Earth observations help Atlanta manage water, urban forests

The NASA DEVELOP program has helped The Nature Conservancy put together a plan for water quality. CONTRIBUTED

The NASA DEVELOP program has helped The Nature Conservancy put together a plan for water quality. CONTRIBUTED

The Georgia chapter of The Nature Conservancy has been formulating a plan for one of the city’s potential challenges—its water supply.

Part of TNC’s North American Cities program, which emphasizes a greater role for nature in urban settings, the plan promotes greenspace as an alternative to traditional stormwater infrastructure, like costly culverts and drains. TNC advocates re-introducing natural buffers while protecting existing ones. This “green” infrastructure helps decrease urban runoff and also reduces the amount of pollutants entering local waterways.

Aspects of the plan were outlined in the most recent issue of the NASA Science newsletter.

“The spatial analysis with the NASA DEVELOP team has been really valuable in that it helped us to really think about what are the criteria that we want to use when prioritizing places that will work.” Sara Gottlieb of TNC.

DEVELOP teams integrated data from Landsat and Terra into land-use models to locate reforestation targets as well as identify locations that impacted local water quality. The teams applied the results to create a land-use prioritization map of metropolitan Atlanta’s major watersheds.

DEVELOP Lead Christopher Cameron said the project identified a few specific areas where TNC could focus its conservation efforts. “Reforestation and green space development opportunities exist along several waterways adjacent to Atlanta,” he noted. The project also indicated which communities were major sources of runoff that additional green infrastructure could help minimize.

TNC received that crucial, fine-detailed information it was lacking. Myriam Dormer, an urban conservation associate at TNC, remarked, “Now we have a smaller subset of places within Atlanta where we can target reforestation projects and then target engagement strategies.”

Gottlieb affirmed, “The results of these analyses will be used immediately to inform decisions about land protection and reforestation to benefit communities by protecting drinking water supplies, providing opportunities for outdoor recreation, and serving as educational settings to demonstrate the importance of maintaining greenspace in urban areas.”

DEVELOP is a national training and development program for individuals to gain experience applying Earth observations through 10-week interdisciplinary projects with state and local governments, and other organizations. Information: