Our Program and Focus Areas

Innovative technology driving science solutions

The SFEI Environmental Informatics Program utilizes the latest technology and design concepts to deliver scientific information to a wide range of stakeholders in dynamic, expressive, and cogent ways. Web-based tools, such as EcoAtlas, California Rapid Assessment Method, and Contaminant Data Display and Download, form a lynchpin of SFEI’s success as a communicator of timely and salient scientific information.

  • Our Geographic Information Systems team rigorously describes and analyzes the world as it is, as it once was, and as it could be.
  • Our Data Services team, forming the core of SFEI’s Regional Data Center, offers a suite of analytical services for the Bay RMP, the California Environmental Data Exchange Network, and various local agencies and programs.
  • Using innovative data visualizations, our Application Development team produces tools that integrate disparate data sources to serve the needs of decision-makers and the public.
  • Our Design and Communications team provides the bridge between science and its intended audience through creative and thoughtful methods.
  • Our Systems team ensures the Institute’s computing infrastructure is robust, secure, and accessible to meet the growing requirements of our databases, websites, and tools.

The Environmental Informatics Program is unique among the programs and departments at SFEI, in that it has a dual role. The first role is to provide the basic computing infrastructure and technical support necessary for any functioning organization; the second is to seek opportunities to apply information technology to promote informed stewardship of the Estuary, both for SFEI and for groups outside the Institute.

Goals

  • Continue to increase SFEI’s stature as the place to go for Bay region environmental data, evidenced by:
    • Growth in traffic to all SFEI websites
    • Growth in the number of websites SFEI hosts
    • Growth in the number of external requests for information
  • Increase the number of funded projects to manage and/or host Bay environmental data
  • Continue to break ground on providing clear, understandable, relevant information products to a variety of audiences
  • Maintain a high level of staff satisfaction with internal computing infrastructure and technical support

SFEI’s Environmental Informatics team, working in collaboration with its scientists, explores the frontiers of geodesign and alternative future planning, and facilitates discovery to inform decision-making at all levels of natural resource management.

For additional information, please contact Program Director Tony Hale or Program Manager Cristina Grosso.

 

Geographic Information Services, or GIS, is a powerful dynamic tool that allows complex analyses to be applied to the landscape. SFEI uses this technology to create practical tools that support better decision-making and promote smart solutions for environmental problems.

SFEI’s GIS focus area supports the Institute’s mission through data production, mapping expertise, spatial analysis, and application development. The department serves three major functions:

  • Improve, maintain, and act as a repository for local environmental data sets
  • Provide cartographic services to convey complex conditions and present science based solutions to diverse stakeholders
  • Leverage the latest technology to develop custom GIS tools and applications to address and analyze environmental problems

SFEI has invested in novel, cost-effective solutions to costly problems by capitalizing on recent advances in remote sensing and GIS technology, such as the use of drones (Unoccupied Aerial Systems), machine learning, and other automated mapping methodologies to address environmental challenges.

 

The Data Services (DS) team offers a suite of analytical services for the Bay RMP, the California Environmental Data Exchange Network (CEDEN), and various agencies and programs serving local and regional interests.

SFEI is the Regional Data Center (RDC) for the San Francisco Bay-Delta and northern montane regions. The Institute manages water quality, tissue, wetlands, historical, and spatial data, and develops tools for uploading, accessing, and visualizing data.

The DS team specializes in managing data associated with a variety of environmental sample types and standardizing results using consistent data vocabulary and business rules. SFEI’s Quality Assurance Officer and associated DS staff thoroughly review environmental results for accuracy, precision, sensitivity, contamination, and completeness.

Over 4 million environmental data records are maintained by the DS team in SFEI’s RDC database. Data approved for public release are disseminated through SFEI’s Contaminant Data Display and Download tool (CD3).

Learn more about our services, and please contact us if you would like help making your data publicly available.

The Software Engineering focus area provides broad support wherever code-based solutions are needed for SFEI’s projects. In addition to supporting other SFEI Programs’ efforts, we build unique tools in service of other organizations. These tools synthesise, analyze, and visualize data created by SFEI and other scientific organizations. The resulting information products inform decision-making regarding our natural resources found across the State of California.

The Software Engineering team accordingly develops tools that are instrumental to operationalizing the science that SFEI and partners cultivate. The tools form a cornerstone to the success of many projects at SFEI, and the expertise of our software engineers encompasses a range of technical disciplines. Tasks may span from low-level security and efficiency issues, to data modeling and analysis scripts, to the creation of engaging visualizations, maps, and websites. The focus area also provides maintenance for version control tools and consultation for projects that require coding finesse.

Over the years, the Software Engineering team has developed enduring products, ranging from EcoAtlas, an innovative geospatial tool, with a 20-year history, to GreenPlan-IT, a toolset designed to address new and emerging concerns related to urban greening. Whatever the specific project, product, and goals, the Software Engineering focus area values efficiency, modularity, reusability, and legibility and are always excited to engage with new technologies, solutions, and collaborations.

The Institute's Design and Communications team exercises tasks vital to effective public information distribution. The team ensures that the key messages developed through the course of the Institute's scientific reports and technological innovations reach the target audience in the most credible and effective way.

To achieve this primary goal, our designers work closely with both external stakeholders and internal scientists and technologists to maximize impact for new tools, solve communications problems in project outputs, and lend a distinctive style to reports.

Over the years, this talented team has come to define the look and feel of SFEI's most notable output. EcoAtlas, a tool for visualizing aquatic resources, has benefited from the work of the Design and Communications team. Furthermore, the Pulse, RMP's flagship publication, offers a visually compelling view on the Bay's status as the state's most critical estuary. The team enjoys a reputation for excellence among science communicators and looks forward to working with you on your next project. 

SFEI's Information Technology Systems team forms the backbone of the technology productivity at the Institute. We support and maintain a wide breadth of hardware and software platforms to ensure staff have the tools they need to perform their work efficiently. Across both local and cloud-hosted servers, we host websites, tools and high performance computing systems to drive a multitude of scientific research objectives and products. The IT Systems team delivers regular training and communications to keep staff apprised about important changes to the technology on which they rely. We conduct full cycle change management processes from needs assessment to go-live implementation to ensure successful adoption of new systems. Through careful planning and coordination and, when necessary, deft troubleshooting, we keep a complex network operating smoothly and facilitate continuous innovation through adaptation and renewal.

Website Hosting and Management

SFEI continues to expand website hosting and management services, both for SFEI projects and for external partners. Notable sites include:

  • sfei.org — Main SFEI site
  • ecoatlas.org — EcoAtlas, a tool for visualizing the condition and extent of California's aquatic resources
  • cd3.sfei.org — CD3, a tool for visualizing and downloading water quality data in the SFEI data center
  • enviz.org — Environmental Visualization, a dynamic time-series visualization tool
  • cramwetlands.org — CRAM wetland assessments
  • sfestuary.org — San Francisco Estuary Project site (partner site)
  • wrmp.org — Wetlands Regional Monitoring Program
  • southbayrestoration.org — South Bay Salt Ponds restoration (partner site)

Infrastructure

SFEI has assembled an array of hardware and software infrastructure to serve multiple needs. The resources include 16 physical servers; various database technologies; numerous web servers, application frameworks and libraries; GIS software including ArcGIS and ArcSDE; Web GIS technologies, including ArcGIS Server, GeoServer, Mapserver, Openlayers, Google Maps API; Offsite backup; Self-starting diesel backup generator to protect all servers and desktops; server colocation and cloud-based hosting options.

Projects Related to the Environment Informatics Program

Photo Credits: Micha Salomon (L), Dee Shea Himes (R)

Healthy Watersheds Resilient Baylands

Through the Healthy Watersheds Resilient Baylands project, SFEI and sixteen partner organizations are developing multi-benefit tools to enhance climate change resilience in San Francisco Bay. Healthy Watersheds Resilient Baylands has three major components: Making Nature’s City: a Science-based Framework for Building Urban Biodiversity, Tidal Wetlands Restoration and Implementation Projects.

Photo credit: Shira Bezalel

SediMatch Web Tool

SediMatch is a web tool for matching restoration projects that need sediment with navigational and flood protection dredging projects and other "sediment suppliers" throughout the region to meet current and future sediment supply needs.

Resilient Silicon Valley

Tools for the creation of a resilient Silicon Valley ecosystem.

Historical Wetlands of the Southern California Coast: An Atlas of US Coast Survey T-Sheets 1851-1889

This project is the first regional assessment of the relative distribution and abundance of different wetland habitat types along the historical Southern California coastline ("South Coast"). The extent of South Coast wetlands has been dramatically reduced over the past 150 years, and there are now many large-scale efforts to recover some of these environments.

U.S. Coast Survey Maps of California (South Coast)

Until the advent of this new map viewer, a valuable resource was largely unavailable to coastal planners. Now, US Coastal Survey maps are free for broad use.

Head of Tide

SFEI completed a pilot study focused on creating a framework for a rapid protocol that can be used to delineate the current and future head of tide zone for San Francisco Bay tributaries using both “desktop” and field investigations.

Shallow Groundwater Response to Sea Level Rise

As sea levels rise and extreme storms become more frequent, communities are developing climate adaptation plans to protect housing, jobs, ecosystems, and infrastructure from flooding. However, these plans often neglect an important potential flood hazard – emergent groundwater. Shallow groundwater in coastal communities will rise as sea levels rise, increasing the risk of flooding communities from below. The threat of rising groundwater levels was identified by the Coastal Hazards Adaptation and Resiliency Group as a critical data gap in regional climate resilience planning.

Regional Data Center

SFEI is one of the state's Regional Data Centers that exchanges water quality data to the California Environmental Data Exchange Network (CEDEN). SFEI provides data management and visualization services to the San Francisco Bay-Delta and northern montane regions.

Wetlands Regional Monitoring Project

This Prop 50 - funded project was a three-year effort to monitor and track changes in Bay Area wetland condition. This wetland monitoring toolkit meets basic information needs for managing wetlands: to develop a scientific framework with standard methods for monitoring wetlands and for interpreting the results, and to regularly report the findings to the public. These monitoring tools are intended to help provide a public measure of the environmental costs or benefits of most wetland management actions.

Monitoring San Francisco Bay for microplastics - photo by Plus M Productions

Microplastic Pollution in San Francisco Bay and Adjacent Marine Sanctuaries

Plastic pollution is gaining global recognition as a threat to the resilience and productivity of ocean ecosystems. However, we are only just beginning to understand the scope and impacts of microplastic particles (less than 5 mm) on coastal and ocean resources, and the San Francisco Bay Area is no exception. A preliminary study of nine water sites in San Francisco Bay, published in 2016, showed greater levels of microplastics than the Great Lakes or Chesapeake Bay.

Publications related to the Environment Informatics Program

The Institute has collectively produced more than 1300 reports, articles, and other publications over the course of its 24-year existence. The following list represents those publications associated with this individual program and its focus areas.

Year of Publication: 2016

Doehring C, Beagle J, Lowe J, Grossinger RM, Salomon M, Kauhanen P, et al.. San Francisco Bay Shore Inventory: Mapping for Sea Level Rise Planning. Richmond, CA: San Francisco Estuary Institute; 2016 . Report No.: 779.  (20.33 MB)

Year of Publication: 2015

Hale T, Azimi-Gaylon S, Fong S, Goodwin P, Isaac G, Osti A, et al.. Enhancing the Vision for Managing California's Environmental Information. Sacramento, CA: Delta Stewardship Council; 2015 . Report No.: 792.  (1.16 MB)

Where Our Environment Informatics Program Works