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.

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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 ( 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

GIS in Action: DC2RVA Field Trip

Post by Shaquille Christmas ’16

A couple weeks ago we visited the Richmond office of  Henningson, Durham, and Richardson, Inc (HDR), which is an architectural, engineering and consulting firm based in Omaha, Nebraska. UR alum and former SAL researcher extraordinaire Bridget Ward recently started working there as a GIS consultant in the transportation division. Bridget and her colleagues spoke to us about the DC to Richmond South East High Speed Rail project they are spearheading the planning for. They detailed the different ways in which HDR uses Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to support not only the DC to Richmond rail project, but also many of their other projects. These uses include preparing bids for contracts, performing analysis for various departments before and during construction, and especially communicating with the public. Below is a map they created showing the proposed rail route.

DC to Richmond (2)

One of the other interesting projects they talked about was an expansion of Route 460 that was delayed and ultimately drastically changed due to another contractor using inaccurate data to make decisions about impacts on wetland health. Since we have worked with wetland data on several projects over the summer it was cool to see how important accurate and detailed analysis is, and how detrimental careless errors can be!


Overall, our time spent at HDR was both invaluable and inspiring. Bridget and her team gave us several homework projects of cool tool and methods we should learn to prepare for working in a professional and team environment. It is my hope that other students are getting experiences such as this, and are receiving advice on how to best put their GIS skills to use as they consider potential career paths.


Streetview for Trails: Online Mapping with Terrain360

Post by Jared Goldbach Ehmer ’17

This week in the SAL, we continued working with Ryan Abrahamsen from Terrain360.  Last week we modified visual hierarchies on basemaps to make them more aesthetically pleasing.  To do this, we used the open source program called Mapbox. Mapbox required us to code in CSS, something none of us had ever actually done.  While most of us had coded in some regard in the past, it was either a new language to learn or a new experience altogether.  The basemaps we created and visually modified are used to house the trails and panoramas mapping them.


View from Hollwood Rapids on part of Terrain360’s online map of the James River. Found here:


Example of what a trail looks like in Terrain360. This is the Mud Creek Trail near Ancarrow’s Landing. Found here:

This week, we were given the opportunity to actually go out and take the pictures that will go on basemaps like the ones we created.  Using a Canon Rebel T3i with a wide-angle lens on a carbon fiber tripod with a 60 degree rotatable head provided by Terrain360, we were able to take wonderful and accurate panoramas.  While in the field, a series of 6 portrait-aspect pictures were taken that overlapped for about a third of their girth due to the wide-angle lens.  A GPS (Global Positioning System) was brought along with the camera to record where the photos were taken so the photos could then be linked to geographic coordinates.  Once back in the lab, these pictures could be stitched together to form a seamless panorama and placed on a map with the attached GPS coordinates.

Ryan walked us through a few camera basics to get us all up to speed with a basic level of camera aptitude.  Each panorama, or series of six shots, was unique and everything had to be adjusted for that particular location.  For each series of shots, we adjusted white balance, shutter speed, and focal point.  The white balance was adjusted for sunny, cloudy, shady, fluorescent, or incandescent lighting.  For most of our shots, we switched between the first three outdoor Kelvin levels.  Shutter speed was probably the main variable that was changed for each shot, for it may still be sunny out, but the level of light and exposure that we wanted to capture would have been different.  Shutter speed is measured in seconds or fractions of seconds, our particular camera having a range of 30 seconds to one four-thousandth of a second.


There are three running trails on the campus of the University of Richmond that we photographed, the blue, the gold, and the red.  These trails can be seen in the map above.  In addition to the three running trails on campus, we also photographed the Gambles-Mill trail and the route you can take from it to the Huguenot Flatwater Park. The trail starts by running along the Country Club of Virginia golf course, eventually meeting River Road at the River Road Shopping Center.

We crossed River Road over to Huguenot Road and followed it down all the way across the Huguenot Memorial Bridge. Then we followed the cloverleaf exit and took the left onto Riverside Drive and then a quick right onto Southampton Road to arrive at Huguenot Flatwater Park.  Because each panorama needed to be about 20-30 feet apart and customized accordingly, even a simple walk around half the lake could take about two and a half hours to capture fully.

In the coming week, we will be both stitching the photos together to form the actual panoramas and placing them on the basemaps with the geographic coordinates. We have tried a few so far and are still working out kinks with the process. However, the “mess ups” are pretty cool to look at! To see our work and all the other places that Terrain360 has covered, go to

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Attempt at stitching a panorama of the bridge on the Blue Trail over the lake

This project was interesting to us not only because it helps an organization doing cool work, but the skills we are learning are very applicable to other projects we might do. In terms of technological application, this project exhibits directly correlation to utilization in both Virtual Tours of Campus as well as a Virtual Tour Showing Students the way to Huguenot Flatwater Park.  The virtual tour of campus would be beneficial for prospective students and especially for students that are unable to travel to visit the campus in person.  Having a photographed route to Huguenot Flatwater could also encourage more students to make the trip down to Huguenot Flatwater Park.

Proposing a New National Natural Landmark: Bear Rocks, WV

Post by Natalie Somerville ’17

Hey friends! I’m Natalie and I have the good fortune of doing research with Todd Lookingbill during May and June of this summer. I am working on writing a proposal to the National Park Service to suggest adding a new landmark to their National Registry of Natural Landmarks.

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Now, if you are unfamiliar with the concept of National Natural Landmarks, let me explain a bit: they are not equivalent to the status of National Parks; I am not proposing a new National Park, sadly, although that would be pretty sweet. When the NPS gives a site the designation of “National Natural Landmark,” it means that the specific site is the best representative example of some geological or biological feature within a physiographic region of the United States.

Appalachain Plateau1

Map of Appalachian Plateaus prepared by the S4 Interns

The Appalachian Plateaus province of the U.S., which goes from Alabama to New York (see figure above for a map of the 7 sections within the Plateaus region; the site I am researching is located on the eastern edge of the Allegheny Plateau section in West Virginia), does not have any National Natural Landmarks designated within it to represent the geological feature of a plateau. …No plateau landmark within the Plateaus province..? Seems like a major gap. And here is where my project comes in! I am researching the geology and ecology of an area of land in West Virginia called Bear Rocks, in hopes of writing a report to the National Park Service saying why Bear Rocks should be considered as a new landmark to represent the plateau theme.

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Bear Rocks is already a Preserve, owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy, so there would be no extra protection given to the area even if my proposal is accepted and this site becomes a new landmark. I began research on this project with a few classmates in my SSIR (Protected Lands of the American West) this past semester, and our whole community took a weekend trip to the site. When you actually go to the Bear Rocks Preserve and run up the rocks to stand on the edge of the plateau, looking out over the vast horizon over to the Blue Ridge Mountains, it is clear how well this area of land demonstrates the features of a plateau. Plus, you get some pretty good views of the sunrise:

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I conducted a site visit to Bear Rocks in mid-May, a trip that included a meeting with the Land Conservation Practitioner for the West Virginia chapter of The Nature Conservancy. It was very helpful to talk to someone who has worked in and around this area of land for several years and knows what is important about it. Something it made me learn about research in general: I may do various internet searches and think I know information about a place, but talking to people who are familiar with the topic or subject of research will bring invaluable knowledge and clarity to the project. This research project is a team effort and cannot be completed without many different voices and areas of expertise.

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We are certainly moving forward in the information we know and making progress with writing the report! There is still a lot to be done, but I and the people involved with this project are expectant and hopeful that Bear Rocks will prove to be the best candidate for a National Natural Landmark designation, representing plateaus.

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GIS Analysis for Land Conservation Decision Making

Post by Marissa Parker ’16

Last week in the SAL, we took on our first full project as SAL interns, working for the Chesapeake Conservancy and the Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC). The Capitol Region Land Conservancy is a local non-profit land trust that aims to “conserve and protect the natural and historic land and water resources of Virginia’s Capital Region for the benefit of current and future generations” by facilitating the creation of land easements. These land easements permanently limit development to maintain the health of watersheds.

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These 7 counties and City of Richmond comprise the “Capital Region” the CRLC focuses on

To assist in their efforts to protect our community’s ecological health, we provided GIS services to the CRLC working in collaboration with the Chesapeake Conservancy. Our project for these clients was to create a database to evaluate various attributes of land parcels within eight counties (see map above) surrounding Richmond to help the CRLC make informed conservation decisions. Some attributes that we evaluated include location of each parcel within a floodplain, amount of natural land cover and wetland habitat, and the inclusion of historic places. Using ArcGIS software, we completed these analyses to create a single geodatabase containing extensive information on each land parcel in the eight counties.

We also completed a Viewshed analysis on local scenic byways—roads that run along the James River—which displayed areas that are and are not visible from the scenic byway, up to 5 miles away. This provided information on visibility of land parcels from scenic byways, which also will inform CRLC decisions. The picture below shows how some areas are visible from the byways while others are not, due to elevation and canopy cover.


The blue lines are scenic byways with views of the James River. The green areas are pixels identified as “visible” from the scenic byways. We included if a land parcel contained visible pixels in the data we sent the CRLC.

This project will help the CRLC in their creation of new conservation easements and provided us interns with first experience working as a team to complete a large project using GIS.