Today, The Nature Conservancy and partners release highly accurate elevation data for Northampton and Accomack counties on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. The Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data were collected by aircraft using light pulses to derive elevations of features on the ground. The flights were managed by the Virginia Geographic Information Network, a division of the Virginia Information Technologies Agency, and funded by the Conservancy, University of Virginia’s Long-Term Ecological Research project and U.S. Geological Survey. The new highly accurate data fill an important void in information needed for county planners and resource managers to plan for coastal hazards, emergency services, infrastructure development and conservation projects. Higher-accuracy elevation data can improve decision-making to benefit people and nature along Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
“The Nature Conservancy saw a major data gap for the Eastern Shore of Virginia and stepped in to help raise the money and ensure the data was compatible with the National Elevation Data,” said Stephen Parker, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Virginia Coast Reserve. “The new elevation data can be used to assess the vulnerability of infrastructure, various land uses, property and habitats to accelerated sea-level rise and storm surges, as well as stormwater management and agricultural drainage and irrigation issues. The information will also guide critical research and conservation work at the Virginia Coast Reserve, the largest stretch of undeveloped shoreline on the East Coast.”
For over 40 years, The Conservancy has worked with the public and private sector to protect coastal and mainland habitat on the Eastern Shore, including restoration of sea grass and oyster reefs. The new elevation data will inform ongoing and new conservation initiatives improving the resilience of natural systems in the wake of coastal flooding and accelerated sea-level rise. With funding from the Virginia Environmental Endowment, NOAA and the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Conservancy and partners will use nature-based solutions such as living shorelines and habitat restoration as alternatives to traditional hard-structure engineering and armoring approaches to preventing shoreline erosion.
“The Conservancy is helping coastal communities on the Eastern Shore by providing county planners and decision makers with the information they need to consider infrastructure projects such as roads, electricity and water as well as the provision of emergency services,” Parker added. “It’s about resiliency. Coastlines move and change over time, and as climate change brings higher seas and more intense storms, communities need to continuously adapt. Better data can help inform better decisions, and action taken now can save money and lives.”
The attached maps are examples of the higher resolution detail now available. The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Geological Survey and University of Virginia Long-Term Ecological Research project paid $152,000 to collect the LiDAR data, but are making it available free of charge to the public. County officials, media and interested residents can access the data through contacting the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission, and soon the data will be available to the public via NOAA’s Digital Coast Data Access Viewer.
Comparison of the image data previously available for the Eastern Shore's southern tip with the new LiDAR image:
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.