Explore the Living Atlas website

ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World contains thousands of layers contributed by GIS users around the world. These layers allow you to quickly find, integrate, and analyze information from a wide variety of disciplines. In this scenario, you are a researcher preparing to study the potential impact of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is being built on the Nile River in eastern Africa. Before you can begin, you need to learn about current water levels in the region. You'll start by exploring the content available in Living Atlas.

Browse and search for content

The easiest way to explore the content available in ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World is through its website.

  1. Browse to https://livingatlas.arcgis.com.
  2. At the top of the page, sign in to your ArcGIS Online account.

    On the Home tab, you can search for content and read blogs and articles about new content and GIS methods. On the Browse tab, you can view the full catalog of Living Atlas content, including layers, web maps, applications, files, and more.

  3. Click the Browse tab.

    Browse tab on the Living Atlas website

    Here you can browse by category or search for a phrase. To begin your research, you're hoping to find some global data collected by satellites.

  4. In the search bar, type water and press Enter.

    Results for the search term water

    More than a thousand results are returned. Below the search bar are categories for Trending, Basemaps, Imagery, Boundaries, People, Infrastructure, and Environment. These can help you narrow your search.

  5. Click the Environment button.

    Environment filter button selected

    You now have a smaller subset of results about a wide range of topics such as weather, fires, and land cover.

  6. For Filters, for content types, choose Layers.

    Layers selected in the All content types filter menu

    There's still a lot of content available. You can filter it further.

  7. For the Region filter, choose World.
  8. Scroll through the filtered list of layers and find the item named GLDAS Soil Moisture 2000 – Present. Click the thumbnail image.

    Thumbnail image on the GLDAS Soil Moisture 2000 - Present item card

    The item details page for the Soil Moisture layer appears. This information tells you that the layer shows monthly soil moisture content from 2000 to the present and is provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

    Living Atlas content is contributed by many different people and groups, not only large organizations like NASA. But it is all curated and must meet certain requirements—including metadata—before it is included in the catalog. In Living Atlas, you'll always get a fully documented description of the data and its sources.

  9. Click Open in Map Viewer to see how this layer looks on a map. If prompted to sign in, do so.

    A new map opens, displaying the global soil moisture layer.

    Global soil moisture layer, with all land colored in a range of pale yellow to dark blue

  10. In the pane, click Legend.

    Legend button

    The legend explains that the colors represent millimeters (mm) of soil moisture. Yellow areas have less moisture, and blue areas have more.

  11. Zoom to northeast Africa and click the map in the area of the Nile Delta, north of Cairo, Egypt.

    A pop-up appears that provides more information about the soil moisture of that area.

    Pop-up for the Nile Delta region showing Soil Moisture Content of 321 mm and a bar chart

    Soil moisture in this area is very low, which makes sense, because it is part of the Sahara Desert region. But this land also supports a lot of agriculture, thanks to irrigation from the Nile River. You need to compare more layers to better understand this story.

  12. Close the pop-up and the map.

    Living Atlas layers provide more than raw data. They often contain default symbology and pop-ups that provide a starting point for your maps and analysis. You may be used to accessing GIS data as tables and experimenting with visualization until you've discovered its patterns and trends. Living Atlas content provides information already visualized in an understandable way.

Explore global water balance in a Living Atlas application

Living Atlas is a great place to find authoritative data. But you can also access applications that have been built from this data, which turn layers into useful tools. Next, you'll explore an app to gain more context into water levels in both Ethiopia and Egypt.

  1. On the Living Atlas website, click the Apps tab.

    Apps tab on the Living Atlas website

    This page offers a curated set of apps. These apps do more than just show a dataset. They present information in a guided format that helps you better understand the data as you explore it.

  2. Scroll down and click the Water Balance App thumbnail.

    Thumbnail image for the Water Balance App

    Click View application.

    View Application button on the Water Balance App splash screen

    This app uses the same soil moisture layer you explored in the previous steps, but it offers a more detailed interpretation.

  3. In the search bar, type 11°12′55″N 35°05′35″E and press Enter.

    This is the location of the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam.

    Coordinates typed in the search bar

    A pink dot appears on the map in northwestern Ethiopia, and a chart appears at the bottom of the app, showing change in soil moisture over time.

  4. Hover over the middle chart and move from left to right to see how the data values change.

    Chart showing soil moisture varying between 450 and 650 mm in a regular pattern

    Soil moisture in this region shows a clear seasonal pattern. Moisture peaks for a few months of the year and then decreases. The variation in soil moisture between the rainy and dry seasons each year is usually around 200 mm.

    As you move the pointer along the middle chart, the chart on the far right displays the values of all analyzed years for each month. This makes it easier to see, for example, how July of the current year compares to July in previous years.

    Chart showing variable soil moisture levels for the month of July

    The highlands of Ethiopia form the headwaters for the Nile River. This area receives a fair amount of rain, so there is always moisture in the soil. Even its lowest value of 409 is relatively high compared to the Nile Delta region, which you'll explore next.

  5. In the search bar, type Nile Delta and press Enter.

    The highest soil moisture value in this dataset is still lower than 409. Additionally, the middle chart is relatively flat, indicating that this region has little variance in soil moisture. Instead of fluctuating with seasonal rains, as it does in Ethiopia, soil moisture here remains consistently low.

    Chart showing little variation in soil moisture over all years

    To the left is a list of values that also updates as you move the pointer over the middle chart. When precipitation is higher than runoff and evapotranspiration rates, soil moisture is in a state of recharge. Sometimes there may be a lot of precipitation, as there was in February 2012, but this is still exceeded by runoff and evapotranspiration. Even though there was a lot of rain that month, soil moisture was depleted.

    Precipitation, Runoff, and Evapotranspiration values for February 2012, with soil moisture in a state of depletion

    Soil Moisture is one of several layers that you can explore using the Water Balance App.

  6. At the top of the app, click the drop-down menu, which is currently set to Soil Moisture. In the menu, choose Precipitation.

    Precipitation in the application menu

    The map and charts update with information about precipitation but remain focused on Cairo. Zoom out until you can see most of Africa. On this map, you can see that Egypt receives far less rain than Ethiopia. Yet Egypt still has enough water to support agriculture and large cities. This water flows from Ethiopia, via the Nile River. If a new dam caused a reduction in water availability downstream, it could create problems for both Egypt and Sudan.

    Map of northern Africa, showing little precipitation in Sudan and Egypt

  7. Close the app and return to the Living Atlas website.
  8. Close the Water Balance App screen and scroll to the top of the page.
  9. Click the Contribute tab.

    Living Atlas content is always growing. On this page, you can learn about how to add your own data for others to find and use in their maps and analyses.

  10. Click the My Contributions tab.

    The maps, layers, and other content from your ArcGIS Online account are listed here. Before you can nominate one of your items to ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World, it must have a fully documented item detail page. Once it is nominated, a curator at Esri will review the item and communicate with you about its eligibility. To learn more about sharing your content with ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World, see the Share Your Content to ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World StoryMap tutorial.

  11. Close all tabs.

ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World allows you to find content for your GIS workflows or contribute your own content for others to use. Living Atlas doesn’t just provide raw data; it offers preconfigured layers, maps, and apps that provide greater context and understanding, making it faster and easier for you to find the trends and patterns you'll explore next.

You've learned how to browse and explore some of this content. Next, you'll add Living Atlas content to a map in ArcGIS Online and make some small changes that will allow you to choose which story to tell with the data.


Use Living Atlas in ArcGIS Online

In almost any mapping project, you need to configure, query, filter, and adapt data layers to answer the questions specific to your research and to communicate the messages important to your map. ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World provides more than preconfigured maps; it also provides fully customizable and interactive data you can use to build your own maps, analyses, and web applications.

Next, you'll explore urbanization patterns in the United States over time and space. Along the way you'll learn how to access Living Atlas layers in ArcGIS Online and how to customize these layers to suit the intent of your map.

Add Living Atlas layers to an ArcGIS Online map

Living Atlas content can be accessed and reviewed directly in ArcGIS Online. You don't need to leave your map or scene to find the data you need to build it.

  1. Go to ArcGIS Online and sign in to your account.
  2. At the top of the page, click the Map tab.

    Map tab in ArcGIS Online

    The map viewer opens. This is where you can create or edit maps.

  3. Zoom in on the map using the mouse wheel or the Zoom In button near the top of the map. Zoom to the lower 48 states of the United States.

    Zoom In button in the map viewer

    Before you add data to this map, you will give it a more neutral appearance.

  4. Click Basemap and choose Light Gray Canvas.

    Basemap gallery

    Note:

    This basemap and the others in the basemap gallery are part of Living Atlas. You can browse Living Atlas for more basemaps that aren't shown in the default list.

    Next, you'll search for data to add to your map.

  5. Click Add and choose Browse Living Atlas Layers.

    Browse Living Atlas Layers in the Add menu

    A list of layers appears in the pane, allowing you to browse Living Atlas content directly in ArcGIS Online. You can also filter this content and refine your search in much the same way you did on the Living Atlas website.

  6. Below the search bar, click the Filter button.

    A new pane appears, showing a list of Categories.

    Categories list in the Living Atlas Filter pane

    Each category has a number next to it, indicating the number of layers in that category. The numbers you see may be different because Living Atlas contains a growing and changing set of content.

  7. In the Categories list, click Environment.

    You can also narrow your search to your geographic area of interest.

  8. At the top of the pane, select Only show content within map area.

    Only show content within map area turned on

    For this map, you want to map developed land, so a layer showing land cover in the United States is useful.

  9. In the search bar, type land cover and press Enter.
  10. In the search results, find the item named USA NLCD Land Cover.

    There are three badges below the thumbnail for this item.

    Three badges on the USA NLCD Land Cover item card

    The Authoritative badge indicates that the organization that owns the item has been verified as an authoritative source. The Living Atlas badge indicates this item is included in Living Atlas. The Subscriber badge indicates that you must be signed in to an ArcGIS account to access this layer. When searching for data, it can be difficult to know which layers to use. These badges help you quickly find the highest quality and most trustworthy data.

  11. On the item card, click the layer's title.

    A new pane appears, showing item detail information for the layer.

    This is the same information that you saw on the item details pages when you were browsing the Living Atlas website, including a summary, description, credits, tags, and the terms of use.

    Tip:

    If you want to see this information on its own page, click the View full item details button next to the layer title.

    The description tells you that the data comes from the National Land Cover Database and groups land cover into classes that include development density.

  12. At the bottom of the item details pane, click Add to Map.

    Add to Map button at the bottom of the item details pane

    The layer appears on the map.

  13. Close the item details pane.
  14. At the top of the Living Atlas pane, click the back button.

    Back button at the top of the pane

  15. In the search bar above the map, type Las Vegas, NV and press Enter.
  16. Close the pop-up and zoom out until you can see the entire city.

    Las Vegas appears as a red area in the land-cover layer

    There are several years of data associated with this layer, so a time slider also appears below the map.

  17. On the time slider, click the Next button until you see the dates December 31, 2005 – December 31, 2006 at the bottom.

    The Next button on the time slider, which is set to display all of 2006

    If you were also watching the map, you may have noticed the landscape change as you moved through time.

  18. Click the Previous and Next buttons to compare land cover between 2005 and 2006.

    The red areas—representing developed land—grew dramatically during this year, when Las Vegas experienced a building boom.

    Las Vegas before and after the building boom in 2006.

  19. Zoom out until you see the lower 48 states of the U.S. again.

    Land-cover data covering the United States

  20. Click Content.

    Content button

  21. Click the layer name to reveal the legend.

    USA NLCD Land Cover layer expanded to show a legend of all land-cover types

    This layer classifies land into 20 categories. The red and pink categories that you saw in Las Vegas represent developed land, which is the focus of your map. The other colors are not important for studying urbanization patterns and may distract from your map's purpose. Next, you'll customize the land-cover map to show only developed land.

Configure an imagery layer from Living Atlas

You added a layer from ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World to a map in ArcGIS Online and spent some time exploring it. Next, you'll configure this layer to map urbanization patterns in the United States.

  1. Below the USA NLCD Land Cover layer name, click the More Options button and choose Image Display.

    More Options button

    The pane now provides display options for the land-cover layer.

  2. For Renderer, choose Developed Renderer.

    Many raster layers in Living Atlas provide not only raw data but also a series of processing templates—or renderers—that allow you to easily change how the data is displayed. The Developed Renderer displays only developed land.

    Color ramp with four pink and red symbols for developed land

  3. Click Apply.

    The map updates to show only pink and red areas. At this scale, you can see major cities.

    Map with all urban areas in the United States

    Next, you'll zoom to the East Coast.

  4. In the search bar, type Maryland and close the pop-up.

    You can now see the cities of Washington D.C., Baltimore, and Philadelphia.

    Urban areas on the East Coast of the United States

    The four red colors may be difficult for some map readers to distinguish. But you don't have to use the default colors.

  5. In the Image Display pane, click the Color Ramp menu.
  6. Scroll down and click the Cyan to Purple color ramp.

    The names of color ramps appear when you point to them.

    Cyan to Purple color ramp

  7. Click Apply and click Close.

    The map now shows urban areas in four distinct classes of density, making it easier to distinguish between downtown cores and suburban areas.

    Baltimore and surrounding areas with the cyan to purple color scheme

The pattern of developed land here is quite different from Nevada. On the East Coast, sparse dots cover the rural areas between large cities. If you zoom in farther, the resolution updates to show a dense network of roads and small towns. This contrasts with the desert city of Las Vegas, which showed little surrounding development, despite rapid growth.

Configure a feature layer from Living Atlas

With this map, you can see where people live. Much of the administration in the United States is managed at the county level, however, and you are curious about comparing those borders with actual settlement patterns. Next, you'll add a layer representing county boundaries to your map.

  1. Click Add and choose Browse Living Atlas Layers.

    Browse Living Atlas Layer in the Add menu

  2. Search for counties.
  3. Find the layer named USA Counties and click the Add button.

    Add button on the USA Counties item card

  4. Click the Back button to return to the Content pane.

    The Counties layer now covers the land-cover layer. Don't be discouraged, like many layers in Living Atlas, you can easily change its symbology to suit your needs and show county outlines.

  5. Hover over the new USA Counties layer and click the Change Style button.

    Change Style button on the USA Counties layer

  6. On the Location (Single symbol) card, click Options.

    Options button on the Location (Single symbol) style card

  7. Click Symbols.

    Symbols button

    A symbol properties window appears.

  8. Under Fill, click No color (shown as a box with a red line through it).

    No color button below the color grid

  9. Click Outline and click the gray square in the bottom corner of the color grid.

    Select grey color #999999 under Outline

  10. Click OK.

    The outlines are still distracting from the settlement patterns, so you will make them transparent.

  11. In the Change Style pane, adjust the Transparency slider to 50%.

    Transparency slider set to 50 percent

    Now the county boundaries are still visible as a reference layer, but they no longer distract from the main focus of the map.

  12. In the Change Style pane, click OK, and click Done.

    You have now configured two layers fromLiving Atlas: a raster layer showing land cover and a feature layer showing boundaries.

    Map with gray county boundaries on top of the developed land raster layer

    From this map you can see that settlement in this region does not conform to administrative boundaries. While development does tend to follow major roads, it flows freely over county lines. You may have seen maps of the United States that depict the population of each county. This map shows you instead how the population in each county is unevenly distributed.

  13. At the top of the map, click Save and click Save As.

    Save As button

  14. For Title, type Urban Land in the United States.
  15. For Tags, type Living Atlas, landcover, counties, urbanization.
  16. For Summary, type This map shows urbanization patterns along the eastern coast of the United States.

    Save Map window

  17. Click Save Map.

    You can find this map later on the My Content tab in ArcGIS Online and use it in ArcGIS Pro, ArcGIS StoryMaps, apps, and more.

    Note:

    For information about sharing subscriber content publicly, see Using Living Atlas subscriber content in public maps and apps.. To learn how to further customize and use Living Atlas layers in ArcGIS Online, check out the Make Living Atlas Content Your Own story map tutorial.

You've now created a web map exploring the urban landscape in the United States using Living Atlas content in ArcGIS Online. ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World allows you to make custom web maps with high-quality data, without doing any data processing or hosting on your own.

Next, you'll learn how to use Living Atlas content for analysis in ArcGIS Pro.


Use Living Atlas in ArcGIS Pro

In ArcGIS Pro, you can incorporate authoritative data from ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World into your desktop workflows and take advantage of greater cartographic and analytic capabilities. In the next activity you'll learn how to access Living Atlas content in ArcGIS Pro and use it for analysis alongside other data.

Find Living Atlas layers in ArcGIS Pro

In this scenario, disaster response agencies need to plan for allocating resources during a hurricane disaster drill. To plan for future disasters, you'll use the historic path of Hurricane Irma as an example. The hurricane forecast cone shows the potential for landfall in Florida, and disaster planners want to know how many nursing homes may be affected.

First, you'll open an existing hurricane planning map.

  1. Go to the item description page for the Hurricane Irma Advisory 29 map package.
  2. Click Download and double-click the downloaded file to open it in ArcGIS Pro.

    Map of Hurricane Irma's forecast cone

    A map of the projected path of Hurricane Irma appears. This data is provided by the National Hurricane Center and represents a snapshot in time from September 6, 2017. The forecast cone shows the probable path of the hurricane based on knowledge the National Hurricane Center had at that time.

    You want to use Living Atlas to find nursing home locations that fall within the forecast cone. First, you'll make sure you are signed in to your ArcGIS Online account so you can access Living Atlas content.

  3. If necessary, at the top of the window, sign in to your ArcGIS Online account.

    Sign in button

    One way to access Living Atlas content in ArcGIS Pro is through the Catalog pane. Your Catalog pane may be closed or hidden behind other panes.

  4. On the ribbon, click the View tab. In the Windows group, click Reset Panes and choose Reset Panes for Mapping (Default).

    Reset Panes for Mapping (Default) option on the ribbon

  5. In the Catalog pane, click Portal and click Living Atlas.

    Portal and Living Atlas tabs in the Catalog pane

    This takes you to the same set of curated layers you saw in ArcGIS Online and on the Living Atlas website. You can also filter using categories.

  6. Click the Categories drop-down arrow and click People.

    People category in Living Atlas filters

    The filtered list includes many layers that could contain relevant information to overlay with an incoming hurricane, including national shelters and public schools. For now, you are interested in the impact the storm may have on nursing homes.

  7. In the search bar, type nursing homes and press Enter.
  8. In the list of results, point to the Nursing Homes layer.

    A window appears with basic metadata, including the owner and URL.

  9. Right-click the Nursing Homes item and choose Add To Current Map.

    Add To Current Map option in the layer's context menu

    The new data draws on the map and is also added to the Contents pane.

    NursingHomes layer on the map and in the Contents pane

    Tip:

    You can also add Living Atlas layers to ArcGIS Pro using the Data or Data From Path options on the Add Data menu.

    Add Data menu on the ribbon

    Next, you'll find the layer's metadata to ensure that it is the correct data for your workflow.

  10. In the Contents pane, right-click NursingHomes and choose Properties.

    The Layer Properties window appears.

  11. Click the Metadata tab.

    The summary, description, credits, and use limitations for the Living Atlas layer are listed.

    Metadata tab in the Layer Properties window

    The Description states that the purpose of the layer is "to provide accurate locations for high concentrations of elderly adults in the event a disaster."

  12. In the Layer Properties window, click Cancel.

Use Living Atlas content in analysis

You want to know how many nursing homes are at risk from the hurricane. But the symbols are too cluttered on the map to tell. You can change the symbology to make it less cluttered, but there will still be too many features to easily count. Instead, you'll use the Summarize Within geoprocessing tool.

  1. On the ribbon, click the Analysis tab. In the Geoprocessing group, click the Tools button.

    Tools button on the ribbon

  2. In the Geoprocessing pane, search for summarize within. Click the Summarize Within tool from the Analysis toolbox.

    Summarize Within tool in the Geoprocessing pane search results

    You can use this tool to overlay the polygon of the hurricane's forecast cone with the nursing home layer points and calculate attribute field statistics for those points that fall within the cone.

  3. In the Geoprocessing pane, for Input Polygons, choose Forecast Cone.
  4. For Input Summary Features, choose NursingHomes.

    By default, the tool counts the number of features within the input polygon. Therefore, no summary fields need to be defined.

    Summarize Within tool with parameters filled in

  5. At the bottom of the Geoprocessing pane, click Run.

    A new polygon feature appears on the map.

  6. Click the polygon on the map to open its pop-up.

    Pop-up showing Count of Points attribute

    The pop-up displays all the attributes for the forecast cone feature, as well as a Count of Points attribute. This indicates that there are 3,523 nursing homes that may be at risk from this hurricane. Your number may differ if the nursing home layer has been updated.

  7. Close the pop-up.
  8. Close ArcGIS Pro without saving.

You used Living Atlas content to perform analysis in ArcGIS Pro. In life-threatening situations such as a hurricane, the faster you can find answers, the better chance you have of saving lives. With ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World, you can find authoritative data and incorporate it into your analysis workflows immediately, helping you plan for disasters faster.

In this lesson, you learned how to find and use Living Atlas content via the Living Atlas website, ArcGIS Online, and ArcGIS Pro. You used this authoritative data in an app, a web map, and an analysis.

You can find more lessons in the Learn ArcGIS Lesson Gallery.