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GIS Monthly Maps 2021

The Teagasc 'Map of the Month' is a series of mapscreated by the spatial analysis unit. They use a number of scouces to create these maps including the Ordnance Survey of Ireland, the Central Statistics Office, and Earth observation satellites, and remote sensing technologies. In 2021 11 maps were created these can be viewed below.  

January - The development of soil mapping in Ireland

Cartographers: Dr Jesko Zimmermann & Réamonn Fealy

From 2021 onwards, many of the monthly maps will also be presented in a new format. As well as the classic static format, we will be providing interactive online maps for a more engaging experience. The maps will be presented either as classic interactive web maps or, such as this month’s entry, as an ESRI StoryMap, which merge  descriptive texts, images, and interactive maps into a single story.

As these interactive offerings require a stable broadband connection to function properly, we will continue to publish accompanying static maps in the classic PDF format.

Our first interactive map (and our first map of 2021) will focus on the dvelopment of soil mapping in Ireland.

 View interactive story map here 

 View map in pdf format here:

The development of soil mapping in Ireland (classic static format)

Mapping soils has a long history in the Republic of Ireland. From the beginning on Teagasc and its predecessor organisation An Foras Talúntais have been central to the efforts to get a comprehensive picture of the soils in Ireland. Starting with the establishment of the National Soil Survey in 1959, a substantial effort has been put into building several national, regional and county soil maps.

In this month’s map we are looking at the main outputs of soil mapping projects in Ireland. These include three main campaigns. The first campaign was the already mentioned An Foras Talúntais National Soil Survey (NSS) which was established in 1959. The aim of the NSS was to create a national soil map, as well as, and building from, detailed county maps. Based on an extensive national sampling campaign, the NSS published the first national General Soil Map for Ireland in 1969 (https://www.rte.ie/archives/2019/0723/1064698-ireland-soil-map/). The county surveys continued until 1989, when the NSS was discontinued with about 44 % of the country covered.

In 1998 the Teagasc Spatial Analysis Unit was established. As part of the Irish Forest Soils project, the first national indicative soil map was created. The map incorporated existing information from the previous soil surveys, and used remote sensing and GIS techniques applied to a wide range of factors, including topography, land use, and bedrock, to create a predictive model of soil types.

The most recent soil map was created as part of the Irish Soils Information System (SIS) which was cofounded by the EPA and Teagasc. Published in 2014, the new national soil association map was initially designed to meet EU requirements for pan-European harmonised soil mapping. It was the first national soil map at a scale of 1:250,000. Similar to the Irish Forest Soils soil map, the SIS map was based on predictive modelling based on a broad range of spatial environmental information as well as a focussed soil sampling field campaign.  

February - North-facing slopes: Topography and the start of spring 

Cartographers: Dr Jesko Zimmermann & Dr Stuart Green

As last month's map, the February Map of the Month will be presented as both a the classic static PDF map, and an interactive story map.

 View interactive story map here 

 View map as pdf here: 

North-facing slopes: Topography and the start of spring (classic static map)

Topography describes many aspects of the physical landscape we live in. The topography is also intrinsically linked to the natural forces that shape the surface of the earth, as well as human life (as shown in an earlier Map of the Month, showing how elevation is linked to stocking density).

With regard to the natural forces, topography is both defined by, and defines how these forces interact with the land. Climate and hydrology, for example, have shaped the surface through weathering and erosion, where rivers cut deep valleys into the ground, and even mountains are slowly ground down (impressively shown in the Burren). Parts of Scandinavia are still rising, after being pushed down by the sheer weight of the glacial ice sheets of the last ice age.

At the same time, the surface influences the weather we experience, as clouds precipitate their excess water as rain as they cross mountain ranges, leaving the land beyond drier. Rivers follow the gradient of the landscape as defined by slope and shape, while at the same time imposing their influence on the land surface.

The island of Ireland was significantly defined and moulded by the last ice age, and is still rich in glacial land forms, including the rolling drumlins of the border counties, glacial lakes such as Coumshingaun Lough (Co. Waterford), glaciated valleys, and even a fjord on the coast of Co Galway. Beyond these, Ireland is also renowned for the many mountain ranges, and steep cliffs. And in many areas, topography has had a direct impact on the timing and practice of agriculture.

The specific measures of topography we are covering in this map are elevation, slope, and slope aspect (i.e. which direction the slope is exposed to).

Elevation and slope define the shape of hills and mountains. They can be high or low and steep or gentle. Elevation in particular has both a direct and indirect impact on the weather. The adiabatic gradient describes the increase or reduction in air temperature due to changes in air pressure, influenced by elevation. The changes in temperature and pressure also change the capacity of air to hold water. As air rises up a slope this capacity decreases, resulting in precipitation.

Slope also has considerable impact on the natural landscape. It determines the catchments of rivers, water retention, and influences nutrient and pollutant flows. It also impacts the ability of soils to form at a location, and determines the accessibility of landscapes to humans.

The aspect, or the cardinal direction of the slope, also has an important influence on local climate. In the northern hemisphere, north-facing slopes receive less direct exposure to the sun, therefore being generally cooler, and more humid, while south-facing slopes are warmer and drier. This has direct implications for agriculture, where south-facing slopes are generally preferable for growing a large variety of crops.

The particular example of the impact of topography on agriculture presented in this month’s map is the start of spring grazing. The driver of growth is soil temperature, and sufficient temperature is required for grass growth to occur. This is mainly seen in the change in cattle turning out date with latitude. Research has shown that the start of the grazing season in Ireland is delayed on average by a day for every 16km travelled northward.

But soil temperature is not only affected by latitude. As highlighted above, local climate is intrinsically linked to topography. Soil on higher, north-facing slopes will warm up slower, effectively slowing the start of spring. The effect has not been quantified on local scales. However, in this map we show areas with a slope greater than 5 degrees (or 8.75 %), facing northward (293 to 67 degrees), and greater than 100 m above sea level (in order to exclude micro relief in the midlands), where topography will likely have an impact on the optimal turn out dates for livestock.

March - Saint Patrick in Ireland: Names and places

Cartographers: Dr Jesko Zimmermann & Dr Rob O'Hara

For Saint Patrick’ Day we have a special map, dedicated to Ireland’s patron saint. The static map provides an overview of the townlands and settlements deriving their names from Saint Patrick, including a short summary of the mythology, while the interactive map is a journey to the places most famously associated with Ireland's patron saint. 

 View interactive map here  

 View map as a pdf hereSaint Patrick in Ireland: Names and places (classic static version)

Saint Patrick is associated with hundreds of places around Ireland, from towns and townlands, to hills and lakes, to street names and buildings. There are several well-known stories about Patrick, but what’s real and what’s legend? What we actually know about Patrick is sparse. He was born into a religious family in post-Roman Britain in the late fourth century, and taken to Ireland by Irish slavers when he was 16. He escaped, returning years later to proselytise the pagan Irish in the northern half of Ireland.

His writings make no reference to shamrock, nothing on snakes, no mention of Paschal Fires or fights with kings. These were all later embellishments to a narrative of Patrick written centuries later to support the hegemony of his cult and the See of Armagh above others, for example those of Bridget in Kildare or Ciaran in Clonmacnoise.

This month’s map takes us on a journey of the real-world sites associated with Patrick’s legend. The static map shows the townlands and settlements across the island of Ireland referencing Patrick in their names, and provides insights into the features these names refer, of which the majority are churches and wells

The interactive story map provides a journey to the most important places in the myth of Saint Patrick, providing insights to famous places associated with Patrick, such as Slemish, Croagh Patrick, and Armagh.

We wish you all a happy Saint Patrick’s Day.

Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona daoibh.

April - Wildfires in Ireland

Cartographer: Dr Stuart Green

 View map here: Wildfires in Ireland (PDF)

The wildfires in the Killarney National Park are devastating to the environment, farmers and tourism businesses. But they are not the only fires currently being tackled around the country. The ongoing dry spell has left many areas vulnerable.

The fires are so large they are detectable by satellite and online services are available that automatically detect and map "thermal anomalies". The red areas on the map are thermal anomalies detected by the VIIRS sensor on the NOAA-20 satellite on 25th April 2021. The map is updated twice daily and available on NASA's Fire Information for Resource Management Service. Find it here https://firms2.modaps.eosdis.nasa.gov/

May - Radar blocking topography: What Shannon cannot see

Cartographers: Dr Jesko Zimmermann & Azucena Jiménez-Castañeda

 View map here: Radar blocking topography: What Shannon cannot see

Weather forecast is a complex task involving climate models, as well as monitoring of current conditions. Besides the networks of weather stations across Ireland, recording a multitude of parameters such as temperature, rainfall, relative humidity, wind speed, and others, Met Éireann apply weather radars. Radar is an acronym for "Radio Detection And Ranging". It is a military technology developed in the 1940s. It has been rapidly applied to meteorology, as it detects hydrometeors with a high spatiotemporal resolution. However, ground radar beams can be totally or partially blocked by orography, human-made structures and others, resulting in weakening or losing the signal. It compromises the quality of data from the radar. 

The maps shows the radar beam blockage in a 100km radius around the Shannon Airport weather radar station. The blockage is layered on top of an exaggerated topography map of Ireland. And it shows very well how hills and mountains block the radar beam. As seen on the map there are two aspects of the topography that drive the blockage. Firstly, the orientationof the obstacle. Secondly, the proximity of the obstacle to the source of the radar beam, in this case Shannon Airport. Even lower obstacles can obstruct a large proportion of the beam if they are close to the radar emitter.

June - Red sky at night, shepherd's delight: Weather and agriculture

Cartographers: Dr Jesko Zimmermann, Dr Rob O'Hara & Réamonn Fealy


View map here: Red sky at night, shepherd's delight

Continuing the theme from last month's map, we take a broader look at the Irish climate and how weather has been crucial to agriculture since days immemorial. This interactive map touches on the history of predicting the passage of seasons, and the recording of weather, gives an overview of the current climate and how it influences agriculture in Ireland, and takes a closer look at a specific colloquialism.

For the full story follow the link above.

July - Soil Sealing in Ireland

Cartographers: Dr Stuart Green & Dr Jesko Zimmermann

 View map here: Soil Sealing in Ireland

In the new Terrain AI project we’ll be exploring the relationship between land use and green house gas emissions. One of the topics of interest is the area and location of soil sealing- this is where the ground is covered with an artificial impervious layer- such as concrete. This category include roads, buildings, yards, carparks and lots of other manmade structures. Having accurate up-to-date maps of the location and extent of soil sealing is important for lots of areas besides climate studies – such as weather forecasts and water quality studies.

According to the ESA Copernicus services Ireland has very low percentage of soils sealing, only 1.2% of the country compared to Germany which has the highest amount (5.1%). Here we map a simple first attempt at looking at the degree of soil sealing in country based on an analysis of the OSI Prime 2 data. The data is presented as the percentage of area sealed per square km.

In the coming months we will be improving on the estimates of sols sealing using satellites and new products from Copernicus and the OSI.



August - Country living: Rural housing density in Ireland

Cartographers: Dr Jesko Zimmermann, Dr Rob O'Hara & Dr David Meredith

View map here: Country living: Rural housing density in Ireland

This month we looks at spatial patterns in rural housing densities. Housing in rural areas takes a variety of forms, ranging from housing estates on the edge of towns and villages, to clusters of houses and ‘one-off’ houses that are commonly built along roads (referred to as ribbon developments). Most rural housing is classified as ‘one-off’, i.e. defined as occupied detached houses with individual sewerage systems. The Central Statistics Office estimated that there were 616,828 permanent residential dwellings outside the 873 cities, towns and villages that make up Ireland’s urban fabric in 2016 with 442,669 classified as ‘one-off’ houses.    

In a report from the Census of Population 2016* the CSO provide an assessment of the percentage of the housing stock in each county that is classified as ‘one-off’ and an additional analysis of the distance of these houses from the nearest town. Whilst both analyses are useful, a more detailed assessment of the spatial pattern is required to visualise the distribution of rural housing.

In this month’s map we are using the OSI Prime2 buildings dataset to map the density of residential buildings in rural Ireland. Prime2 is a seamless spatial reference framework that has detailed information on approximately 50 million objects, including field outlines, fixed boundaries (e.g.fences, hedges, and stone walls), roads and rivers, and buildings. It is an invaluable source of spatial information on the Irish landscape.

To produce this map, we took all “residential” buildings in Prime2 and removed all buildings within urban areas (defined as falling inside areas defined as a settlement by the OSI) and the entire county of Dublin. A kernel density map for a 1 km2 grid was created using ArcGIS Pro. One artefact from this mapping approach are areas of low density around larger cities, which are the result of our exclusion of sub-urban housing and does not reflect the situation on the ground. The analysis creates an interpolation over space, as such the densities do not show the total number of residential buidlings in each square but a moving average across space. This makes it easier to recognise large scale patterns, and provide an additional layer of anonymisation since the analysis is based on precise locations of residential buidlings. 

The kernel density analysis shows an average density of 7.2 houses per km2. There are, however, some clear patterns visible on the map, with high concentrations of housing around urban centres (both large such as Dublin or Galway, and smaller centres such as Longford or Cavan) and along roads. According to the map the most densely housed areas is in the Galway commuter belt with up to 25 houses per km2 around Claregalway. There are also bands of high housing density in, for example, south Wexford, Kerry (especially around Tralee, and between Killarney and Killlorglin). Overlaying the density map with the major road network highlight the relationship between housing and road infrastructure.

The major driver of very low density is topography, with the areas of lowest density being situated in mountainous areas (such as the Wicklow Mountains) as well as areas of blanket bog (such as west Mayo).


* https://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/ep/p-cp1hii/cp1hii/od/

September - Commuting before the pandemic

Cartographers: Dr Stuart Green

View map here: Commuting before the pandemic

As some of us return to the work and college after 18 months working from home, we look at commuitng patterns before the pandemic. Here we show the direction the largest number of people in an electoral district (ED), who leave the ED for work or education, travel.
Each arrow is pointing from the centre of the home ED to the centre of the destination ED. The arrows are log weighted for number of commuters - so the longer the arrow, the more people are travelling and city centre destinations are aggregated.

The arrows point largely toward towns and along main roads, the urban centres acting like magetic poles drawing people in. Whilst more people commute into Dublin than anywhere else- it is not the destination for most commuters.
The majority of people live and work within the same ED or travel for less than 45mins.
Along the border, especially Donegal, you can see people commuting into Northern Ireland.

Data is from the CSO ED scale POWCAR dataset for 2016. Census 2016 Place of Work, School or College - Census of Anonymised Records (POWSCAR) - CSO - Central Statistics Office 


October - The Bioeconomy Ireland Week 2021 map series

In October we did not produce a single monthly map but a series of maps as part of the Bioeconomy Ireland week. These maps were created by the Department of Agrifood Business and Spatial Analsyis in collaboration with Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine (DAFM), Munster Technological University (MTU), the INCASE project, and the Irish Bioeconomy Foundation.

The map series can be found here.

November - Ireland from Abroad: Irish Land Cover and Land Use mapped internationally

Cartographers: Dr Stuart Green & Dr Jesko Zimmermann

View map here: Ireland from Abroad

The demand for mapped information on Irish land use and land cover is great. Whilst the OSI will publish a national land cover map 2022, there are a number of recent land cover and land use maps created at global or European scale that include Ireland. Many of these maps exploit both new developments in machine learning and the free availability of Sentinel satellite data from ESA Copernicus.

November’s map of the month presents some examples of these land cover and use maps of Ireland. They are all free to use and are easily accessible. The maps themselves have been created for a range of purposes and present at different scales and thematic detail. We haven’t assessed the accuracy of these maps for use in Ireland and any statistics on accuracy quoted by the providers are assessed at a global scale and they may not necessarily describe correctly the accuracy and utility in Ireland. They include the global maps from 2020 by ESA and ESRI, as well as the more well known Copernicus EU services along with others.

For the full story follow the link above.

December - Unearthing a medieval town: How technology revolutionised archaeology

Cartographers: Daniel O'Mahony & Dr Jesko Zimmermann

View map here: Unearthing a medieval town

For Christmas we takes a look at the area surrounding St. Nicholas' tomb near Jerpoint Abbey in Co. Kilkenny. As part of his Teagasc Walsh Scholarship, Daniel O'Mahony looks at improving the understanding of monuments on agricultural land. In this story map we explore the use of new technologies to communicate the story of Jerpoint and the abandoned village of Newtown to a wider audience. Using two specific techniques in particular (LIDAR and magnetic gradiometry) we bring the long lost settlement of back to life.