# Tag Archives: Earth Systems

## Using Topographic Maps to Study Landforms in ArcGIS Online

Using topographic maps to study landforms has been a key part of Geography and Earth Science instruction for over a century. It has never been easier to do, thanks to the seamless USGS topographic maps for the USA and the base topographic map for  the world available in ArcGIS Online. I have created a set of 12 questions and a map containing 20 landforms as a starting point for these investigations.

Topographic Map Activity in ArcGIS Online.

Remember the old days when the landform you were seeking to analyze seemed to inevitably fall across corners of 4 topographic paper map sheets?  The USGS maps, originally published at 1:24,000, 1:100,000, and 1:250,000 scales, display seamlessly in ArcGIS Online – no more corners!  The map above opens to the Ennis, Montana area, on the classic alluvial fan that has long been a staple with these sorts of investigations.

Questions include the following, which can be used as is or as a springboard for your own questions.

Use the bookmarks to zoom to the 1:24,000-scale map. Measure the distance between each contour line. Determine the contour interval by reading the numbers on the contours. Calculate the slope in percentage and in degrees.  Calculate the slope of the fan again using the 1:100,000 scale map. Is this measurement different than the measurement you calculated using the 1:24,000 scale map? Explain a few reasons for possible differences.  Calculate the slope in another location on the fan. Is the slope similar to your other reading? Why are slopes so constant on an alluvial fan?

Calculate the area of the alluvial fan using the square mile grid shown on the topographic map as a guide, and the scale bar in the lower left of your ArcGIS Online map window. Then compare this measurement against what you get by using the measure tool above the map. Be sure to indicate the units you are using.  Name 3 differences in the type and number of features shown on USGS maps at the 3 different scales. Why do these differences exist?

Examine the following features, each of which is accessible through the Bookmarks above the map. For each landform, indicate:   What is the name of the landform?  What is the location of the landform?  How did the landform form?  What did the landform and area look like 100 years ago? 1000 years ago? Why? What will the landfrom and area look like 100 years from now? 1000 years from now? Why?  Would you classify the landform as rapidly changing or slowly changing? Why?   How has the landform influenced human activity and settlement in this area?  How have humans modified the landform, if at all, in this area?   What is the climate and vegetation like in this area?  Can you find the same landforms in other areas? If so, where are they?

The 20 landforms included in the map and lesson are a tombolo, a col, a salt dome, lava beds, marine terraces, the Llano Estacado, sand hills, drumlins, moraines, a caldera, an estuary, karst, a water gap, a tarn, an arete, a structural dome, a slow moving landslide, trellis drainage, an oxbow lake, and an inselberg.   The lesson also includes comparison of landscapes shaped by the public land survey system, long lots, and metes and bounds.

You can use ArcGIS Online to draw your own points, lines, and areas on the topographic map using “Add” and “Create Editable Layer.” Link your features to text, photos, and videos. Save your map (requires either a personal or an organizational ArcGIS Online account).  You can also add USGS topographic maps to any ArcGIS Online map through the “Add” function by searching for “USA Topo.”   You can also use the Add tool to add climate, weather, ecoregions, and other layers to help you understand the interaction between climate and landforms.

Working outside the USA? Then make sure your base map is set to “Topographic” and you can explore landforms using a topographic map base all around the world!

Posted in Education | | 2 Comments

## Investigating Extreme Temperatures Using ArcGIS Online

Who has ever looked in the newspaper or online and read that day’s extreme high and low temperatures for your country or for the world? Who has ever wanted to map that data? I thought so! Three years ago, I did exactly that when I created a data set and lesson on extreme daily temperatures for ArcGIS for the USA, which I updated last month for ArcGIS 10. But I also have just created a version for ArcGIS Online, which was easy to do given ArcGIS Online’s geocoding capabilities, and the lesson provide a pathway to spatial analysis with a fascinating data set.

What is the relationship of temperature extremes to latitude, altitude, seasons, and proximity to coasts? Previous experience with GIS is not necessary to use this lesson, but the geographic perspective is important. Ideally, this lesson would be run during a unit on climate and weather. Data layers include extreme temperatures, a topographic map, and cultural features. The temperature data was gathered with the help of a stellar secondary school student. The map shows the locations of all of the places that recorded a high or low temperature extreme in the USA for each of the 31 days in January 2011 and the 31 days in July 2011. For example, on 15 January, the high temperature in the USA occurred in Santa Ana, California, and the low temperature on that date occurred in Northway, Alaska, and in Chicken, Alaska. Therefore, Santa Ana, Northway, and Chicken all are symbolized appropriately on this map.

As expected, the January highs are mostly in the low latitudes and near coasts, such as Hawaii, southern California, Texas, and Florida, but by July have migrated inland to Arizona, Nevada, and Oklahoma, reflecting the southern plains heat wave that year. The January lows occur in the high latitudes of Minnesota, Montana, and Alaska. By July, some remain in Alaska but others migrate to high altitudes in Montana, Oregon, Colorado, and even as far south as Arizona.

I couldn’t stop there, because another data set just aching to be mapped were the historical high and low temperature extremes for each state. I have now also mapped these in ArcGIS Online and packaged with a lesson. This map shows the locations where the all-time low and high temperature occurred in each state, dating back to the late 1800s. As such, fascinating patterns in space and time are visible, such as record highs from the Dust Bowl years that still stand today, and the effects of latitude, altitude, and proximity to coasts. Both of these data sets and lessons could find good homes in climatology, meteorology, and geography courses, but also in mathematics courses and in the last example, in a history course. Feel free to modify either lesson with your own questions.

How might you be able to use these resources in your courses?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

Posted in Education | | 1 Comment

## No-cost NCGE Geotagging for Educators Webinar

Geotagging, using pictures and other digital files to support student inquiry, fieldwork, and data analysis, can be a simple and fun ways to engage students in GIS and GPS. Student data, photos, and recorded audio can build on interactive basemaps and allow students to tell their own “geostories” about a place or phenomenon.

Ideal for earth and environmental science and geography teachers, this webinar will only use tools that are free and web-based, allowing educators to use tomorrow.

Join geotagging author and presenter, Dr. Tom Baker of the Esri Education Team as he shows “10 Tips for Easy GeoTagging in Any Classroom” on Wednesday, April 18, 2012 at 8pm Eastern / 7pm Central .

Sign-up for this NCGE webinar!

## Ten Ways to Teach and Learn About Water Using ArcGIS Online

Just in time for Earth Day, but suitable for use throughout the year in geography, earth science, environmental science, chemistry, social studies, and in other disciplines is a new lesson that invites students to learn about water using ArcGIS Online.

Water is a spatial subject: It easily moves among its solid, liquid, or gas phases on our planet. It flows through oceans, rivers, wetlands, glaciers, and through the hydrologic cycle at different rates. It is affected by long-term climate, everyday weather, hurricanes, landforms, and air pressure. It has been channeled into settling ponds, water treatment plants, fields, irrigation ditches, drainage ditches, canals, reservoirs, and many other means by humans. It acts as a change agent above, on, and below the surface of the Earth, affecting crop yields, aquifers, erosion, floods, stream sediment, soil chemistry, weathering, and much more. Thus, the geographic perspective and GIS are useful to understanding water from local to global scales.

These activity use ArcGIS Online, a Web-based Geographic Information System (GIS). Students at the upper secondary/university level can use the lesson, but so can those at the lower secondary level, and the lesson can be modified for primary level. It can be used in formal or informal educational settings and in a whole-class format or in a lab. No previous experience with GIS is necessary but (1) the geographic perspective is important, and (2) a background discussion in the topic investigated will be helpful. For example: “What are watersheds and why are they important?”

Through the activities, students investigate major dams and reservoirs, cities along rivers, flood zones, food production, wetlands, and water quality. These include the following questions and assignments: What is the relationship between wind speed and direction to precipitation, current air pressure, temperature, and topography? Using USGS stream gages and weather stations, predict the height of the water in streams where significant precipitation has been occurring. What is the relationship between the location of the gaging station within the watershed and the height of the river? Go outside! Do current weather local conditions match the map you have been examining? Predict tomorrow’s conditions based on the maps you are examining.

How could you use ArcGIS Online to teach about water in your instruction?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

## Fun With GIS 111: Swiping Stories

Good educators share and scavenge insatiably. People develop strategies, then we adopt and adapt, and pass ideas to others. One huge joy of life at Esri is learning from colleagues who love to design, tweak, and share. The StoryMaps team has built an archive of riveting stories using ArcGIS Online. With a little text and carefully crafted web-based maps engaging diverse techniques, they entice the viewer to explore, deeply. The latest storymap looks at how humans have reshaped the earth, at the macro scale, as witnessed by Landsat and imagery. It is a fascinating, if frightening, display.

Click to see the Storymaps page, then choose an investigation.

But as important as the content in these stories are the techniques. Different stories employ different methods; even when a technique is re-used, it gets a new spin. Best news: each strategy is documented. The latest story uses a “swiping” technique, allowing the reader to slide a divider back and forth between two different views of a single area, highlighting “before/after” or “A/B” conditions. After seeing how humans have reshaped the earth, I wanted to learn this swiping technique to support teaching about watersheds.

Months ago, I built a map called “USA Waters for Schools.” It has scale-dependent watersheds, rivers, and streams, across the U.S. But I wanted to try the swiping technique to help learners follow local landforms. Using guidance from the storymap, I built a test web page with two different maps. My first attempt was ugly, confusing, and ineffective, for several reasons.

But just by swapping in a simpler version of the USA Waters map, showing only terrain, the view is improved, allowing the learner to focus on the specifics of water flowing downhill (not necessarily south) and hierarchies of watersheds draining basins to a common zone.

Click to launch this application on ArcGIS Online.

Different techniques are needed for different tasks and conditions. Visit the Storymap zone each week for their new story, and see what you can pick up in both content and technique. These presentations demonstrate what developers are doing, in all kinds of industries, to build map-centric content for infinitely varied audiences and purposes. It requires understanding of the subject matter, the technology, communication strategies, and clear grasp of the users’ needs. This is where new careers engaging GIS are launching daily.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Schools Program Manager

## Fun with GIS #105: EcoRegions, Drought, and iPad

A year ago, I wrote a blog about using ArcGIS Online to explore ecoregions, and doing it on an iPad, in addition to a regular computer. I want to enhance the map by adding another key layer: drought status. I’m interested in learning which ecoregions face a near-term issue.

The U.S. government runs a portal about drought, with maps, data, news, and links. But what if you just want to see drought data added into your ecoregion map? Think back to another recent blog entry that walked through finding and adding special services. This time, we need to find some drought data. By searching the information, links, and applications at the drought portal, I found the National Climate Data Center’s web service for the Palmer Drought Severity Index. See the combined map.

Finally, since the two color layers compete, I used the idea from another blog entry to create a three-panel map, showing a location by terrain, drought, and ecoregion. And all of this can be done on an iPad, in addition to a regular computer.

Whether working with a regular computer or a mobile device, and long-term or short-term data, and cultural or physical data, making these analytical maps with disparate resources helps students build critical content knowledge and technical skills that they can use for solving problems. This is why GIS is important in STEM education and beyond.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

## Bicentennial of the New Madrid Earthquakes: Seismic Calamity along the Mississippi

On December 16, 1811 a violent earthquake shattered a winter night along the Mississippi River Valley in an area of present-day northeast Arkansas. While the region was sparsely settled at the time, the local European and Native American inhabitants were being introduced to what would only be the beginning of a nightmarish winter framed by the mid-December occurrence, followed by another main event in late January, and an even more fierce temblor in early February centered outside the village of New Madrid in the Bootheel of present-day Missouri. The community was effectively destroyed, while in St. Louis, over 150 miles upriver, houses were severely damaged with chimneys crashing down. All of the principal shocks were felt far to the east with amazing reports coming from cities as far away as Boston and Toronto. In between and into the spring, numerous aftershocks were triggered and felt. Together, these were the largest earthquakes to have occurred since European settlement east of the Rocky Mountains in the US and Canada.

I grew up near this region and have experienced first-hand what can happen in this seismically active area. A few years ago, I created a blog series and a map project using ArcGIS Explorer Desktop to examine some aspects of the region. My work then was triggered by a sizeable event in the spring of 2008 in southern Illinois. Today’s blog post draws a bit from that series but its main purpose is to highlight a new map I’ve been building using ArcGIS Explorer Online, a growing array of map services found in ArcGIS Online, and some CSV files I crafted and added to my map. Not surprising, the map is focused on the Bicentennial of the New Madrid Earthquakes.

Rather than describe the specifics of what the map contains, I have instead added that information as “metadata” and discussion at the map’s storage location in ArcGIS Online, as well as links to some USGS resources. Here’s a mini-URL that you can share, www.esriurl.com/NewMadrid. Once you are at the site, open the map in either the default option, Explorer Online, or the ArcGIS.com mapviewer. Also, rather than take you on a guided tour, here instead are a couple of screenshots of what you’ll discover.

Historical earthquakes and recent events

Historical earthquakes and nearby populated places

Please feel free to augment what I have done and save your own version of the map by logging in with your Esri Global Account, doing a “save as,” and share the new map. If you do craft your version, be sure to add your own description and other information for other users.

Also, remember the New Madrid Seismic Zone and similar zones in the Central US are active. Be sure to examine current population densities in these areas to begin to understand the human risk in a region not immediately recognized as a hazardous area.

Lastly, stay tuned for an Esri Map Story on this topic later this week.

- George Dailey, Co-Manager, Esri Education Program Manager

Posted in Education | | 2 Comments

## Curiosity Headed to Mars, Needed on Earth Too

On November 26 NASA launched our next expedition to the Red Planet—the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) with its car-sized rover named Curiosity. The spacecraft is expected to land on Mars in August 2012 inside the Gale Crater (NASA’s projected landing location: lon/x 137.4, lat/y -4.5).

The mission is projected to last 23 months after touchdown with numerous scientific examinations of geology, atmosphere, and the local environment the craft will explore. The NASA press kit provides great detail about a variety of aspects of the mission including the goal of assessing the former habitability for Martian life in the geography Curiosity will travel.

In addition to the various NASA resources available to learn about Mars and the mission, a rich scientific data and map environment exists to explore the planet and some its attributes—the USGS’s PIGWAD (Planetary Interactive GIS on the Web Analyzable Database) site and viewer. As a key part of the USGS Astrogeology unit’s work in Flagstaff, Arizona, PIGWAD helps the team serve the science community with its expertise in the application of GIS to terrestrial and other planetary settings.

Given the primary audience for this set of resources is the science community, much of the content available via the map viewer carries with it nomenclature and acronyms not immediately known to the average person, but the site does provide pathways for learning more. Despite these snags, I was able to map and discover a number of things about the planet such as its topography, surface geology, and feature names, and pinpoint the intended landing location. Here are a couple of screenshots of my investigation.

What I’ve presented here is but a small sampling of what’s available. Exploration and some study of the many PIGWAD layers presented will help you and your students shed more light on a planetary neighbor well over 100 million miles away.

On a different note, the MSL rover has been christened with a great name—Curiosity—offered by a 14-year-old girl from Kansas. While its moniker seems to be in the same lineage as the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, to me, Curiosity carries with it meaning and symbolism of something deeper and necessary, and so much a part of being human. Our inquisitive nature leads to discoveries and creations large and small. They have led to the creation of this mission and its attendant components, but it’s important to remember that Curiosity is simply a machine that will be guided by inquiring humans. And, when the craft sets off on its mission of discovery and research in an unknown world, it’s vital to recognize that we need to spark equal if not greater levels of curiosity here on our world, Earth.

For an added dose, here’s a link to an earlier blog post on why I am so passionate about curiosity and why I believe it is vital for our future.

- George Dailey, Co-Manager, Esri Education Program Manager

Posted in Education | | 6 Comments

## New GIS Career Video: GIS Analyst-Forester

The growth of GIS and other geospatial careers is more visible each day. Recently Esri, with the help of Career Corner Digital, has put a spotlight on one of these careers as seen via a “job shadow” of GIS analyst and forester, Chris “Fern” Ferner. The video highlights Fern’s work as she discusses the benefits of using GIS and related technologies in her position with the Colorado State Forest Service.

Fern’s interest in the outdoors began as a child when she accompanied her biologist father on some of his field trips. With her degrees in biology and forestry, strong skills in GIS and other geotechnologies, and a keen interest in the environment, she is following her passion and at the same time making a difference with far-reaching scope.

Fern’s story joins the ranks of other occupations highlighted via the Esri EdCommunity. The series includes a health geographer, a helicopter pilot–firefighter, a conservationist, and a GIS manager.

To learn more about GIS careers in general, the numerous industries and occupations where geospatial technology is being applied every day, and training and certification opportunities, visit the Esri EdCommunity careers page.

Bonus: You can explore some of the geographic content that is exposed in Fern’s video in an ArcGIS Online map, US Forests and Issues Affecting Them. Here’s a look at insect and disease risk coupled with land cover. The darker orange areas are the most affected and/or risk prone and they happen to be the forested lands of Colorado.

- George Dailey, Education Manager

## New Wind-Based Curriculum Uses Several Scales and GIS

A series of five new curricular activities use the spatial perspective and GIS to delve into wind and wind energy from a continental to a local scale. Four of the activities use ArcGIS Online and one uses ArcGIS desktop version 10, and all of them reside on the ArcLessons library. One might say these activities are “wind-driven!”

Analyzing Current Wind Speed and Direction in North America  uses ArcGIS Online as a tool for examining the spatial or geographic dimensions of current wind speed and direction in North America. Compare your own data gathered at your location to the online current wind speed and direction. Consider why and where winds blow.

Siting a Wind Farm in Indiana uses ArcGIS Online for siting a wind farm in Indiana. Use variables such as proximity to existing powerlines, population density, and other criteria to determine the ideal site for a wind farm.

Exploring the San Gorgonio Wind Farm uses ArcGIS Online for exploring the famous, enormous San Gorgonio Wind Farm in California. Consider why terrain, wind speed and direction, and population base make this the ideal place for a wind farm through analyzing local maps and a video filmed on site. The activity ends by inviting you to investigate a different wind farm and create a map, telling its story using ArcGIS Online.

Siting a Wind Turbine on Your School Campus uses ArcGIS Online as a tool for siting a wind turbine on a typical school campus. Consider relief, proximity to buildings, wind speed, local access, and other variables, first by examining Platte Valley High School in Colorado, and then your own campus.

Siting wind farms in Colorado with GIS
uses ArcGIS version 10 as your primary investigative tool, considering the location of cities, the Continental Divide, highways, rivers, counties, wind speed and power, land use, and elevation. Data layers are from Esri, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the Colorado Department of Transportation.

How might you use these activities to encourage spatial thinking, to teach and learn about wind and wind energy, and to foster GIS skills?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager