Environmental Management

, Volume 51, Issue 4, pp 897–911 | Cite as

Using Global Datasets to Create Environmental Profiles for Data-Poor Regions: A Case from the Irrawaddy and Salween River Basins

  • Aura Salmivaara
  • Matti Kummu
  • Marko Keskinen
  • Olli Varis


The increasing availability of spatial data inspires the exploration of previously less-studied, yet regionally and nationally important areas, such as the Irrawaddy and Salween River Basins in Southeast Asia. This article documents our experience using global datasets to create environmental basin profiles in these two basins. Our approach draws on the concepts of freshwater vulnerability assessments that guided the selection of indicators. Data on land use, population distribution and fertilizer load were used. The unit of analysis was chosen to distinguish areas with similar bio-geographical characteristics, such as the critical delta areas. Results were further discussed for sub-areas that experience relatively the most pressure in terms of examined indicators within the studied area. The river mouths of both rivers had the most intensive land use and high population density. They are also home to important ecosystems and are sensitive to changes in upstream areas. Our study presents a concise and spatially distributed view of the environmental basin profiles of the Irrawaddy and Salween River Basins. The analysis also provides some interesting methodological insights about the potential of public macro-scale datasets for environmental assessment. The spatial approach allowed the analysis of different indicators, providing a platform for data integration as well as a visually powerful overview of the study area. Yet, the use of macro-scale datasets entails challenges. Despite improvements, the assessment process tends to be driven by the availability and quality of data, rather than by the actual research and management needs. The greatest utility of macro-scale datasets lies—at least in data-poor areas—in larger scale comparative analyses between the basins and their different sub-areas.


Environmental basin profile Macro-scale datasets Spatial analysis Irrawaddy River Basin Salween River Basin Myanmar 



The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their constructive suggestions and comments which lead to major improvements in the manuscript. The authors also express gratitude to all the members of Aalto University’s Water & Development Research Group for their support. Aura Salmivaara received funding from the TKK Researcher Scholarship and VALUE Doctoral School. Matti Kummu received funding from the postdoctoral funds of Aalto University. Marko Keskinen received funding from the Academy of Finland project 133748. The work was partially funded also by Maa- ja vesitekniikan tuki ry.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 956 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Aura Salmivaara
    • 1
  • Matti Kummu
    • 1
  • Marko Keskinen
    • 1
  • Olli Varis
    • 1
  1. 1.Water & Development Research GroupAalto UniversityAaltoFinland

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