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How GIS Works

GIS technology applies geographic science with tools for understanding and
collaboration. It helps people reach a common goal: to gain actionable intelligence
from all types of data.

What is GIS

Hundreds of thousands of organizations in virtually every field are using GIS

to make maps that communicate, perform analysis, share information, and
solve complex problems around the world. This is changing the way the world

A geographic information system (GIS) is a framework for gathering,

managing, and analyzing data. Rooted in the science of geography,
GIS integrates many types of data. It analyzes spatial location and
organizes layers of information into visualizations using maps and 3D
scenes. With this unique capability, GIS reveals deeper insights into
data, such as patterns, relationships, and situations—helping users
make smarter decisions.
GIS for Food Security
By Dalton Bloom

In Latest, Technology

As defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United

Nations, food security means “ensuring that all people at all times
have both physical and economic access to the basic food that they

Agricultural limitations, due to an increased population density, are

contributing to the spread of food deserts. Food deserts are defined
as impoverished areas with limited access to fresh affordable food.
GIS is helping examine the spatial links and threats to food sources
in a given environment, which is beginning to part the fog for clearer
identification of food deserts around the world.

Food security can be threatened by three main factors

1. Availability of food in local environments

2. Effects of climate change on agriculture and resources
3. The active planning, development, and management of food
production on existing lands

Geospatial analysis of food availability in a given area can shed

light upon food deserts to help develop strategic plans for the
future. Leveraging GIS for food security means we can monitor land
cover changes, and local food environments to visualize potential
threats over time and plan accordingly.

On a larger scale, leveraging GIS technologies to analyze satellite

imagery can help track climate changes, monitor rainfall, and keep
tabs on soil fertility to reveal potential for food shortages in a given
area. Primary data analysis techniques include quantitative values
for observed rainfall, image analysis, and time analysis to track
changes. It’s more difficult to make large-scale strategic moves
without the insight that GIS brings to the table.

GIS has become a tool of growing importance in the efforts to better

understand the relationships between food availability, agricultural
lands, and the effects of climate change on agriculture production.
A rooted understanding of these relationships is key to improve
sustainable practices, and to adequately plan for threats on food
security. Proper strategies for existing farmlands, in addition to
evolving production practices, can secure food supply on global

GIS for Food Security in Northern Ghana

Ongoing food security issues occur in Northern Ghana each year,

as annual flooding devastates the community and severely impacts
local farmers. But geospatial intelligence is bringing this community
together to combat these annual threats.

By incorporating a variety of mapped features, a 3D model can be

created that enables all community members to partake in this
important discussion regarding food security issues in their
community. Key features mapped include physical, administrative,
environmental, cultural, socio-economic, and territorial factors.

The resulting 3D map empowers communities in development

planning surrounding perennial flooding issues, and consequential
long drought periods. GIS models are essential aspects in the
sustainable development of regions like Northern Ghana.

Explore GIEWS – The Global Information and Early

Warning System on Food and Agriculture
Image credit:

Monitoring major foodcrop conditions to assess future

production, GIEWS presents worldwide remote sensing data. By
leveraging remote sensing data, these maps provide essential
insight on the water availability and vegetation health of regions
around the world. Rainfall estimates, Normalized Difference
Vegetation Index (NDVI), GIEWS, and FAO’s CBC Division have
developed the Agricultural Stress Index (ASI) to identify agricultural
areas likely affected by dry spells or drought.

GIS maps and remote sensing data are changing the landscape of
monitoring the food security of the planet. Valuable geospatial
insight is shifting our predictive models and enabling us to
strategize against food insecurity.

Get Support

Maps bring data to life, providing new perspective on everyday

challenges. Contact our GIS experts to start a conversation about
your data. Discover the possibilities when you view your data from a
new angle.
The role of GIS in climate change

First publishedin ITS International

May June 2014

asGIS maps out the future in changed climates


Traffic planners will have to accommodate the increasing Hurricane Katrina demonstrated the
type of extensive damage traffic planners will face in a changing climate

Climate change will pose global and local challenges and that includes risks to the
transportation infrastructure.

Climate change adaptation and resiliency has captured the attention of the
transportation community for some time now. Because transportation infrastructure
is often designed to last for 30, 50, or 100 years or even longer, transportation
professionals are concerned not only about the impact on our existing investments,
but also how to design more durable transportation systems for the future.

While climate scientists had conducted extensive research on climate change

previously, it was in 1999 that the US Department of Transportation (DOT)
established the Centre for Climate Change and Environmental Forecasting to address
issues of transportation related emissions to the atmosphere. By 2007, the
transportation community began to consider the impacts of climate change on
transportation infrastructure more broadly, reflected in the release of the
Transportation Research Board’s (TRB) Special Report 290 titled ‘Potential Impacts
of Climate Change on U.S. Transportation’. The report brought together a series of
research papers along with the First study to examine the likely impacts of extreme
weather events on the US Gulf Coast Region’s multimodal transportation network.

By 2011, it became the official policy of the US DOT to “…integrate considerations of

climate change impacts and adaptation into the planning, operations, policies and
programs…” of the Department’s various modal Divisions. The focus on climate
change adaptation among transportation professionals has become so pervasive,
that a complete tract was devoted to the topic at the latest TRB sponsored
conference on asset management.

Most climate scientists are in agreement that extreme weather events will be more
common in the future, although the specific effects will be localised, coupled with a
high degree of uncertainty. As a result, climate models have focused on trying to
better predict the geographic variation in impacts, and the specific types of impacts
most likely to occur. In general, many areas of the globe will likely experience
higher temperatures and more frequent heat events, changes in precipitation
patterns, declining snowpack and changes in river flows, SEA level rise and more
extreme storm activity. Each of these effects will impact transportation
infrastructures and those impacts need to be evaluated and become part of the
transportation design and planning processes.

Esri president Jack Dangermond

In response, there is now a growing body of research for transportation

professionals. The US Federal Highway Administration has published several studies
to identify best practices among State Departments of Transportation in preparing
for climate change disruptions. The reports outlined suggested methodologies that
transportation professionals can use in their planning processes (see for example:
‘Applications of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for Transportation and
Climate Change 2011’).

Similarly in California, Cambridge Systematics authored a guide1 to help

metropolitan planners and regional transportation agencies build climate change
resilience into their transportation planning processes. Defining a five-step process,
the guide lays out a comprehensive methodology to assist transportation
professionals in calculating and mitigating future impacts. The frameworks these
guides provide are similar to the UK’s Highway Agency’s ‘Climate Change Adaptation
Strategy’, which all have a similar methodology.

The role of GIS

There is wide consensus that GIS provides the foundation for much of the analytical
work in understanding these impacts. A fundamental starting place is capturing the
inventory of all existing transportation infrastructure (including ITS assets) and
many agencies already have their inventories in a GIS, along with detailed
information about the current condition and expected lifecycle of those assets. More
problematic are some of the smaller assets that may play a larger role under
changing precipitation patterns: culverts, drains and storm sewers.

The next step is determining the degree of exposure of transportation assets, and
HERE a great deal of effort is often spent ‘downscaling’ global or regional models of
climate change effects to the local context. Most transportation professionals rely on
local University climate scientists to help determine more precise estimates of SEA
level rise, increased precipitation, extreme temperature events and other
impacts. These predicted impacts are often overlaid on precise elevation models
captured from Lidar, together with slope measurements (to calculate increased
landslide potential) and the existing inventory of transportation infrastructure. The
current and future condition of the asset helps to determine the vulnerability of
those assets to these climate impacts.

As few agencies are able to evaluate the totality of their transportation assets, they
need to determine the relative importance or criticality of their assets. The criticality
of the asset is often determined by its economic importance and the availability of
alternatives. HERE again, GIS-based network models can help assess the relative
importance of various assets. These calculations are often driven by qualitative
assessments such as tolerances for risk and what the community values.

Pilot Studies
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Highway
Administration funded five pilot studies, to test their process and methodology,
and now has funded 19 Climate Resilience Pilots. Washington DOT was an early
leader among State Departments of Transportation and one of the original five
pilots. It conducted a year-long study2 to calculate and understand the future
vulnerabilities of their transportation networks. Combining a GIS-based inventory of
existing transportation facilities with climate research from the University of
Washington, Washington DOT also brought together the local transportation
engineers with the most detailed knowledge of their local assets. Combining a
qualitative and quantitative assessment, the transportation agency modelled the
predicted impacts from a variety of climate effects in an effort to assist state
Modelled effect of severe storm to Honolulu Harbor

Another of the original five, Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organisation, conducted a

series of scenarios to understand the vulnerability of the island - particularly the
Honolulu Harbor and surrounding transportation infrastructure.

Looking ahead
While a number of studies highlighted impressive GIS-based models, it is clear that
much more needs to be done. This March, President Obama unveiled the Climate
Data Initiative which is making available a large number of climate-related data sets
from the federal government. It is also encouraging private researchers and
practitioners to develop a wide range of new applications designed to help combat
global climate change and to help communities better adapt to future climate
changes. It’s a call to use open government data on climate change risks and
impacts in compelling and useful ways that help citizens, businesses and
communities make Smart choices in the face of climate change.

In response, GIS and mapping specialists ESRI has announced an initiative to

support the White House’s efforts with three coordinated components. First, ESRI is
partnering with 12 large and small communities to develop practical ways to address
their most pressing climate resiliency needs using GIS technology. The aim is to
help develop a series of applications that can be shared openly so communities
around the world can become more resilient to the challenges of climate change.

Secondly, ESRI will host a wealth of governmental data (US and other countries)
and make it available to researchers and practitioners to provide the foundation for
future development. Citizens and professionals can go online to Discover, contribute
and share resources critical to confronting the impacts of climate change. This
website will offer a starting point for open data and ideas and over time it will grow
and evolve as more scientists, government bodies and citizens contribute. “We felt it
was important to establish this collaborative network of individuals and organisations
who use GIS to come together to combat the impacts of climate change,” said ESRI
president Jack Dangermond.

Thirdly, ESRI recently announced its Climate Resilience App Challenge. Developers
can use open data and ESRI apps, maps, services and application program
interfaces to create maps and analytical tools that help communities establish and
grow more resilient practices. This challenge supports the White House Climate Data
Initiative as it inspires developers to focus their efforts on making maps and
analytical tools that help communities see, understand and prepare for climate risks.

To extend the reach of these efforts, the company has partnered with a number of
other organisations, including the International City/County Management
Association, National Association of Counties, National League of Cities, the
American Public Works Association and the American Planning Association. These
efforts are designed to focus attention on the necessity of better preparing our
existing infrastructure for climate resiliency and to better plan future infrastructure.
As Dangermond stated, “as governments, businesses, innovators and citizens work
toward this common goal, both a knowledge base and real-world tools will be
created that people around the globe can use to build more resilient communities.”

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