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Critical Habitat Mapping

Image credit: Hatfield Consultants




Component products

Integrated Product

  • Elevation
  • Geomorphology map
  • Land cover characterization
  • Land use characterization
  • Linear disturbance features
  • Reservoir compartmentalization
  • Slope, curvature, aspect
  • Surficial geology/soil type
  • Tree cover density
  • Tree height
  • Vegetation type; forest type
  • Waterbody extent
  • Waterbody nutrients/productivity
  • Waterbody volume/bathymetry
  • Wet areas (inc. ephemeral)


  • Environmental monitoring -  Baseline historic mapping of environment and ecosystems
  • Environmental monitoring -  Continuous monitoring of changes throughout the lifecycle
  • Logistics planning and operations  - Facility siting, pipeline routing and roads development
  • Seismic Planning - Identification of environmentally sensitive areas

Geo-information requirements

  • Critical habitat identification
  • Detailed land cover information
  • Detailed land use information
  • Lithology, geology and structural properties of the near surface
  • Precision ortho-images
  • Terrain information
  • Topographic information
  • Water quality identification
  • Water quantity identification


EO data can support assessment of critical habitat when experts integrate and evaluate the status of key biophysical factors that are used to determine critical habitat.

Habitat mapping and assessment covers diverse environments depending on a project’s needs, including: terrestrial, freshwater aquatic, and coastal foreshore / intertidal. Habitat assessment and monitoring is a requirement in many jurisdictions under legislation such as national or state environmental assessment acts, and may also be required to meet international standards (e.g., International Finance Corporation Performance Standard 6: Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Management of Living Natural Resources).

Terrestrial habitat

Terrestrial habitat is influenced by factors such as latitude, altitude, aspect, and regional climatic parameters including temperature, moisture and wind regimes (e.g. WWF Ecoregions), many of which can be estimated from EO methods. Soils and available nutrients further influence habitat types and vegetation species, which in turn govern animal distribution and abundance patterns. An important issue for terrestrial habitat assessment is fragmentation. Methods developed in landscape ecology can be employed to evaluate landscape structure, and estimate effects on biodiversity. Metrics such as patch size, isolation, and edge effects and linear disturbance can all be evaluated from EO-derived land cover information. Water availability and quality is important in defining terrestrial and freshwater aquatic habitat. EO methods can be used to determine lake and river extent, and changes in extent and volume. Hydrological analysis to determine catchments and stream gradients may useful for determining limits of fish ranges. Wetland habitat can be evaluated for its extent, seasonality and distribution.

Coastal marine habitat

These environments are influenced by conditions in adjacent terrestrial and marine environments, and in turn can have far reaching effects on adjacent terrestrial systems. They provide important habitat for a diversity of wildlife that includes shorebirds, intertidal invertebrates, and coastal fish. Several aspects of coastal foreshore/intertidal critical habitat can be mapped and monitored by EO in similar ways as for freshwater. The extent of important habitat such as mangroves and seagrass can be monitored from EO methods, with improved hyperspectral satellite sensors increasing the efficacy of habitat delineation (e.g., HSI aboard EnMAP). Monitoring of tidal range (low and high water marks) and tidal flat extent (which constitutes important habitat) is possible from EO (optical and radar).

Critical habitat

“Critical habitat” extent is defined as part of corporate commitments to avoid environmental and social impacts, usually according to a standard such as the IFC Performance Standard 6. Critical habitat products would include summary information regarding the criteria used by experts to define critical habitat, in large part based on EO derived products and GIS analysis.

Known restrictions / limitations

  • The level of detail in habitat type classes often requested by ecologists requires significant ground data collection. Habitat mapping and critical habitat evaluation requires environmental and EO expertise.
  • Surficial geology / soils may be difficult to determine from EO in temperate and tropical regions.

Lifecycle stage and demand











Pre-license/Exploration: Disturbance inventories and effects of cumulative impacts are assessed to put prospective development into a regional context. Protected or critical areas affect exploration and development planning.

Development: Baseline environmental assessment and environmental impact assessment to avoid critical habitat impacts or implement appropriate mitigations. Construction monitoring.

Production: monitoring for potential impacts of production activities on critical habitat.

Decommissioning: Remediation or enhancement of habitat. Monitoring success of decommissioning.

Geographic coverage and demand

Demand is global, especially in areas of highly developed or fragmented natural habitat or where unique critical habitat is known to exist.

Challenges Addressed

OTM:013  Flagging environmentally sensitive areas prior to seismic surveys

OTM:017  Identification of seasonal environment changes

OTM:030  Ecosystem valuation of potential site

OTM:031  Creating an ecosystem inventory prior to exploration

OTM:032  Detecting ecosystem damages

OTM:041  Vegetation encroachment on O&G asset

OTM:067  Change detection of coastline migration

HC:1301  Identify sensitive habitat to minimise and manage impacts of activities

HC:4101  Assess fragmentation of natural habitat and cumulative disturbance

HC:4104  Mapping of forest extent and quality for environmental baseline and/or impact assessment

HC:4108  Assess habitat quality for key species for environmental baseline and/or impact assessment

HC:4109  Understand temporal and spatial extent of usable fish habitat to maintain acceptable levels

HC:4202  Map coastal habitat and built environment/settlement sensitivity to strengthen tactical oil spill response and preparedness

HC:4206  Monitoring lake and wetland levels and recharge rates following water use for exploration/operations

HC:4209  Monitor onshore pipeline right of way (RoW) to evaluate successions of vegetation communities

HC:5307  Assess coastal environment for infrastructure planning


Input data sources

Optical: VHR1 or VHR2 (bathymetry and tidal range), HR1, HR2, MR1, MR2

Radar: HR2

Supporting data: Wildlife range maps, soils information, and climatology

Spatial resolution and coverage

5–30 m for land use / land cover classes and water extent (optical and radar).

1 m or better for bathymetry.

90+ m for thermal imaging.

Minimum Mapping Unit (MMU)

Areas between approximately 5 to 40 hectares represent minimum terrestrial habitat patch sizes for many wildlife species; however, sensor resolution allows accurate classification of features as small as approximately 400 m2 (at 5 m resolution).

Accuracy / constraints

Thematic accuracy: land cover/land use and water extent 80-90%.

 Spatial accuracy: As determined from component products.

Accuracy assessment approach & quality control measures

Statistical confusion matrix with user’s and producer’s accuracy for land cover / land use and water extent. In-situ measurements.

Frequency / timeliness

Observation frequency: Based on frequency of satellite imagery, but typically 2 – 20 days. Habitat should be evaluated early in the project life cycle and monitored yearly.

Timeliness of delivery: Initial product outputs can be derived quickly (1 – 2 days). Analysis, modelling and mapping require more time (2 – 4 weeks).


On-demand availability from commercial suppliers.

New acquisitions can be requested globally.

Delivery / output format

Data type:

  • Raster
  • Vector
  • Tabular

File format:

  • Geotiff
  • Shapefile or any other OGC standard file formats
  • Standard office formats


 Download product sheet.


Lead Author: Hatfield Consultants
Peer Reviewer:OTM/GeoVille


Barry Pierce

Document Title:

Critical Habitat Mapping

# of Pages:



Internal – Project consortium and science partners


External – ESA




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