The development of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) in recent years has led to important breakthroughs in the organization and analysis of geographic data for environmental purposes. A GIS is a computer mapping/database system which enables the user to present physical, statistical or thematic data (derived from maps, aerial or satellite photographs, field surveys and digital information) in their geographical context. Automated cartography is used in resource management to identify areas of environmental sensitivity and areas of conflict.

The Ministry of the Environment’s Planning Division has been using the GIS as a planning tool since 1988. Despite budgetary limitations, the unit has developed a GIS which contains over 20 layers of information for the country, the average scale being 1:50,000 meters.

The first GIS project undertaken by the ministry was the Mediterranean coast database, which originally produced the maps included in the National Outline Scheme for the Mediterranean Coast. The coastal area is divided into 18 designated sections/maps, each of which includes the following layers of information: land-use features; areas including archeological, vegetation, and natural landscape sites; and communication lines (i.e. roads, railroads). The Mediterranean coast database is now being expanded to include information on monitoring sites and beach access.

The second database covers the entire country. It includes information, based on national outline schemes, on areas exposed to airport noise, quarries, roads, and solid waste sites as well as areas of aquifer sensitivity. This information was combined, analyzed and displayed in map form for use in the National Outline Scheme for Immigrant Absorption. Sites designated by the Israel Lands Authority for residential building and industrial development were checked with the database to identify areas where potential development may be subject to environmental degradation.

The third database deals with open spaces. It delineates national parks, nature reserves and landscape reserves which are included in national and regional masterplans; areas of special landscape value which were identified in a survey of open space landscapes; and areas proposed for afforestation in the afforestation masterplan. This database will provide a basis for open space policy and decision making.

Using the information layers described above and additional data, several applications have been developed. One application was a pilot project to determine areas suitable for residential development. A ten-square kilometer area around the town of Karmiel was used as a pilot site. The project was based on a wide range of data including existing and proposed quarries, areas of slope greater than 30% on hard or soft limestone, road alignments with buffers, planted and natural forests, industrial areas, agricultural areas, sites of special interest with 50 meter buffers, wells with 100 or 500 meter buffers depending on rock type, nature reserves or national parks with 200 meter buffers and existing settlements and roads. This information was used with overlay to determine which sites were suitable for residential development based on select criteria. A map of sensitive areas was also developed.

In recent years, the GIS has been used extensively by many other divisions in the Ministry of the Environment including the divisions of solid waste, hazardous substances, marine and coastal pollution, water quality and pest control.

* A database covering the entire area of country was developed for solid waste sites, including existing and planned landfills, illegal dumps, existing and planned transfer stations and recycling centers. The GIS was also used to assess the suitability, in terms of aquifer sensitivity, settlements and open space, of a major site slated to serve as a central landfill.

* Maps showing the accumulation of pollutants along the course of the Alexander and Na’aman rivers were produced. In addition, a database of drinking water wells was developed with information compiled from the Hydrological Service and the National Water Authority. The location of wells was analyzed vis a vis aquifer-sensitive areas to create a map of wells with different buffer zones (Figure x).

* Maps pinpointing the locations of microbial and heavy metal monitoring stations along the Mediterranean coast and displaying coastal land uses along the Mediterranean at a scale of 1:100,000 were produced. Land use types include swimming beaches and industrial, municipal and defense uses.

* A map of air pollution monitoring stations was prepared.

* A map and database showing major sites of hazardous substances in the country was developed.

* Maps analyzing the spatial distribution of the Anopheles mosquito and malaria sites throughout the country were produced.

* Maps of noise contours from civil and military airports were prepared.

Over the past year, cooperation has also developed with other government bodies using the GIS, for purposes of data exchange and joint projects. For example, a year-long project in the South Sharon region with the Hydrological Service should enhance cooperation between the two offices in such areas as data exchange, assessment of the environmental impacts of land uses and evaluation of water quality and water resources. Cooperative ties are also being developed with the GIS units of the Nature Reserves Authority, the Israel Lands Administration, the Jewish National Fund and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. The GIS unit has contributed information and analysis to the planning team which produced the masterplan on immigrant absorption and will be contributing information for the long-range masterplan for Israel (Israel 2020).

Finally, to determine the feasibility of using satellite imagery as a source of data for land use and environmental pollution, two remote sensing projects using image processing of satellite imagery have been contracted by the Ministry of the Environment. One project, in the Dan metropolitan area, was recently completed by a private company using Landsat TM satellite images to classify land use in the Greater Tel Aviv area, from Ashdod in the south to Herzliya in the north. Eight classifications of land uses were mapped: built areas, uncultivated areas, sand dunes, vegetation (3 types), water bodies and building starts. The project used images from two different years (1987 and 1993) to identify changes over time with regard to green areas, new neighborhoods, expansion of roads, infrastructure work, etc.

In a second project the Geography Department of Bar Ilan University classified land uses in the Haifa-Carmel area using SPOT satellite images. The project used images from different seasons to classify agricultural, residential, industrial, quarrying, and other land use types. The main goal of the project is to develop methods of remote sensing for the purpose of mapping land uses in different conditions in Israel. The Carmel area was chosen as the area of research due to the variety of components it incorporates, and since it represents a wide range of coastal landscapes which are characteristic of large parts of the country.

While in the past major focus was placed on the use of air photography, today efforts are concentrated on satellite imagery over larger areas. While this method provides a lesser level of resolution, it provides essential digital information which can be utilized immediately.