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Building sensitivity atlases

Researchers, environmental managers, ecologists, researchers – we are all looking for a better perspective. Fieldwork, remote sensing and systemic understanding lets us piece together knowledge which in turn can be used to prioritize human interaction with our environment. All this knowledge represents generalizations. The paradox of generalisations is that they are some times needed for us to see our world in a manageable way. The less we see, the better some of our decissions will be.

A sensitivity atlas is a generalization. The sensitivity atlas method does not represent a method which is usually associated under laws, regulations or international agreements. It is currently a lump bag of methods given one name. More than 20 different implementations of the method are around – if not more. Given the helpful nature of most of these implementations it has been intersting to try to find one unified method. We’re working on it.

Where do they come from? Well… doing some research I found that one of the firs sensitivity atlases was South African. I found a copy of it at Oxfam in Great Britain and bought a copy. Excellent!

The method as such has a history going back over 35 years in time. In its many forms it has been a central tool for creating priority maps for land use, emergency response and more. The processes of implementation have often been associated with high costs, many man hours and high in technical capacity requirements with its many practitioners.

By establishing a better documented and more light-weight method, we hope to see many positive consequences. Here are some of them:

  • A well described method can more easily be shared through training and other communication.
  • Supporting technical implementations will be more harmonized while still being developed using different technical platforms.
  • The resulting sensitivity atlas products are easier to understand and put into context as the methods will not vary.
  • A unified method will promote the establishment of a wider community of practitioners.

At a workshop presenting a new step towards a unified method in Arusha in September 2019, representatives from 8 environmental agencies were invited and present. Our guests were from Uganda, Ghana, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Mozambique, Kenya, Somalia and Lebanon. The workshop was held by representatives from the Norwegian Environment Agency and UNEP-WCMC.

Presented at the workshop was a first draft of a method where different data sets were prepared and processed according to tis method. In preparation a scripted procedure was prepared. Together with the procedure we also distributed country packages with prepared test data sets, grid sets down to around 800×800 meters and QGIS project files.

The software used for the processing was FME from Safe Software. It was chosen because it represented a straightforward way to implement the necessary procedure. The developed procedure requirements were written by NEA and UNEP-WCMC. The procedure was rapidly developed by the Norwegian company Norkart using FME from SAFE software. It works like a charm!

The visual programming interface of FME,

FME is a tool which is used by many commercial entities and government offices to prepare, process and deliver data. Being a commercial tool, it would usually require the participants at a workshop like this to have their own licenses. Upon asking for in kind licenses for this work, SAFE software said yes and provided the 30 participants with licenses. We are extremely happy for this opportunity to use FME!

The presentation software for the resulting data sets was QGIS. It was primarily chosen because it is open and free software. Relevant templates for presenting the data were made and they were used at the workshop. QGIS is an excellent tool both for managing data and for presenting it in dynamic ways.

The reception of the tools at the workshop were overwhelming. Within 5 days all participating agencies had established their own sensitivity atlases using the available tool. For many of them this has been planned for years, but now the tools let them do this with test data prepared for his workshop. Birdlife International, IUCN, and many more have provided data for us to use in this workshop.

In using this method both ecological and technical knowledge is required. A crucial part of the method is to evaluate what in this method is referred to as sensitivities and priorities. This can not be done without knowledgeable ecologists and biologists. Neither can this work be done and presented without someone which can nurture the process on a technical level.

With this tool the participating environmental agencies have been emancipated. They are now technically able to process national sensitivity atlases. Continued support and advice on using different asset layers will be important. Follow up on

We will continue to document our tools on a researchgate project and will also try to post project updates as we go. If you are interested in the use of the Quarter Degree Grid Cells used in this project please read this paper.

This workshop represents an important step forward!

The following institutions deserve a special mention: Safe Software, Norkart, Tanzania Conservation Resource Centre, Obscom, #norad, #oilfordevelopment and many others.

Data Availability and Reliability report for Ghana coastal areas

Some years ago the Norwegian Directorate for Nature Management contributed to the Oil for development program under The Norwegian Agency for Development (NORAD). The program contributes to projects in Africa, Asia and South America. Ghana was, and still is, one of the partners to the Oil for Development Program.

As part of this mission it was agreed with the Ghanaian partners that Ragnvald Larsen and Howard Frederick (as an external consultant) should visit EPA and other relevant institutions to establish a firmer basis for further collaboration on environmental data management.

The attached report is from work done in Ghana in 2012. The work was mainly done by Howard Frederick, but contributions were also done by Roger Lewis Leh (EPA) and Ragnvald Larsen.

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Mindværet – nordligst del

Jeg har laget noen ortofoto av de nordligste delene av Mindværet. Mindværet er en skjærgård som ligger rett sør for øya Mindland på helgelandskysten. Øyområdet er godt egna for dagsturer med båt/kajakk. Det fins mange naturlige ankringssteder.

Området  har et rikt fugleliv. Det er dessverre amerikansk mink i området, noe som går sterkt ut over fuglelivet i området.

Ortofotoene er satt sammen av 1.355 enkeltbilder tatt fra en høyde på 120 meter over havet. Bildene er bearbeidet ved hjelp av spesialprogramvare.

Et spesielt vakkert parti med svært gode muligheter for både fortøyning og bading.

Sammenstillingen er laget med utgangspunkt i bilder som er i berøring med landområder. Oppløsningen på kartene er i full størrelse så god at de kan egne seg til utskrift i størrelsesorden 1×1 meter.

Kartene kan lastes ned og kan benyttes vederlagsfritt.

Ortofotoet viser de største øyene i området. Sjøområdene mellom mer ikke tatt med. Filen er om lag 150 Megabyte stor og kan lastes ned. Et trykk på bildet vil ta deg til en nedlastingsside.


Ortofotoet/kartet viser de største øyene i området. OpenStreetMap er benyttet som bakgrunnskart. Dermed vises også øyer i omrdet uten ortofoto. Filen er om lag 125 megabyte stor og kan lastes ned. Et trykk på bildet vil ta deg til en nedlastingsside.


Brørholmen – ortofoto

Brørholmen ligger et par hundre meter fra Mindtangen på Mindland. Kartet/ortofotoet er satt sammen av 95 separate vertikalbilder tatt med drone. Bildene er tatt fra en høyde på 120 moh. Bildene er tatt om ettermiddagen den 19. juli 2017.

Det er fritt frem å laste ned og å skrive ut kartet til utskrift og lignende.

Mulig det dukker opp flere slike bilder  fra Mindland i løpet av sommeren.

Drones in conservation – some thoughts

Military drones 2005

The term drone is usually associated with unmanned planes used for military surveillance and aggressive activities. The latter is something we as conservationists, scientists, environmental managers and others would rather not be associated with. Surveillance is a term slightly associated with our own trade. We call it monitoring – but much of it is about the same thing. We want to know who is where, how many they are and what they are doing. Our purpose for monitoring the environment is to be able to understand a certain species, their interactions with other species or its immediate environment.

Quality information is necessary to make decisions to protect the environment, or to provide politicians with a basis for policy decisions.  A question which has surfaced is: Will drones make conservation and management of the environment more efficient and accurate?

In this posting I will take a brief look at some of the challenges and opportunities pertaining to the use of drones in conservation.

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