Unpacking the Census: Mapping Poverty in Metro Richmond

Post by Olivia Mobayed ’16

There is no doubt that poverty is a big issue in Richmond.  A high proportion of Richmond children grow up in households that live below the poverty level, and a majority of Richmond Public School students receive free or reduced price lunch. Dr. John Moeser has been studying trends relating to poverty in the Richmond region for decades, and I was lucky enough to assist him this past year in his research.

Along with SAL GIS technician, Taylor Holden, I was able to track changes in poverty, unemployment, and household income not just for Richmond, but also for the larger Richmond region.  With new data from the American Community Survey, we updated past maps from Dr. Moeser’s research to show 2014 5-year estimates (estimations from the American community spanning from 2009 to 2014). With updated visualizations, we were able to map poverty not just in the city of Richmond, but also how it has changed in the suburbs.  We were able to conclude that poverty is spreading outward, and has become a regional issue.

With our findings and maps, we were able to present to various community groups.  We presented at church groups, the Richmond City Health District, and at the Richmond Times Dispatch.  By utilizing maps, we were able to share our findings with ease, keeping our audiences engaged and informed.  Our presentation sparked conversations about policy, history, segregation, transportation, gentrification, and next steps in preparing a regional response.

Poverty in Richmond, Chesterfield, and Henrico 2000-2014

Lucky for you, the maps and additionally slides from our presentation are available on the University of Richmond library website! Keep updated, because more discoveries are coming in the following months.  We hope to study transportation trends within the region – where commute times are longest, and which places use specific transportation types (automobiles, busses, bicycles, and others) more than other places. We are also considering different ways to make these maps online and interactive in order to allow viewers to interact with the data and easily compare various demographic variables (for example, showing poverty rates and unemployment rates side-by-side).

Median Household income in Richmond, Chesterfield, and Henrico from 2000-2014

Median Household income in Richmond, Chesterfield, and Henrico from 2000-2014

When I first found out about Dr. Moeser’s research, I was so excited to be part of it!  I have always been interested in the human side of geography, and mapping demographics from the region I spent the last four years of my life in sounded like a dream come true! Indeed, spending time on this project has made myself even more confident in my plan to continue my study of people and the places they inhabit and interact with.

This summer, I am mapping various measures of health and equity in the Richmond region, thanks to an opportunity I was given following one of our presentations.  This fall, I will begin working towards my Masters in City & Regional planning.  Although I will not be in Richmond, this research opportunity has been an invaluable experience in understanding demographic trends and the complex system of forces behind them as they relate not just to Richmond, but the whole world. There is no question in my mind that this research opportunity would not have been possible for me without the help of the SAL.

Here is an interactive web map of the data I prepared from 1990-2014 for my Maps and Geovisualizations course. It can be seen larger here


Thank you, Dr. Moeser & the SAL!


Olivia graduated from UR in May 2016 and will begin a Masters of City Planning at the University of Pennsylvania this fall. She will focus on transportation planning and applications of GIS

MSI Week 3 – Field Work

This week our wonderful MSI students took their experience outside the lab and completed some fieldwork. They contributed to our campus tree inventory, which I actually started 4 years ago in the summer after my freshman year. We collected species, diameter, height, and location for over 800 trees on campus and estimates how much carbon they stored. The original inventory can be found below:

This past year students in our Earth Systems and Physical Geography course (GEOG 250) have been adding trees to the map using GPS units and the ArcCollector app. Our MSI students got to do so as well! Without further ado, here is the experience in their own words:


Starting this week we’ve participated in field work. It was very interesting and it provided a fun experience. Markee and I evaluated many different trees outside of the lab. I measured the height using the laser Rangefinder and Markee focused on diameter of the tree. Together we managed to figure out the name and species of the trees. My favorite part of the field work was interacting with my partners and realizing how much information you can get about a tree by only using a few tools.


The field work I’ve been doing outside for GIS at the University of Richmond was a little tough at first. I really didn’t know how to use any of the tools.  Measuring the trees can be tiring but the results are worth it. The tool I like using the most is the laser Rangefinder. It measures how tall the tree is in meters. I like finding out what type of species the tree is. That’s the part that takes the longest.

Students using the laser range finder, after having measured their distance from the tree using the tape measure on the ground.

Students using the laser range finder, after having measured their distance from the tree using the tape measure on the ground.


My name is Jonathan and I learned and did a lot during these sessions of field work. We started off with having to know how to calculate the Diameter at Breast Height (DBH) of a tree. Then we learned how to calculate the height of the tree using degree measures on a Rangefinder. Then we did some review and practiced with finding GPS locations and reading coordinates. Once these objectives were completed we went out and put what we learned to the test. At first we had to use a sheet and write down the information. Then we used an app created by ESRI, so we could enter all the information on our phones and it logged the tree into the ArcCollector app on a map. So from this experience I learned a lot and had fun as well.


We have been trying to figure out ways to solve global climate change. Tons of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are emitted every day. These gases overheat and pollute the environment, and will gradually get worse over time we don’t do something soon. Since trees are able to store carbon dioxide, we have been researching exactly how much carbon dioxide various species of trees are capable of sequestering. Over the past few weeks, we have been conducting fieldwork at the University of Richmond to determine the amount of carbon dioxide different trees can store. We use DBH (Diameter at Breast Height), range finders, dichotomous keys, and global positioning systems to gather data of the trees on campus. I hope that the data we gather of tree sequestration can be used to help solve global climate change.

Do These Buttress Roots Make My Trunk Look Big?

Post by Kim Browne 

The past four summers I’ve had the good fortune of leading students to Australia for an intensive field experience which includes visits to two World Heritage sites: the Wet Tropics of North Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef. These sites are connected (literally and littorally) by the rain that falls along the narrow strip of forests along the mountainous coast, by the sugarcane fields the rivers pass through on their way to the sea, by the mangroves which filter nutrients and sediment, and by a thousand other processes that are critical to the health of these important ecosystems.

But today, the main connection I want to write about is the one I felt to my study abroad as an undergraduate at James Madison University in the summer of 1987. During this intensive field biology course in the Ecuadorian rainforest and the Galapagos Islands (think Darwin) we saw buttress roots, crossed altitudinal gradients, and witnessed things few people ever witness. How many people get to swim with sea lions in the Galapagos? Witness blue-footed booby’s feeding their young? Watch an anaconda slide off a log into the river?

My friend Emily in the Ecuadorian Amazon with a tree with large buttress roots

My friend Emily in the Ecuadorian Amazon next to a tree with large buttress roots

I’m very fortunate to have had those experiences and my students are equally fortunate. Many of the Islands I visited in the Galapagos nearly 30 years ago are now closed to visitors (due to damage and pests). Lonesome George, a giant tortoise we saw at the Charles Darwin Research Stations died in 2012.  The Amazon is in trouble.

I wonder and worry about the Reef. I wonder if in 30 years my students will be reminiscing about that thing of the past called the Great Barrier Reef.  Snorkeling this year (after unprecedented coral bleaching) was striking and saddening compared to my experience just one year ago. The reef is in trouble. The destruction of these large rainforest trees (aka carbon storage tanks), combined with other factors (including carbon emissions from our flights), is putting the reef in serious danger.

I’ve since returned to my lab where four high school students are being mentored by two of my lab interns. The students are contributing to an inventory of trees on campus. They are recording the GPS coordinates, diameter, height, and species of trees. Using this information they will estimate biomass and carbon stored. The data collected will help us better understand the role of trees in our world and will help the students connect the trees they see every single day to things like the Great Barrier Reef and Global Climate Change.

Giant fig tree in the Paluma Rainforest

Elaborate root structures in the Paluma Rainforest


Richmond Math Science Investigators (MSI) in the SAL

Post by Marissa Parker ’16

This summer, the SAL is hosting four rising 10th grade students from Richmond Public Schools in the Richmond Math Science Investigators (MSI) program. The goal of MSI is to increase the number of students pursuing a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. The students are interested in the sciences and hope to pursue STEM fields in college and beyond. The MSI Program spans five weeks.

Our four students knew little about geography when they entered the program, but now are learning to connect their interests in natural/life sciences and engineering to geography and GIS. In the SAL, the students are learning about earth systems and physical geography relating to climate change, how to create basic maps in ArcMap, what GIS is and how to apply it, and how to conduct fieldwork while contributing to our campus tree inventory.

Take a peek at our students’ reflections on the first week…



During the summer a group of high school students and I engage in a 5 week program with mentors from the University of Richmond. The program starts on Monday and ends on the Thursday of that particular week. This week was very interesting learning about maps and the concept of GIS. We evaluated different maps that relate to GIS and how you can input different data.


I learned a lot over the past few days. Each day in the afternoon we watched these really exciting and fun videos on different countries that explained a lot of the country’s characteristics. We talked about GPS and used one to locate different locations on campus. We looked at maps and talked about the different aspects of them and finding other aspects dealing with maps. Today we looked at GIS which is a system used to view maps and help us as people make decisions for our everyday life. We used a program on the computer and experimented with it. My favorite part was everything I did because it served a purpose in my learning and knowledge gaining and it was very fun.


I learned that the Costa Rica flag has red, white, and blue colors. Working in ArcMap is fun and simple to use. Many people use it today to get around or just find different locations of where they want to travel.


I have learned several things this week. I learned about cartographers, projections, and scales. I now know about various types of projections such as the Mercator and Peters map projections. The Mercator map projection is the typical map that we use today. However, it isn’t proportionate and makes northern continents such as North America, Europe, and Asia appear more important than southern ones like South America, Africa, and Australia. On the contrary, the Peters projection emphasizes southern continents and makes them seem more important. I also learned more about how cartographers use GIS (Geographical Information Systems). Lastly, I learned about how scales show ratios of distances in the real world.

Stay tuned for more reflections from our wonderful MSI students!!!

Geo-Referencing the Jepson Quad

Post by Shaquille Christmas ’15

This post was from February 2016

This week students in the GEOG 280 course “Maps and Geovisualization” got a taste of how challenging it was for early Cartographers to survey an area, and draw what they saw—with a high level of accuracy. Students went into the Jepson quad and created a sketch of what they saw and tried to match their drawing to a true scale.

Next, their drawings were scanned and imported into ArcGIS; a tool I am sure early Cartographers would be proud of.


Using the georeferencing tool, students then tried to match the different points on their map to the actual lay of the land as closely as possible. Many students had done such a good job that their hand drawn maps were georeferenced within a few feet to the actual distance on the ground which was an amazing site to see. Overall, it was a fun and eye opening exercise in which students gained a greater appreciation for the work of early Cartographers.




Note from Taylor:

From a teaching perspective, I found this lesson to be highly effective not only at teaching students how to georeference maps, but also how to understand scale. They each had the opportunity to create their own scale for their hand drawn map. Each student could take their own approach to developing their scale, either by walking out the paces, estimating with their eyes, laying down on the ground to use their height, or even bringing a tape measure (which we didn’t allow them to use, just to make it a little more challenging). However, they realized that with a tape measure they could have gotten even more accurate with their scales, although they didn’t need it as Shaquille mentioned! This was a fun lab to do with students who haven’t taken GIS or other geography courses before, and we will likely incorporate it into future georeferencing and scale lessons.


Newport News Students Explore Environmental Issues in their Community with GIS

Post by Dr. Mary Finley-Brook

Children from the Southeast Care Coalition and Southeast Asthma Network of Newport News attended a workshop in the Spatial Analysis Lab (SAL) on December 5, 2015. SAL Intern Jared Goldback Ehmer (’17) led a Google Earth demonstration examining social and environmental issues in the children’s neighborhood. The workshop was taught with assistance from Don Edmunds (’17) and Izzy Pezzulo (’18), students in Professor Finley-Brook’s Local to Global Living Learning Community. The mapping exercise demonstrated spatial proximity between schools the children attend and a coal export plant, highway, shipyard, and various industrial sites generating air emissions harmful to public health.

1  35

Nearly twice as many children in Southeast Newport News live with asthma than the national average. For African American children, asthma is the leading reason for school absences and hospital visits, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the December 5th workshop, Dr. Erica Holloman, Program Coordinator for the Southeast Care Coalition, shown below with her newborn son, discussed how the lack of green space and trees in Southeast Newport News exacerbates respiratory disease. Increasing vegetation, such as by planting trees, would improve air quality in this neighborhood predominately covered by paved surfaces.

Dr. Erica Holloman, Program Coordinator for the Southeast Care Coalition and her newborn son

Dr. Erica Holloman, Program Coordinator for the Southeast Care Coalition, and her newborn son

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified Newport News an as environmentally overburdened, underserved, and economically distressed area. With the Making a Visible Difference in Communities Program, the EPA provides technical support to the Southeast Care Coalition for environmental programs. Environmental Studies faculty members at the University of Richmond, including Mary Finley-Brook (Geography) and Kristine Grayson (Biology), are forging a partnership with Southeast Care Coalition to support and participate in community-based air and water quality monitoring.

For more information, contact Mary Finley-Brook (mbrook@richmond.edu) or check out her website.



GIS Day 2015


On Wednesday November 18th GIS nerds across the globe will come together to celebrate all things GIS! As always we’ll have our fabulous cake contest to see who can win for their creativity and design skills! Check out some of the awesome things we have planned below:



9:00-10:00  – Breakfast Welcome/Open House
10:00 -11:00  – Model Builder and Python Workshop
11:30-12:00  – GIS and Epidemiology: The Spread of Lyme Disease
12:00-12:30  – Campus GIS Showcase
12:30-2:00  – Open House and Campus Geocaching Activity
2:00-2:30  – Race and Poverty in the Richmond Region
2:30-3:00  –  Campus GIS Showcase 2
3:00-4:00  – Cake Contest voting
4:00-5:00  – GTU Induction Ceremony and Party!



Breakfast Open House- Join us for coffee and bagels as we discuss the big day ahead and answer any questions you have about GIS or the Spatial Analysis Lab.

Model Builder and Python Workshop: Come learn how Model Builder and some simple Python scripting can automate your analysis and procedures to save you tons of valuable time! Taught by our wonderful intern Tracy Tien, this one is a can’t miss for anyone using GIS

GIS and Epidemiology: The Spread of Lyme Disease – Senior intern Shaquille Christmas will present his independent study with Dr. Jory Brinkerhoff about the  spread of Lyme disease within Virginia and how GIS is helping them research and track it.

Campus GIS Showcase – Dr. John Scrivani and GIS Technician Taylor Holden will showcase some of the many student projects using campus as a living lab over the past several years. In addition they will show some innovative uses for LiDAR data in campus asset management. Other topics will include tree inventory, carbon storage, illumination safety mapping, and field collecting data with ArcGIS Online.

Campus Geocaching Activity – Join the UR Geography Club for a fun adventure mapping various campus infrastructure elements. This crowd sourcing activity will showcase how data can be collected by a variety of stakeholders for many different projects. Prizes will be won!!!!

Race and Poverty in the Richmond Region –  Watch senior intern Olivia Mobayed discuss assisting Dr. John Moeser with his research into race and poverty in the Richmond Region. This ongoing and highly influential project has found a new home in the SAL where we will help expand his analysis and dig deeper to further explore inequality and changing demographics in our region.

Cake Contest – Enter your most creative geography or GIS themed cake/cupcakes/desert for a chance at three prizes! Awards are based on creativity and cleverness, so no baking skills needed! Feel free to bake your own or purchase pre-made cakes to decorate.  Drop your cake off early in the morning for everyone to admire! For ideas check out some of our past entries below.

Gamma Theta Upsilon (GTU) Induction Ceremony – Join us a we induct new members into the UR chapter of the International Geography Honor Society. Cake and other refreshments will be served as celebration!

Some past GIS Day Cakes:

Adrian_Carly GIS_cakes Klinker and cake



Resources for Learning ArcGIS – Self Guided

Hi All,

In the first few months of my position as GIS Technician here in the SAL I have had multiple conversations with students, faculty, and staff who would like to learn to use GIS, but do not have the time to take a full course. One of the wonderful things about ArcGIS (and there are many!) is that ESRI provides great support for learning to use the various tools and products. I often find the online help to be useful when performing a new analysis or trying to get a tricky map to look good. However, there are also countless other resources available for learning GIS from the beginning. Here’s a list of a few of the resources I’ve been directing people to.

Here is a free course from ESRI  (the company that makes the ArcGIS software) for getting started. It’s about 4 hours long broken into different modules.


These videos by Harvard University might be useful as well for getting started.


And here is a workbook resource from University of Maryland for learning GIS with a little more depth.


Lastly, Kim and I have signed up for a new MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) offered by ESRI called “Going Places with Spatial Analysis”. Here’s a screenshot of the website to give you an idea what the course is about. We are planning on hosting SAL lunches every Wednesday at noon to discuss the past week’s lesson and create space for all those learning GIS to network and get to know each other. If you would like to join us show up on Wednesday September 9th or email me ahead of time to let me know you’re interested. Here is the link to the sign up!



As always, if you have any questions feel free to contact me or drop by the SAL in INTC 300!



Taylor Holden

GIS Technician


Natural Resource Condition Assessment for Booker T. Washington National Monument

Post by Heather Courtenay ’16

In the background of the rest of the SAL research, Dr. Lookingbill and I have been working on revisions for a paper that was started last summer on Booker T. Washington National Monument (BOWA). The paper is a Natural Resource Condition Assessment (NRCA) for the National Park Service, which is formulated to assess and record park resource conditions, accompanying more traditional threat-based assessments. An NRCA reports on the current and trending conditions, data gaps, and confidence levels for selected park natural resource indicators. The report can be used by park managers to address park priorities, identify data needs for resources, and further communicate park resource conditions to wider audiences. The goal of the report is to provide information based on scientific data and analysis, which can then be used in park planning and partnerships.

Booker T. Washington National Monument memorializes the birthplace of one of America’s most influential African American, Booker T. Washington. The site was established as a National Monument in 1956 by Congress. Today, BOWA is a 239 acre park that contains many interpretive replicas of buildings and farm installations, as well as a visitor’s center and an old school building. The park is within the Piedmont region of Virginia, and is situated in the Roanoke River and Albemarle Sound watersheds. Threats to the park’s natural resources are found inside the park (e.g., invasive species, erosion), outside the park boundaries (e.g., water contamination), and the greater region (e.g., air pollution).


Key Characteristics of Booker T. Washington National Monument in a conceptual diagram showing the natural resource assets and stressors in and around the park.

Multiple metrics are used to assess the health of the park, and datum must be collected from various monitoring reports, such as the National Park Service Inventory and Monitoring Program, and park-specific databases. Once the 16 vital sign metrics were identified, a threshold level was set based on scientific literature and management goals. This threshold acts as a reference point from which to gauge the status of the vital sign. Attainment of thresholds for each metric were calculated from the percentage of sites or samples that reached or exceeded the threshold value. A metric attainment score of 100% indicated that the metric met the threshold identified to maintain the resource in all instances. Once all of the attainment scores were calculated, an unweighted mean was calculated to assess the condition of each vital sign category for the park as a whole. The natural resources of BOWA were found to warrant moderate concern, reaching 57% of desired thresholds.

Vital sign categories and metrics used in assessing of Booker T. Washington National Monument

Vital sign categories and metrics used in assessing of Booker T. Washington National Monument

In order to give visual context to the report, many maps and figures were created to represent things like geologic formations, sampling points, and watershed contexts. Most of my job this summer has been standardizing these maps to a set format, as well as resolving data gaps. Supporting the large amount of data contained in the NRCA with comprehensive maps significantly increase the accessibility of the information, which is vital in a public arena such as the National Park Service.

Watershed Context of Booker T. Washington National Monument, in the Upper Roanoke River Watershed

Watershed Context of Booker T. Washington National Monument, in the Upper Roanoke River Watershed