by 2050 there will be 2.4 billion more people in cities than today. That is an urban growth rate “equivalent to building a city with the population of London every seven weeks”!

Urbanization is a leading factor in habitat loss, but better planning and focus on sustainable development can allow for more integration of habitats into cities.

With urban growth and the expansion of cities, protected lands are becoming increasingly close to human development. The study estimates that by 2030, forty percent of protected areas will be within 50 kilometers of a city. These protected areas provide critical carbon storage that can help mitigate climate change.

Blue Raster developed two mapping application for the report. The first shows the impact of urban growth on habitat, protected areas and carbon at the country level. The tabs along the map and the country popups show users how many square kilometers of habitat is lost to urban growth, the current percent and 2030 projected percent increase of protected areas that are adjacent to urban areas, and the carbon loss from expanding cities.

Habitat Story Map

Habitat Story Map

The second map looks at the relationship of urban growth trends and specific protected areas of urban-threatened species. The density of urban-caused habitat loss projected out to 2030 is viewed with existing urban areas, and highlights places where managing protected areas and urban biodiversity near cities is most important.

Habitat Story Map

The Nature in the Urban Century report states that while there’s still time to protect critical habitat even as cities grow, it will take concerted planning. Left unchecked, over the next two decades urban growth will threaten more than 290,000 km2 of habitat, an area larger than New Zealand. It’s up to local cities, national governments and international institutions to work together to look at the benefits generated by biodiversity and set specific goals for urban conservation efforts.

Click here to view the full report

See What’s New with the Texas Water Explorer!

More than a third of the native fish species are at risk in the Rio Grande basin. With rising concerns about water resources, the Texas Water Explorer is delivering data and analysis critical for sustainable management of resources like the Rio Grande. The Explorer is the The Nature Conservancy in Texas’  (TNC TX) definitive source for exploring water health, use, governance, and quality in Texas. Blue Raster worked closely with TNC TX to augment the Explorer this year with a new Ecosystem Health indicator summarizing native fish species diversity and conservation, compiled in collaboration with the Fishes of Texas Project, as well as newly released 2014 and 2015 water use data from the Texas Water Development Board.

Texas Water Explorer Map of Percent Native Fish Species in Conservation Need by basin

Rio Grande Basin has highest percentage of native fish species in conservation need

In addition to the data enhancements, we’ve added a fresh new look for the static content particularly catering to users on mobile devices. We have increased the “scannability” of the wealth of summary information on the website. Scannability was coined in the UI/UX world as the ability to draw in a reader’s attention on a page as they skim over it. Our aim with the new design is easy readability from your phone for the more content-heavy pages.

The Texas Water Explorer has been a very useful tool for The Nature Conservancy in communicating important Texas water issues to a variety of audiences, and we’re excited to enhance its content and usability even more.”             

The Nature ConservancyRyan Smith, Freshwater Ecologist,
The Nature Conservancy in Texas

Visit the Texas Water Explorer to see how data and analysis come together to make a positive impact on statewide water resources.

Redesigned Aquifer Summary Page

Redesigned Aquifer Summary Page

TNC Story Map: Planting Healthy Air

By 2050, the majority of humanity will live in cities, towns, and other urban areas. Among the most pressing of global urban environmental challenges is air quality. In cities, the most damaging air pollutant is particulate matter (PM), but another pressing problem cities face is heat: the air is simply so hot in summer that human health is impacted. At the same time, with climate change, increasing temperatures around the world are exacerbating excess heat produced by cities and causing dangerous heat waves.

To address this concern for the future, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) investigated the effect of planting trees in urban areas. The science is clear that tree leaves play a part in removing particulate matter from the atmosphere along with many other air pollutants. Also, the shade provided by urban trees along with the transpiration of water during photosynthesis can help reduce air temperatures, while also reducing electricity needed for residential cooling. From an economic perspective, TNC found planting trees produces a significant return on investment when planted strategically in certain areas of a city.

17_trees_remove_pollution_1To determine precisely where and how much trees can help, The Nature Conservancy collected geospatial information on forest and land cover, PM2.5 pollutant concentration, and population density for 245 cities and used relationships established in the literature to estimate the scope of current and future street trees needed to make urban air healthier. The resultant report, titled “Planting Healthy Air,” advises cities on where trees offer the highest return on investment for improving public health by addressing particulate matter and excess heat.

To help visualize this data and share this story, TNC came to Blue Raster for help creating an interactive story map built on the latest Esri technology. The Planting Healthy Air story map details the project’s motivation, visualizes its geographic data and geospatial analysis, and describes a simple plan for cities to reduce pollution and temperature by planting trees. The viewer can select a section of interest or scroll through all of them, exploring and interacting with maps. Viewers can see neighborhood-level analysis in any of the 245 cities included in the report or read in-depth remarks about one of 15 focus cities.


Built on ArcGIS Online, the Planting Healthy Air story map uses Cascade, a new template designed for immersive storytelling. The story map’s interactive format allows viewers to explore the data and analysis on their own terms and get personalized information about the places that matter to them.

“Thanks to Blue Raster for all their hard work. We’re really excited about this new resource for sharing our science!”

– Misty Edgecomb, Director of Communications, Global Cities, The Nature Conservancy

Read more on this exciting project at:

Take a Dip in The Texas Water Explorer

Blue Raster has long worked with The Nature Conservancy to tackle complex environmental problems using GIS analysis and expertise. The Texas Water Explorer does just that: transforming Texas water data into interactive, visual maps so that anyone can understand it at a glance.

The first step in creating the Texas Water Explorer was to create a dashboard, giving detailed background information to users learning about all of the water bodies and conservation indicators available. Read about each of the indicators and datasets, such as River Fragmentation or Sector Water Use, or explore each of the geographies across Texas from the Colorado River Basin to the Gulf Coast Aquifer.


Once in the explorer, users can view and compare data, for example, River Flow Alteration and Presence of Invasive Species. Indicators have pop-ups powered by Highcharts showing trends in data over time.  Export tools allow the creation of custom reports that can be downloaded as Excel and taken on the go. The Texas Water Explorer uses the ArcGIS JavaScript API and Knockout.js to deliver the large amount of data supplied by The Nature Conservancy.

The Nature Conservancy has called the Texas Water Explorer a “one-stop shop on the current state of water in Texas”, an essential component to informed decision making that will lead to healthy communities, healthy environments, and a thriving economy now and in the future. (TNC Launches Texas Water Explorer)

By 2050, our population is set to double to 54 million and every region in Texas is in search of water to support its fast-growing communities. It’s essential to arm decision-makers with the best information available so they can make sound choices and be good stewards. This tool provides important data that can help Texans support healthy communities, a healthy environment and a thriving economy now and in the future.

-Laura Huffman, Texas State Director for The Nature Conservancy