Berlin Environmental Atlas


Berlin Environmental Atlas - From a Collection of Maps to Information System

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Need and Objective

The first volume of the Berlin Environmental Atlas appeared in 1985, a loose-leaf collection of barely a dozen environmentally themed maps. The Atlas grew out of a joint research project conducted by the then-fledgling Berlin Department for Urban Development and Environmental Protection and the Federal Environmental Agency, the latter of which funded the project. The project, which was coordinated by the Senate Department, began in 1983. The coordinators hold salaried positions there, which in time would prove to be far-sighted. The project was to be pursued with these two main objectives:
  • to prepare and provide spatial information to be used as a basis for higher-level planning
  • to give the general public access to information on the state of the environment.
A project such as this became necessary because, first, a new Land Use Plan was to be developed, and second, the Landscape Programme that was to be developed consistent with the new rules of the Berlin Conservation Law. Both plans were called upon to consider environmental aspects in their planning. The Landscape Programme was even asked to develop its own section on the natural balance, in which measures for environmental protection and development were to be presented. They were largely unprepared for this request. There had been environmental data collected in many areas; however, no systematically prepared planning documents yet existed.

In addition, the general public expressed considerable interest in access to information on the environment. A multitude of citizen initiatives had been spawned by Berlin's poor air quality, its winter smog, its polluted waters, with algal blooms and fish die-offs, its noise pollution in residential areas and its contaminated soil, from the time when Berlin was still a centre of industrial production. These dedicated citizens wanted to participate in the planning and improve the environment; but the public often could not understand planners' decisions, and environmental data were released only reluctantly. Against this backdrop, the Environmental Atlas was to present comprehensible and transparent information on the environment, in order to objectify the debate associated with important urban policy decisions, such as that on the urban motorway.

While the goal of the Environmental Atlas has not changed since then, some changes have occurred in the areas to be covered, in the breadth and depth of topics to be handled, and in the methods and technologies used for the preparation and presentation of maps - in some cases rather extensive changes.

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Concept and Content

The Atlas contains themed maps organized under the classic environmental topics of Soil, Water, Air, Noise and Climate. The Land Use and Traffic sections also handle topics of an urban planning nature. Finally, the Atlas was expanded to include a section on Energy.

From the outset, the Environmental Atlas was planned as a pure inventory of facts; the maps were intended to support urban planning, with the planning itself officially and organizationally separate. The Atlas still contains no plans or planning procedures. The inventory was intended from the outset to present various aspects of every environmental topic in the entire city. For example, the various maps depict natural resources, their potentials, sensitivities and threats, but particularly and as far as possible, their causes and their effects on the environment and humankind. Beyond the need to provide a description of the environment, measured and mapped values are absolutely imperative in order to be able to ultimately provide information to support a tangible consideration of ecological concerns in planning. These "planning consultation maps" which have been developed in recent years for Soil and Urban Climate, are considered an example for well-prepared, comprehensible information for planning throughout Germany.

The Environmental Atlas today contains several hundred maps. Many map topics are continuously being updated - and have been many times over. Only the comparison of different time periods illustrates developments and trends, and makes the achievements of environmental policy as clear as the challenges faced by urban and environmental planning, which still exist or have been added, such as adaptation in urban planning to climate change.

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Work Organization and Data Origin

Compiling the Environmental Atlas requires a high degree of coordination and cooperation. After initial difficulties, the many working groups that participate in the Berlin Environment and Urban Development departments today show a complete willingness to cooperate. The mutual benefits are obvious:
  • The Environmental Atlas Section takes on a variety of activities associated with the preparation of technical and cartographic data, as well as the editing and combined publication of that data, which could not have been achieved by the large number of other offices.
  • In this way a systematic compilation of measured environmental data findings emerges, which also identifies and processes cross-disciplinary cross-references between the environmental media that would otherwise have no place in a sectorally organized official structure.
Much of the data presented is collected in the sections of the Senate Departments responsible for urban development and environmental protection. But also universities and colleges have worked from the beginning developing the Environmental Atlas and have significantly shaped the content of some topics. The data is provided by the sections, together with the Environmental Atlas Working Group, and then prepared, assessed, and described in accompanying detailed texts which identify the specific environmental problem, provide information on the origin of the data and the method used for data collection and evaluation, and finally, enriched with graphs and graphics, describe and interpret the maps and provide statements on the future development. In this respect the Environmental Atlas goes far beyond a mere collection of maps, it is rather a central component of environmental reporting for Berlin. An English version has been provided since the inception.

It had already become clear by the early 1980s that some aspects of environmental monitoring were not being covered by the government authorities. It was simply not done, no agency was responsible. However, since a cross-media description encompassing all aspects of the natural environment was a requirement that had to be met without question, the working group even then began to fill these gaps and to systematically build their own databases. This included data to describe and assess the soil and the urban climate, as well as imperviousness and the mapping of actual use.

Excerpt from the Urban Structure Map
Excerpt from the Urban Structure Map
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While a scale of 1: 50,000 was standard for the first Environmental Atlas maps, this boundary become blurred in this era of digitized maps. Now, a map can be zoomed into apparently regardless of scale. It has become increasingly important to describe the data collection precisely and in a variety of ways. Today, environmental data are displayed just as precisely as they have been measured, i.e. adapted to the available data, the topic or the purpose of the map. For example, with the strategic noise maps, this means that sometimes several values per building are available for research. There are still maps that are accessible in the 1 : 100,000 scale, too. This is because the data are either not available at a more precise scale, or the purpose for which the map has been drafted requires no larger scale.

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Databases and universal geometry as a basis for mapping

Many of the Environmental Atlas data are collected and displayed with a universal spatial reference. The "block map" (ISU 5 and ISU 50) is used as the reference geometry.

While the block map serves as a reference and acquisition basis, actual data collection and data retention is done by way of databases. The geometries are updated every five years based on the updated block formation (Statistical Office) and changed land uses. Afterwards, the technical data is updated according to these new areas. More comfortable data management, smooth cross-disciplinary access and easier data analysis are the main advantages.

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Having the data accessible over databases allows also for its application in scientific models. For example, models, which process a variety of parameters from these databases, can be used to assess urban climate, soil functions and water resources.

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From analogue maps to the internet

While the first edition of the Environmental Atlas to cover all of Berlin - the inclusion of the eastern part of the city was a particular challenge during the early 1990s - was still printed and published in three volumes, digital technology was already being used at an early stage to provide the maps for convenient access via the Internet. It was a particularly challenging task in the early days of the Internet to display the maps in their complexity interactively. Today, the benefits of the internet publication via the FIS Broker and PDF-download have completely replaced the analogue version. The possibility of not only viewing the coloured maps, but also of conveniently searching an area and tapping the extensive factual data from the databases has reached a completely new dimension not comparable with any printed map.

Since 2001, the number of monthly page views for the Environmental Atlas has increased from approximately 50,000 to about 500,000. The Environmental Atlas therefore is simply the most actively used internet presence of the Senate Department for Urban Development and Housing.

Excerpt from the Strategic Noise Map, with data index
Excerpt from the Strategic Noise Map, with data index

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Environmental Information Directive as a legal basis

The importance of the Environmental Atlas has continued to grow with the implementation of the EU Environmental Information Directive in national law and the inclusion of the respective paragraphs in the Berlin Freedom of Information Act (IFG). According to these provisions, the public is to be kept adequately, actively and systematically informed about the environment via easily comprehensible electronic means of communication. In this respect, the Environmental Atlas has long been at the forefront, and is still today ahead of many other German cities.

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Use and Release of Data

The Environmental Atlas internet presence is used regularly by interested citizens, administrative, engineering and planning offices, and universities and colleges. Accounting for legal requirements, environmental concerns at all levels of Berlin and its surroundings - and landscape planning and the various sectoral planning - has led to the planning office accessing its necessary information mainly from the Environmental Atlas. This is because the maps here that handle areas of bio-geographical value are categorized in a clear and understandable manner.

The EU Directive on Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), which came into force on July 21, 2001, was implemented into national law via an amendment of the Building Code (BauGB) in 2004 and to the Environmental Impact Assessment Law (EIA Law) in 2005. In addition to all significant environmental planning processes - such as preparatory and mandatory urban land-use planning, landscape planning and traffic infrastructure planning - water management planning, air pollution and noise pollution control will also be subject to strategic environmental assessment in future. The implementation of the strategic environmental assessment in Berlin has further intensified the demands on the Environmental Atlas. For example, a high-performance DV-based assessment process for the SEA is currently being developed, under which a variety of geospatial data from the Environmental Atlas and other sources would be subjected to an SEA assessment, which would then be accessible at any location, as current as possible. This will allow a comparison and assessment of ecosystem impacts and alternatives. A precondition for this project to succeed is a high degree of topicality of the environmental data, and a systematic management of the geometries and the data.

To an increasing degree, the maps are also being rendered and used on so-called OGC-compliant web services. These are standardized services available via the Internet, and provide map segments via standardized queries, as images or as the maps themselves, which can be processed further by GIS systems. All Environmental Atlas maps have been available via the internet as WebMapServices (WMS) for some time now.

Vector data, grid data or database excerpts are also provided upon request. Engineering firms and universities use this data in their own GIS systems, often on behalf of public entities or for teaching and research.

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The Geo-Information Section of the Environmental Atlas as Part of the Geo-Data Infrastructure

Within the context of European, federal and state-level efforts to facilitate access to geo-data, the geo-information section is of particular importance in the development of a geo-data infrastructure. Other than basic geo-data, particularly the technical data are and will remain an essential component of this infrastructure. Environmental data constitute the bulk of the data, and are, in keeping with the longstanding work on the Environmental Atlas, systematically digitized, edited, described and evaluated. In this respect, the Environmental Atlas has created the best conditions to meet the increased demands placed on the provision of geo-information for citizens, commerce, academia and government.

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