Partnership Will Improve Stream Mapping for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

by | Apr 27, 2017

Annapolis, Md. “ Advances in technology will enable Chesapeake Conservancy to map streams throughout the watershed with unprecedented precision and accuracy. Chesapeake Conservancy recently received funding from the Chesapeake Bay Trust and will partner with researchers at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) to develop a methodology for mapping stream channels throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The Conservancy and UMBC will take advantage of the high level of detail available from new technology to improve the stream mapping of headwater streams. The partners will explore using Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR). LiDAR uses pulses of light from an airplane to collect information about the earth’s surface, similar to how radar collects information about a vehicle or other object’s speed. The data collected using LiDAR can be used to digitally model the surface of a landscape in great detail.

The project will begin with extensive field surveys to locate and record the location of existing stream channels with GPS to accurately establish where channels begin. The team will then compare this baseline data with different techniques for high-resolution mapping in order to improve the mapping of small streams. These narrow waterways are often under-represented in existing stream datasets.

This project, highly ranked as part of the Trust's grant review process, has the potential to greatly advance how and where we as a community support restoration projects said Jana Davis, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Trust. With new information developed from these efforts, we will be able to maximize efficiency of restoration programs.

The Chesapeake Conservancy is grateful for this opportunity provided by the Chesapeake Bay Trust and is excited to partner with UMBC. This project will bring together decades of scientific and geospatial experience and create scientifically rigorous methodologies that have the potential to work across a variety of different scales and landscapes, Chesapeake Conservancy Director of Conservation Technology Jeff Allenby said. Accurate stream maps are critical to our understanding of how terrestrial and aquatic systems are connected throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. As we develop a better understanding of how water moves throughout this network, we will improve our ability to effectively direct conservation and restoration efforts where they are most needed and track progress in our goals of improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

LiDAR surface models hold great potential for mapping streams because stream channels carved by running water are readily visible, Chesapeake Conservancy Geospatial Analyst David Saavedra said. By utilizing LiDAR, we will be able to map streams with greater detail and accuracy, creating an invaluable resource for conservation and restoration planning.

Mapping stream channels is a deceptively complex undertaking that has long plagued scientists and geographers alike says UMBC Geography & Environmental Systems Professor Matthew Baker. Working with the Conservancy and their dedicated team, I think there is great potential to streamline the translation of new knowledge directly into application in service of Bay restoration.

The partnership expects to complete the project by June of 2018.


About the Chesapeake Bay Trust

The Chesapeake Bay Trust ( is a nonprofit grant-making organization dedicated to improving the natural resources of Maryland and the Chesapeake region through environmental education, community engagement, and local watershed restoration. The Trust engages hundreds of thousands of individuals annually in projects that have a measurable impact on the waterways and other natural resources of the region. The Trust is supported by the sale of the Treasure the Chesapeake license plate, donations to the Chesapeake Bay and Endangered Species Fund on the Maryland State income tax form, donations from individuals and corporations, and partnerships with private foundations and federal and state agencies. The Trust has received the highest rating from Charity Navigator for fourteen years: 92 percent of the Trust's expenditures are directed to its restoration and education programs.


About the Chesapeake Chesapeake Conservancy

The Chesapeake Conservancy's mission is to strengthen the connection between people and the watershed; conserve the landscapes and special places that sustain the Chesapeake's unique natural and cultural resources; and restore landscapes, rivers, and habitats in the Chesapeake Bay region. We empower the conservation community with access to the latest data and technology. As principal partner for the National Park Service on the John Smith Chesapeake Trail, we helped create 108 new public access sites and permanently protect some of the Bay's special places like Werowocomoco, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park, and Fort Monroe National Monument.


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