Welcome to Summer 2015 in the SAL

Hi All!

We are very excited to say it is going to be a very busy time in the SAL this summer! We always have a variety of interesting and innovative student research projects underway in our little corner of the International Center, but this year we’re packed to the brim! In addition to research projects being conduced by Natalie Somerville,Heather Courtenay and Kerry McGowan, we have four students taking part in our S4 Summer Intern program. These geographers will be building their skills through a variety of long term and short term projects designed to help our “clients” and partners over the summer. Stay tuned to the SAL blog as we bring you exciting updates on their work and progress!

Some of the things to look forward to:
-Database to help inform the creation of conservation easements for the Capitol Region Land Conservancy
-Uploading data to The GARDEN Project, a statewide collaboration between universities and VGIN
-Continued research on environmental impacts of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline
-Mapping of local trails with Terrain 360
-Updating and expanding the UR Campus Tree Map
-Proposal for a new National Natural Landmark at Bear Rocks Preserve (Natalie Somerville)
-Natural Resource Conditions Assessment of Booker T Washington National Monument (Heather Courtenay)
-Analysis of Solar Energy Development in the US and Mexico (Kerry McGowan)

For now enjoy one of the first tasks completed by our excellent interns, a map of the construction zones and associated road closures on the UR campus over the summer.

Summer Construction Map

Hope to see you back on the SAL Blog soon!
Taylor Holden

Summer in the SAL 2014

While not hard at work, we may take a break by completing some geography-themed jigsaw puzzles!

School may be out for the summer, but that doesn’t mean the SAL has been asleep! Instead, we have remained a busy, active place, with many students working on environmental and geospatial research projects. Here’s a quick update of what’s been happening (so far) this summer in the SAL.

  • Hunterr P. ’15, the second University of Richmond student to take advantage of the 3-2 program we have with the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University (he will start pursuing his Master of Forestry this fall but will receive his undergraduate degree from UR in the Spring of 2015), continues to work on a project with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). Using a healthy combination of ENVI and ArcGIS, Hunterr has been working to analyze and classify LANDSAT imagery covering the state of Virginia. His work will help the DCR create a statewide development vulnerability model—which natural areas in the state are most at risk of development?
  • Heather C. ’16 and Meghan M. of the College of William and Mary have been helping Dr. Todd Lookingbill prepare a Natural Resources Condition Assessment (NRCA) report for the Booker T. Washington National Monument, located near Roanoke. The NRCA reports, which have been or will be written for many of the units of the National Park Service, analyze the current condition of natural resources in those parks and try to elucidate long-term trends about their resources. In particular, the reports use lots of maps to communicate their results. Dr. Lookingbill has worked with students on prior NRCA reports, including one for Shenandoah National Park; while Booker T. Washington is a much smaller park, there is still a great amount of work involved in creating the report.
  • Will H. ’15 is working with Dr. Mary Finley-Brook on her continued efforts toward making the University of Richmond campus a more sustainable, environmentally-friendly place. Will has taken various trips to other universities and conferences to learn about their sustainability efforts and is researching how to implement some of those ideas here. He’s even making some maps to document his findings!

In addition to all this student research, we’ve had a few other notable events. SAL Director Kim Klinker just got back from leading her annual summer study abroad trip to Australia; she has created a storymap showing where the trip went, complete with student reflections about each day’s activities. The University’s Information Services department will be updating the SAL computers later in the summer, updating our software to ArcGIS 10.2 so that our students stay on the cutting edge of GIS technology. Kim and Andrew will be traveling to the Esri Education GIS Conference in San Diego and will present a talk about our campus mapping efforts; they will also get to attend a few days of the big Esri International User Conference, following the Education Conference. And of course, the “World Famous” Spatial Analysis Lab seeks to again dominate the Gottwald Games, a series of lighthearted games held by the science departments labs, to be held next week. Be on the lookout for our custom t-shirts, and start brushing up on your geography skills—we’re hosting a game this year too!

And finally, our current GIS Technician, Andrew Pericak, will be stepping down at the end of this month so that he can began his Master’s study in the fall. Andrew will also be attending the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, where he will pursue a Masters of Environmental Management. But the SAL will not be devoid of a Technician! The Department of Geography and the Environment has hired a new Technician, Chris Brown (as Kim says, No, not that Chris Brown,) who will be starting July 1. Chris brings lots of great technical and analytic GIS experience to the SAL, so hopefully the transition from one Technician to the other will go smoothly.

We here in the SAL are excited for all our exciting summer projects and activities. Yet sooner than we can imagine, the Class of 2018 will be arriving on campus. We look forward to greeting them in August and introducing them to the world of GIS!

Identify #6: Dr. Andy McGraw

Identify is a monthly series here on the SAL blog, focusing on students, faculty, and alumni of University of Richmond who have used GIS in exciting ways. Come by each month to learn more about the interdisciplinary nature of GIS here at UR.

The ArcGIS App in action

Over the past year, the Spatial Analysis Lab has explored new uses for mobile GIS, including using the ArcGIS App to collect and analyze spatial data. That’s why were especially excited when Associate Professor of Music and ethnomusicologist Dr. Andy McGraw approached us and asked for help with an assignment he was envisioning.

Dr. McGraw taught two ethnomusicology-related classes this year: “Cultural Musicology” and “Soundscapes.” For these classes, Dr. McGraw wanted to elucidate “the relationship of sounds to [the City of Richmond’s] geography in a very specific way.” To achieve this goal, he instructed his students to leave the campus of University of Richmond and find sound and music throughout the greater Richmond area. Yet Dr. McGraw needed a good way for his students to record their findings: after all, sounds are inherently tied to a place, so knowing exactly where the students heard these sounds could contribute toward constructing this aural landscape of Richmond.

As a solution, we recommended having students use the ArcGIS App to collect data points while in the field. Dr. McGraw said he had heard of using GIS-based techniques to collect sound data before, but had never used GIS and did not know all that was possible—we were glad to introduce the technology to him!

To achieve his goal, we first used ArcGIS Online to create a blank map and then added an editable feature service hosted on our web server. The feature service not only allowed students to record their exact location on the map but also to input data related to that location, such as the place’s name, the type of sound present, or the decibel reading (a measure of “loudness.”) We also gave students the option to upload photos, videos, or sound files.

The students then journeyed into Richmond and found instances of sound and music. While there, they launched the App on their GPS-enabled smartphones and collected information about that place and the sound they were hearing. Moreover, as students added new points to the map, those points automatically showed up on everybody else’s devices. In short, the classes used live, crowdsourcing techniques based in GIS.

While both classes successfully and easily recorded locations of sound around Richmond, this project is far from over. Prior to undertaking any serious analysis, says Dr. McGraw, at least three years’ worth of classes will explore Richmond and collect sound and music data; these classes will build upon and add to the data collected this year. Dr. McGraw wants to allow so much time for data acquisition, he says, because it’s hard as of yet to see any specific trends, despite the hundreds of points collected by this year’s students—there still isn’t enough data.

To further increase the number of sound and music locations, Dr. McGraw hopes to teach other individuals outside of his own classes how to collect points with the mobile app: students in other classes at UR, citizens living and working in Richmond, and hopefully even students at Virginia Commonwealth University. Truly, Dr. McGraw is undertaking a community project; our GIS infrastructure is ready to support a variety of users.

Finally, once Dr. McGraw and his students can start identifying trends, they hope to display the fully interactive maps on touch-screen video monitors in Booker Hall of Music on the UR campus. The Spatial Analysis Lab looks forward to helping Dr. McGraw over the next few years as he works on this project, and we will always be looking for ways to improve and supplement the sound maps so as to reveal as many insights as possible!

Identify #5: Dr. Elizabeth Baughan

Identify is a monthly series here on the SAL blog, focusing on students, faculty, and alumni of University of Richmond who have used GIS in exciting ways. Come by each month to learn more about the interdisciplinary nature of GIS here at UR.

Imperial fora of Ancient Rome

An example of GIS in archaeology: the imperial fora of Rome. Click the image to access an interactive web map!

In the SAL, we like to emphasize how knowledge of GIS can benefit virtually every academic field. Having skill in GIS isn’t “only” for geography or environmental science; it can be applied to a wide range of other natural, physical, and social sciences too. One great example of this cross-disciplinary application of GIS is our partnership with Associate Professor of Classics and Archaeology Dr. Elizabeth Baughan. GIS, of course, is a perfect way to document the results of archaeological digs, and Dr. Baughan has thus made use of GIS both in class and in the field.

Dr. Baughan frequently brings her Introduction to Archaeology course to the SAL, to familiarize her students with GIS and to show them its power in displaying archaeological data. This class day is “usually a highlight of the semester,” she says, “and it is always interesting to see how many of [the students] have been [to the SAL] for other, very different classes. GIS helps students see unexpected connections across disciplines.” For those students who haven’t yet taken a formal GIS class, many decide to enroll and consequently apply their GIS skills to their own archaeological research. A great example of this process involves this map produced by Samantha Frandsen ’13, a student of Dr. Baughan, showing the locations of the imperial fora of Ancient Rome. You can read more about Frandsen’s work at this link.

Dr. Baughan also uses GIS while performing archaeological surveys. In particular, Dr. Baughan conducts research in Turkey; she and her colleagues meticulously document their finds and add those data to a GIS for future analysis. For archaeology, she says, GIS has “a wide range of uses and benefits, from the correlation of survey find locations with topographic data and subsurface features …, to understanding regional site distribution in the context of environmental conditions.”

But recently, Dr. Baughan ran into an issue: while the data collected for a recent project would show up in our ArcGIS software, its location would not appear correctly relative to other features on the ground—something was wrong with the data. Dr. Baughan came to the SAL and asked for our assistance; after looking at the data, we discovered an amusing, coincidental reason for the error.

As a necessary first step when working with GIS, a map projection had already been assigned to the data. A projection is a way to transform the spherical surface of the Earth into a flat, two-dimensional plane. In particular, the data had correctly been given a UTM projection for zone 35S, the zone describing the western part of Turkey in which lies one of the survey sites. Nonetheless, the data would not show up.

We noticed, however, that ArcGIS uses a slightly different naming structure for its UTM zones. Rather than adopting the Military Grid Reference System format of using the letters C through X to describe latitudes of north and south in a UTM grid, ArcGIS only uses longitudinal bands, splitting the UTM zones latitudinally just once at the equator. This method results in merely a northern and a southern zone, respectively labeled N and S, for each zone number. Thus, west Turkey rests in zone 35N in ArcMap—zone 35S is in the southern hemisphere instead!

Once we fixed this error, the data aligned well. Dr. Baughan will now be able to perform analyses on the data and further develop her academic research. The SAL was glad to help Dr. Baughan “repair” the data—we know that GIS can be confusing, even for people with experience with the tool, and that often the best results come from team efforts. We look forward to seeing how she will use GIS to analyze the data and to helping her work with any geospatial information she collects on future digs!

Bonus! Listen to Dr. Baughan discuss her research as well as her new book, Couched in Death: Klinai and Identity in Anatolia and Beyond, in the most recent Podcast@Boatwright.

Millennium map experience


Celia Landesberg ’14, a University of Richmond senior and double-major in Geography and Environmental Studies, wrote an article for the online journal Digital America discussing what she refers to as the “millennium map experience.” Read her article here, in which she discusses how cartography has suddenly become an activity in which virtually everybody can—and does—partake.

Mapping toxic sites in Virginia with the UR Law School

Sachs reportThe University of Richmond comprises five schools serving both undergraduate and graduate students. The School of Arts & Sciences houses a majority of the undergraduate student body, but the School of Law is where most of the University’s full-time graduate students study. While the Spatial Analysis Lab falls under the purview School of Arts & Sciences, we are excited when we get to help some of the University’s other schools; we recently had such an opportunity when we got to assist the School of Law.

Law Professor and Director of the Robert R. Merhige Jr. Center for Environmental Studies Noah Sachs, alongside third-year law student Ryan Murphy, have released a report titled A Strategy to Protect Virginians from Toxic Chemicals, which is freely available at the preceding link. The report, which proclaims itself as “the first comprehensive examination of the sources of toxic releases in Virginia and the potential exposure of Virginians to harmful chemicals,” calls for increased attention regarding toxic chemicals in the environment because of their potential to lead to health problems and recommends how the Commonwealth can start to limit toxic exposures.

While the authors worded the report in common English, the release of toxic chemicals to the environment may not be a topic with which everybody has a lot of familiarity. That’s where the Spatial Analysis Lab stepped in, creating some simple-to-understand maps that showed the extent of sites containing toxic substances throughout Virginia. You can find these maps in the report, but we’ve included them in this post as well.

This first map looks at Superfund sites in Virginia. Superfund is the EPA’s program to clean up toxic waste sites; the NPL, or National Priorities List, is essentially a big list of these sites, so sites that have been removed may have already been sufficiently cleaned up.

The next map shows any facility in Virginia storing over one million pounds of toxic substances in 2011.

And this final map looks at Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) corrective action sites in Virginia. RCRA is a law designed to regulate the disposal of toxic wastes. Click here to access the EPA’s interactive map.

The Spatial Analysis Lab is glad to offer assistance to Professor Sachs on this project. We look forward to continuing helping the Law School, and indeed the University of Richmond’s four other academic schools, in upcoming semesters!

Identify #4: Dr. Jory Brinkerhoff

Identify is a monthly series here on the SAL blog, focusing on students, faculty, and alumni of University of Richmond who have used GIS in exciting ways. Come by each month to learn more about the interdisciplinary nature of GIS here at UR.

Lyme disease in dogs in Lynchburg, VA

Dr. Brinkerhoff and his students created this map showing Lyme disease presence in dogs near Lynchburg, Virginia.

Undeniably, one of the University of Richmond’s most popular majors is Biology. Yet the University recently created a new, related major called Healthcare and Society which is quickly rising in popularity. The Healthcare and Society major teaches students how to understand and examine “the business, legal, ethical, interpersonal, and sociopolitical aspects of healthcare delivery, finance and organization,” says the University. As a result, the Spatial Analysis Lab has seen many students taking GIS classes because they want to learn how to tie together spatial analysis with global health.

Biology professor Dr. Jory Brinkerhoff has helped usher in this new interest in health-oriented GIS. He teaches a popular course titled Eco-Epidemiology which serves as an elective class for both the Biology and the Healthcare and Society majors. Dr. Brinkerhoff writes the following about his GIS-informed research:

Researchers have long studied the intersection of geography and disease; as any epidemiology student can affirm, arguably the first epidemiological study was done to identify spatial clusters of cholera in London in the 1850s. The reason for the association between these two disciplines is straightforward: people want to know exactly where they might face exposure to a nasty disease, both now and in the immediate future. Just as the first epidemiologists were fascinated by patterns in time and space, modern epidemiologists spend much of their time thinking about the same phenomena. However, although many questions about disease have remained unchanged for centuries—who? what? where?—our capacity to explore disease pattern and process has developed substantially.

I personally think that investigating and mapping disease risk is one of the most exciting aspects of public health research. As an ecologist, I am trained to look for patterns in time and space. As an epidemiologist, I look specifically for patterns that shed light on factors that affect someone’s chance of being exposed to or contacting disease.

My current research focuses on Lyme disease and how its spatial distribution in Virginia is changing. My students and I approach this problem from lots of different angles: we use field sampling, analysis of human case data, molecular genetics, and immunological assays to figure out where risk to this disease is highest. In a recent project, two of my senior class students collected and mapped canine blood-test data to determine if there were any elevational patterns that might explain Lyme disease risk in dogs (yes, dogs can get Lyme disease, too!) These students used GIS to digitize and georeference a binder’s worth of positive and negative test result data for Lyme disease as collected from a veterinary clinic in Lynchburg, Virginia.

We then used a geo-statistical test to see if variation in elevation is associated with exposure to this tick-transmitted disease. In the map [see above], positive test results are indicated by red circles and negative test results are indicated by open (hollow) circles. Our preliminary results suggest that dogs—and probably humans—that live at higher elevations are at increased risk of exposure to Lyme disease. This finding is especially important for the Lynchburg area, as that major city lies near the base of the Appalachian Mountains. Interestingly, our analysis of field data for human cases suggests the same result—keep this in mind the next time you head up to the mountains for a hike!

The Spatial Analysis Lab thanks Dr. Brinkerhoff for writing about his research for our blog. We look forward to helping Biology and Healthcare and Society students as they continue their epidemiological research!

Identify #3: Taylor Holden ’15 and Austen Kelso ’15

Identify is a monthly series here on the SAL blog, focusing on students, faculty, and alumni of University of Richmond who have used GIS in exciting ways. Come by each month to learn more about the interdisciplinary nature of GIS here at UR.

Sample map from Holden and Kelso's research

One of the final maps produced by Holden and Kelso. Flow paths colored in red contribute more to the runoff in the Chesapeake Bay than do flow paths colored in green.

The Spatial Analysis Lab is an active place throughout the academic year—especially as we approach the end of the semester with students working diligently to finish their projects! But the SAL doesn’t remain dormant during the summer, and in fact stays equally active, thanks to the students who pursue geography- and environmental studies-related summer research.

Taylor Holden ’15 and Austen Kelso ’15 were among the students conducting research this previous summer. Working with their advisors, UR Geography professor Dr. Todd Lookingbill and Jeffrey Allenby of the Chesapeake Conservancy, these two students carried out a novel research project to determine locations of concentrated flow paths and their relative importance to water pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.Under the Clean Water Act, localities whose water runoff feeds into the Chesapeake Bay have to meet daily requirements for the maximum amount of nutrients and pollutants allowable in runoff, known as the “total maximum daily load”. Attaining these goals can be challenging, since localities not only have to identify major sources of water pollution but also must find ways to curb that pollution. Allenby recently wrote a procedure to achieve this end, and it was this procedure that Holden and Kelso carried out.

Using high-resolution aerial photography from the National Agriculture Imagery Program, Holden and Kelso first analyzed some small watersheds in Central Virginia. They then used an advanced remote sensing program called ENVI to classify these aerial images by various land cover types. This produced a raster image, similar to the National Land Cover Database rasters but with much more detail, that they could bring into ArcMap. Separately, they used precise digital elevation models and a specialty ArcGIS toolbar called TauDEM to find locations of concentrated flow paths, the exact places where runoff flows over land. Often these were permanently-existing streams, but the tool could also find ephemeral flow paths that lasted only during a rain storm, for instance.

Holden and Kelso then overlaid the flow paths with the land cover data in ArcMap. Presuming that certain land cover types (such as tilled agricultural land or impervious surfaces) contribute to nutrient runoff loads more than other land cover types (dense forest, for instance), they weighted the land cover types accordingly and intersected those weights with the flow path locations. Their resulting map of flow paths showed exactly where large amounts of pollutants were entering the watershed, and thus which exact parcels of land could be the best targets for pollutant remediation. Rather than trying to remedy runoff problems along all the many miles of flow paths in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, this method allows agencies to focus their efforts on specific, high-benefit areas.

For Allenby and the Chesapeake Conservancy, this analysis was a proof of concept: not only that the method could successfully identify areas with disproportionately high quantities of pollution runoff, but also that college students could carry out this high-level analysis. Since then, the Chesapeake Conservancy has started to work with other universities throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed in carrying out similar analyses.

For the two students, this project was rewarding, even though it was often challenging. Kelso, for instance, said learning how to use new software and new techniques were among the hardest aspects; “not only did we have to learn how to use these new softwares, but we had to learn them thoroughly enough to use them effectively and accurately to complete the project.”

But the rewards came from realizing that this project had real community value. “A lot of [academic] classes focus on large scale concepts,” said Holden. “But with this project we could look within a neighborhood.… This made the project feel so applicable because it was on a scale [where] we could potentially have a measurable impact.” Kelso agreed, adding, “I found this project to be very exciting because … our results would be used in real life decision-making processes in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.… It was a good reminder that what I am learning has useful real world applications.”

The Spatial Analysis Lab looks forward to continue working with the Chesapeake Conservancy, both to further this project for other local watersheds and to assist in future research projects. Such work demonstrates that while the SAL may be a great University of Richmond resource, its benefits extend far beyond our campus boundaries.

GIS Day 2013 Preview

GIS Day 2013The Spatial Analysis Lab is excited to host our seventh-annual GIS Day, this Wednesday, November 13, in the SAL from 10:00am to 5:00pm. We have detailed information about the event on our GIS Day page. In addition, you can find more information by following us on Twitter and attending the Facebook event.

For now, however, we want to give you a preview of all the exciting events that will take place this Wednesday, as well as some of the activities that will be happening all day long for our open house.

For a full schedule of events, see the GIS Day page.

  • Guest speakers: Highlights include talks from four UR alumni, current professors, and current students.
  • Our annual geography-themed cake contest! Submit a cake (or any other similar baked goods) to the Spatial Analysis lab by noon on Wednesday. The cakes will be judged based on originality and connection to geography and/or GIS. Prizes are available for the winners!
  • Geography fun and games: Join us for lunch. Rumor is there will be a t-shirt giveaway, a Twitter quiz, and perhaps some other exciting games…

Other Activities
These will go throughout the day, so feel free to stop by the SAL from 10:00am through 5:00pm, sit down at one of our computers, and have fun!

  • “Ask a GIS Expert”: If you have any GIS-related question, our team of professors, staff, and interns will be on hand to help. There’s no question too big or too small that they won’t answer. This is also a perfect way to learn about the GIS capabilities at UR, the data sets we already have, and how you can use GIS in your classes, work, or research.
  • Hands-on GIS for Desktop: Esri, the company that creates the ArcGIS products and sponsors the international GIS Day, has generously supplied some pre-made lessons that guide you through a real-life GIS analysis! This is a great way to learn about GIS, and no prior experience is required. All you have to do is follow easy, step-by-step instructions. The lessons include determining appropriate lynx habitat sites and mapping major features on the surface of Mars.
  • Hands-on GIS Online: Esri has also prepared some fun geo treasure hunts. Use your geographic knowledge to answer a series of questions about major world cities or about mountain ranges, and collect a prize at the end! These interactive treasure hunts showcase web maps from ArcGIS Online.
  • Make Your Own Map: It’s really easy to use ArcGIS Online to create a simple, interactive web map. Follow our easy, step-by-step instructions to create your own map!
  • Mapman Comic Book: GIS Day is fun for all ages! We’ll print you a copy of the Mapman comic book, the only superhero to use geospatial knowledge to save the world! Or at least, to help children sell more lemonade. Have fun learning about GIS while coloring in pictures from this exciting adventure!
  • Certificate of Participation: We know that GIS Day is a big deal, so there’s no better way to commemorate it than with a personalized Certificate of Participation! Just write your name and contact information down on the list, and we will send you the certificate with your name.

We look forward to seeing you on Wednesday for GIS Day!