Department of Geography and the Environment

What do we do with GIS?

Tue, October 20, 2009
What do we do with GIS?

Geographers are always interested in the spatial and temporal dimensions of the environment. The examination of the natural and human environment often employs the approach of Geographic Information Science (hereafter GIS) to document and manipulate geographic information in various spatial and temporal scales. The GIS Serial Workshops, held by the Department of Geography and the Environment, aim to introduce the applications of GIScience in interdisciplinary studies and in daily life. The series began with a brief introduction of graduate projects in Geography using GIS in various fields (taught by Ophelia Wang, Doctoral candidate in Geography), hoping to provide undergraduate students general ideas and guidelines for their course projects and potential career/research paths.

Ingrid Haeckel Ingrid Haeckel conducted her thesis in ethnobotany in rural Veracruz, Mexico. The locals decorate Catholic festivals by constructing floral arches that originated from pre-Hispanic worships and agricultural rituals. One of the plants species used is bromeliads, the epiphytic plant in the pineapple family that grows on canopy tree branches in the cloud forest. Ingrid documented the abundance of harvested bromeliads by documenting the locations of plant collections and the trails to the host trees with a Global Positioning System (GPS) device. As a result, a map of bromeliad abundance and harvesting trails was produced:


CardozaMario Cardozo’s dissertation work differential land-use patterns associated with peasant households in the urban-rural gradient in the Amazonian city of Iquitos in Peru. Mario conducted 600 interviews to households aiming to construct a multivariate model to qualitatively examine the spatial patterns of the socio-economic aspect of development. Some of the spatial patterns use the exploratory tools in GIS to examine spatial autocorrelation of the travel cost for the peasant to transport their goods to the local market:

In contrast, Matt LaFevor is interested in how human-made features correspond to the local topographic patterns. In his study region in rural Mexico, the locals establish terraces for growing corn, soybeans, or other crops. Matt plans on using scanned and digitized topographic maps, in comparisons with the slope data layer generated from a digital elevation model (DEM), to examine how the terraces correspond to the slope patterns:

Ophelia Wang’s thesis provides an example of using GIS to document changes in land cover and deforestation in northern Costa Rica. She collected classified land cover maps in 1979, 1992, 1997, and 2001 to compare rates in deforestation and agricultural expansion between different intervals. The study revealed that the area of forested land decreased from 88% to 26% whereas apicultural land increased from 6% to 31% from 1979 to 2001. Overall, the annual loss in forested land increased from 0.8% to 7.5%:

This examples show student studies in Latin America. But Niti Mishra had a different interest region: the Himalayas. Niti collected field samples in the Chhota Shigri glacier, India, for deriving a relationship between altitude and stake-wise mass balance for Chhota Shigri. The 30 field data points were used in spatial models to interpolate glacial mass balance presented in a gradient map:

Undergraduate students who attended this workshop expressed positive feedback on learning how GISc plays a role in various research projects. While undergraduate students have learned to excel in certain exercises in regular GIS courses and laboratory projects, this workshop demonstrated the unlimited potential of GIS applications beyond what on-campus courses have shown.

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  • Department of Geography and the Environment

    The University of Texas at Austin
    305 E. 23rd Street, A3100
    RLP 3.306
    Austin, TX 78712