GIS Day summary

If you hadn't noticed, I have begun to blog about various academic and semi-academic talks that I have had the pleasure of attending. While, yes this began as a course assignment, I have determined that I enjoy doing so, therefore I think I'll continue as a practice — though I likely won't blog every single talk I attend (I attend a lot of these).

On November 17th, 2009, the UofA Celebrated GIS Day, an International Celebration of GIS. It was a half-day conference where various individuals talked about their GIS-related projects. GIS Day began with a catered lunch (by Classic Fare, which I'm not entirely too pleased with as a caterer by the way — though some of my issue with that caterer is because they didn't show up in October when catering a Linguistics Grad Student special event when the speaker from Google was there). Then, the event was introduced and GIS's various definitions were explained. One of the more common definitions is as Geographic Information Systems (or Science or Systems Science etc.). Different layers of information can be overlaid a landscape. For more information on GIS Day check out GIS Day website, or the UofA GIS Day website.

Some applications of GIS to improve access to Arctic data and understanding of biophysical processes during International Polar Year by David Hik & Scott Williamson, Biological Sciences

This is a time of rapid change in our circumpolar neighbourhood. David Hik and Scott Williamson presented on the use of GIS during the International Polar Year (IPY) which was from 2007-2008. The International Polar Year looked at the different issues including sovereignty & security, economic development, environment, climate and contaminants. Involving over 60 countries, over 60% of the projects included Canadian involvement.

GIS was even used to help identify colleagues to develop proposals for funding, and made its way to Google Earth. Other projects included the Polar Data Catalogue which involved metadata entry and geospatial data, International Tools including the Arctic Council and the University of the Arctic, the Arctic Stat Socioeconomic Circumpolar Database, the Exchange for Local Observations and Knowledge of the Arctic, the Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program, and many many more.

Coordination of all of these many projects is key but very difficult. There is a possible solution in the Polar Information Commons, but there is still a lot of varied information to accomodate and coordinate.

One of the projects that David Hik and Scott Williamson were involved with was the MoDIS Time Series Analysis. They used arcGIS to look at snow cover over the course of the year. Using an algorithm they worked to take error in composite snow cover information into account, to assess the differences in season length over time.

Using GIS to interact with EMS data by Daniel Haight, Centre for Excellence in Operations, School of Business

Daniel Haight spoke of the many projects where the Centre for Excellence in Operations has worked. They have worked with everything from the St. Albert Fire Dept to Bell Canada, and from forcasting cremation demand to helicopters, Edmonton Ward Boundaries to the Alberta Supernet. In the case of the Calgary EMS, they were looking to determine where to add EMS crews and/or stations in order to improve the EMS's performance with regards to response times. They had to determine why performance would be going down and in looking at all the different reasons for this, including structural, strategic and operational issues; they were able to use algorithms to help determine where to add such crews and/or stations which could be displayed using GIS techonology. Many pieces of information were overlaid including road conjestion, hospital problems, and speeds of travel on different roads.

One aspect I really liked of his presentation was the fact that he showed through our audience participation just how much of a difference adding crews and stations in particular areas would make using GIS. This made the issues seem much more real and truly helped in communicating his message.

Essential tools of the trade: GIS is critical for investigating the mechanisms of white-tailed deer range expansion by Kim Dawe, Biological Sciences

Kimberly Dawe presented on the range expansion of white tailed deer in recent years. This is an issue because more deer mean more wolves. Wolves eat deer, but they also eat caribou. Caribou are endangered so this becomes a problem that needs to be addressed, as the deer are moving further and further into the caribou's range.

Python scripting was used in this project. There are two hypotheses that are looked at: the land use hypothesis and the climate change hypothesis. This project is still in progress, but other questions that are being assessed are whether or not deer spread into the boreal forest from agriculture and how forestry affects this spread. Aerial surveys are used to assess where the deer can be found.

Designing our future by Natalie Fisher, ESRI Canada – Edmonton

I missed the beginning of this lecture as I was running a couple of errands across campus, but I found it one of the most interesting lectures all day, perhaps because I am so new to the field of GIS research. Regardless, Natalie Fisher from ESRI Canada talked about the many applications of GIS across disciplines and for various end users. Python scripting has become a standard(?) for GIS uses. Now the focus is on bringing together complex data and knowledge and making it accessible. Tools have become essential for collaborative computing, service integration (mashups), user contributed content, and distributed data management.

While she talked about many specifics, what I found most interesting is how the use of GIS is shifting due to the growing prevalence of mapping technology in the daily lives of the public. For example Google Maps, MapQuest, and Microsoft Bing Maps are all becoming more common and creating a set of expectations that differ from how GIS looks up until this point. So as use of these other mapping tools increases, so do expectations that advanced GIS tools will emulate this functionality. So people are now desiring hover tools, applications, feature attribute popups on maps and less layer based mapping. Users want to use these tools on their portable technology (eg. cellphones or PDAs etc.) and want the interface to be similar to the other mapping tools they are familiar with. They want information retrieval to be seamless, and easy. This creates challenges for GIS professionals.

Exploring Canada's past: Using census data to reconstitute population historical geographies by Marc St-Hilaire, Université Laval

This last lecture of the day featured the guest who had travelled the furthest to attend this event. Marc St-Hilaire spoke with a strong French accent, and occasionally asked the audience for the proper English words, however his talk was still highly interesting. I like how he did some additional research to prepare to talk to residents of a prairie province, looking up data from Alberta in the process.

Using census data from 1911-1951 (and some older data from Quebec), even with the oversampling of large dwellings, certain trends can be determined. For example the sex ratio in Alberta in 1921 is vastly different from that of Quebec. One needs to control for the changing census districts when comparing census statistics over time, and historical data struggles with a certain level of inaccuracy, but census data can provide a lot of social geography information. Understanding historical geography can enhance understanding of current day situations. For example, currently there are a lot of worries regarding the lack of French spoken at home in Montreal, and the possible loss of Montreal and Quebec culture, however this was also the case in 1871, and yet this culture was not lost.