Monthly Archives: February 2008

Downloading, Projecting, and Using Digital Elevation Models in 2-D and 3-D

A new lesson in the ESRI ArcLessons library (,  walks data users through steps involved with how to download a Digital Elevation Model (DEM) from the Internet, format it, project it, and use it within an ArcGIS 2-D ArcMap session and a 3-D analyst session. 

A DEM is a digital file consisting of terrain elevations for ground positions at regularly spaced horizontal intervals.  This lesson uses 10-meter DEMs, but the procedures are the same for 30 meter or 90 meter DEMs.  In my former position at the USGS, I saw how the collection of DEMs evolved, from the old days when an operator had to manually roll a ball of light up and down the slopes that he or she saw by examining stereo aerial photographs to create manual profiles, to the more recent procedure of scanning contour lines and running those lines through computer algorithms that create the DEM. 

DEMs are essential whenever a three-dimensional analysis of a phenomenon is required, such as in studying watersheds, landslides, wildfires, coastal erosion, and much more.  This lesson provides procedures in creating data layers derived from DEMs as well, including hillshades, slope, aspect (direction of slope), and contour lines.  Three dimensional visualization is a powerful teaching tool that helps bring out the spatial relationship, patterns, and trends.

The lesson uses the USGS seamless data server ( as the DEM source, although the bulk of the lesson can be used with the other servers that house DEM data as well.  This lesson fosters several important skills such as downloading and formatting public domain raster data, including DEM, National Land Cover Data, Digital Orthophotoquads, and Digital Raster Graphics, spatial data management, projecting data layers, and how to model DEMs in the ArcGIS 3-D Analyst extension.  I hope that the lesson is especially useful with regards to the often-asked procedures about why and how to project the DEMs so that the resulting slopes and profiles will be accurate. 

- Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager

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Excel to DBF?

Can’t Save Excel to DBF in Office 2007?  A great teaching opportunity awaits!  Many students never learn to use Help or the Support options from ESRI.   It comes as a surprise when working in Excel all these years and saving your data out as a DBF that in Windows 2007 it is no longer possible.  When your students “hit the wall” with this problem, use it as a teaching opportunity.  Have them go to the Knowledge Base on the Support Tab at ESRI.  Type in an appropriate search question (i.e., Excel to DBF) and read through the suggestions.  One of the easiest is how&d=34102

Once they start using the Knowledge Base and Help options, it will make their and your life easier! 

- Ann Johnson, ESRI Education Manager

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GLOBE At Night 2008

Can You See the Stars?

Join thousands of other students, families and citizen-scientists hunting for stars during February 25 through March 8, 2008. Take part in this international event called GLOBE at Night to observe the nighttime sky and learn more about light pollution around the world.

GLOBE at Night is an easy observation and reporting activity that takes approximately 15-30 minutes to complete. Citizen-scientists record the brightness of the night sky by matching its appearance toward the constellation Orion with 1 of 7 stellar maps of different limiting magnitude. They then submit measurements on-line at

The five easy star-hunting steps, for which more information is provided on-line, are:
1) Find your latitude and longitude.
2) Find Orion by going outside an hour after sunset (about 7-10pm local time)
3) Match your nighttime sky to one of our magnitude charts.
4) Report your observation on our website. (Observations can be made February 25 through March 8; you may report through March 15).
5) Compare your observation to thousands around the world.
In addition to the web-based map output, users can download the complete, real-time dataset directly into ArcGIS Explorer, a free digital globe from ESRI.  Learn more about ArcGIS Explorer (  The data can be download from the 2008 web-based map (see the “Map”.
Helpful and user-friendly ancillary materials such as a teacher packet and science standards, a family packet, and student games and information are provided on-line at
You can also subscribe to our mailing list to receive updates and results of this campaign. Visit and click on “subscribe” at the bottom of the webpage.
During the inaugural event in 2006 over 18,000 people from 96 countries submitted 4600 observations, including data from every U.S. state. In 2007, the number of observations almost doubled! Help us exceed 10,000 observations in 2008!

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Marine Ecosystems Viewed with AEJEE

The National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, at the University of California at Santa Barbara, recently issued “A Global Map of Human Impact on Marine Ecosystems,” published in Science magazine. The researchers have a lot of material online, and data and imagery that detail the trauma done to our precious oceans.

I wanted to look at this using ArcExplorer Java Edition for Education (AEJEE), ESRI’s free, downloadable, dual platform (Win/MacOSX), lightweight GIS tool. But the data were too large and not in a format that AEJEE could use easily.

I downloaded (see attachment link below) the general image and cropped it precisely to the limits of the map with a graphics program. With the “georegister” extension in ArcView 9, I registered the cropped image, then used Notepad to convert the registration info into a projection file (as described in AEJEE’s onboard tutorial). I was then able to open the cropped image in AEJEE and overlay the “world30″ and “country” shapefiles. I zoomed around the world and looked at my favorite parts of the oceans.

AEJEE is a powerful intro tool but can’t do everything. Having ArcView and some basic skills adds tremendous capacity. ((Link to zipfile containing cropped image, world file, projection file, and readme file.))

Our oceans are able to cope with some human impact, but they cannot withstand unlimited abuse. Everything we do affects our oceans. Read about it at the above links, and consider as you go thru each day.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, ESRI Education Manager

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Using GIS to Study Sports

Sports are geographic activities. In which cities are specific teams located, and why? How do radio and television stations decide which teams to broadcast? Where do each home team’s fans live? How can team owners and business managers establish marketing campaigns for ticket sales based on customer characteristics? How and where can players be recruited from? In which cities and in which neighborhoods are sports facilities located? What particular businesses are located near a sports facility, and why? How can parking and security be managed at sporting events? How can weather and air pollution be monitored for upcoming events? How can bicycle, sailboat, and running routes be organized and tracked? Because they are geographic activities, GIS can be used in sports from the global scale, such as choosing a city for the next Olympics, to the local scale, such as tracking a soccer player’s location throughout a game.

In a book entitled Sports Geography, author John Bale explores the geographical diffusion of modern sport, its economic impact, cultural geographies of sport, and landscape, place, and location. The book is available through Routledge and online through Google books.

An article in Sports Illustrated a few years ago gave an excellent overview of the power of mapping and GIS in sports, as summarized in Directions magazine as follows:

Several lessons on the ArcLessons site ( invite students to dig into countries who participated in the Olympics and where the award winners were from.

Fenway Park, Boston Massachusetts USA, part of a GIS-based lesson about the World Series of baseball, on: This lesson invites exploration of the different zones in a baseball stadium, studying the direction the players face, and measuring distances on a field, using data from two different stadiums. This lesson can be modified for use in football, soccer, rugby, lacrosse, track, swimming, or other sports.

Be creative and use sports to help your students see the advantage of the geographic approach and dig into GIS-based analysis beginning with a topic that is already interesting to them.

- Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager

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Estimating Roof Size: Creative Use for ArcGIS Explorer

Last week I attended the American Association for School Administrators conference where ESRI had an exhibit booth. Across the two day expo, there were plenty of conversations with superintendents, deputies, principals, and other school district staffers, but I was taken by a visit from a fellow exhibitor representing Tremco of Cleveland, OH. Among other things, Tremco is a roofing specialist and school districts have acres of roofing covering schools, administration buildings, bus barns, etc.

Noting that ESRI is involved with geography and mapping, the Tremco representative mentioned that they often use online mapping engines to estimate roof size in preparing bids for school districts, higher education institutions, and local governments buildings.

Hearing this approach, I decided to take the Tremco rep on a quick tour of ArcGIS Explorer. While he not seen ArcGIS Explorer before, he was familiar with its look and feel given his experience with other applications. We zoomed in on N Dallas High School in Texas. Using the “Measure” task and its polygon tool, we were able to quickly define the school’s roof boundary and arrive at a usable estimate…right at 40,000 sq. ft.

Granted this approach didn’t take into account the stepped section of roof, nor would we be able to easily take into account roof angle (flat here, but sharply pitched in other settings) and deduce the adjustments we might need in this ball park estimate…but as the Tremco representative noted in trying to cover many, many buildings being able to have a quick aerial survey of structures and use it as a means of approximating total coverage provides a starting point for project discussions.

Just another handy use of ArcGIS Explorer.

- George Dailey, ESRI Education Manager

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Local Map? Use AEJEE

In advance of a conference in New Orleans, I needed a map for our exhibit. I wanted a local map, created with just a few clicks, but one that would be instantly recognizable. So I decided to use ArcExplorer Java Edition for Education (AEJEE), ESRI’s free, downloadable, dual platform (Win/MacOSX), lightweight GIS tool.

Starting with a blank map, I added the US states. Then, using AEJEE’s capacity to add data from the Internet (as shown in Lesson 5 of AEJEE’s built-in tutorial), I went to the Geography Network and brought in the “ESRI_MODIS” layer, which integrates satellite imagery with basic location info. I moved the states to the bottom and set them up as an “Overview Map” (from Lesson 3 of the AEJEE tutorial); being overridden by the satellite imagery layer, they provide simply a nice context map for the viewer. I zoomed in to the desired region and … voila! The desired map in about 60 seconds. The hard work was already done by the people putting together the service I pulled in over the Internet.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, ESRI Education Manager

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GIS Journals and Magazines: Part 3

In my last two blogs, I have discussed excellent sources for GIS information published by ESRI, such as the GIS Educator, ArcSchool Reader, Higher Education News, ArcNews, ArcWatch, and ArcUser. In this blog, I describe publications from other publishers that may be useful to the GIS educator. This is by no means an exhaustive list: GIS continues to expand, and new publications appear throughout the year. These publications range from news to trade journals to research journals. While some are available in print and online, others are online only, and some focus on specific regions of the world. Some of the printed publications are available free.

I have subscribed to GeoWorld, published by Geoplace ( and Geospatial Solutions ( for about 15 years and have consistently found them useful in helping me keep up to speed with the GIS industry. Along the same lines, I have found Directions Magazine (, GPS World (, Point of Beginning (, GIS Development (, and Geomatics International Magazine ( of consistently high quality, with contributions from the leaders in the field. GIS news outlets such as,, and are other excellent sources.

Articles about GIS in education frequently appear in geography journals such as the Journal of Geography, the Journal of Geography in Higher Education, Research in Geographic Education, the International Journal of Geography and Environmental Education, and the Annals of the Association of American Geographers. However, they also appear in science education journals such as The Science Teacher, social studies journals such as Social Education, and in GIS journals such as the International Journal for Geographical Information Science, Geoinformatica, Journal of Geographical Systems, Cartography and Geographic Information Systems, and the International Journal on the Digital Earth.

To find GIS in education research, access our GIS Education Bibliography under the “research” tab on the Education Community site,

I encourage you to investigate these publications and consider submitting an article to one or more of them as appropriate, sharing what you do with the world.

- Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager

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No Internet? Use AEJEE

While sitting down to prep this week’s blog entry, my contact with the outside world suddenly died: no Internet. (As I write, it’s still down.) And a new blog topic hit me. What do you do for when there’s no Internet? For easy GIS, that’s easy: Use ArcExplorer Java Edition for Education (AEJEE), ESRI’s free, downloadable, dual platform (Win/MacOSX), lightweight GIS tool. I thought about what I, as a teacher, might do when the Internet suddenly died at school. (Like this never happens?!)

I opened AEJEE, looked at the built-in projects, and thought about an on-the-fly lesson in classification and symbolization. With no Internet access, only those built-in AEJEE projects using just the built-in data would work, so I chose “world_hd.axl”. It uses a small data set about the countries, including pop2005. Using a quick variation of Lesson #2 from AEJEE’s built-in help file (go to the Help menu and choose “Help Contents”), I changed the countries from a single symbol to classify by population, then changed from the default style of equal interval to quantile, and then again to manual, and worked out a pleasing set of divisions. It took only a few seconds to think about this, but it would consume a full class period to walk thru the operation, discussion (both about the process and the patterns visible on the map), student exploration, and verification of learning (verify using the “world2_hd.axl” project).

The Internet is a fabulous resource, and I’m glad to see teachers use it, but the reality is that Murphy was right, the Internet is sometimes unavailable, and it’s important for teachers always to do good instruction. AEJEE allows you to focus on the fundamental issues of data analysis, problem solving, and communication that make GIS such a powerful tool.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, ESRI Education manager

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GIS Journals and Magazines: ESRI, Part 2

In my last blog, I discussed excellent sources for GIS information-the GIS Educator, ArcSchool Reader, Higher Education News, and Higher Education Site License Administrators.  While these ESRI publications focus on educational applications, success stories, curriculum, partnerships, and other educational news, several other ESRI publications may be quite useful for educators. 

One of these publications is called ArcUser.  ArcUser magazine is an award-winning quarterly publication that helps people keep up with the rapidly growing GIS industry.  It focuses on the ESRI software user, providing practical, technical information on how GIS is used and how to use ESRI software most effectively.  One of the most useful things for educators are the frequent lessons and tutorials, which include step-by-step instructions on how to accomplish tasks such as creating 3D terrain models and how to perform address geocoding. 

ArcWatch is another useful publication for educators and the entire GIS international community.  ArcWatch may be the “best of the best” in terms of the latest news, viewpoints, and insights and as such is an excellent GIS news source.  Another excellent source is ArcNews, the ESRI GIS news magazine, published quarterly for the ESRI user community and for others interested in mapping and GIS technology.  It contains material of interest to educators, business professionals, planners, foresters, scientists, cartographers, academicians, geographers, engineers, and others who use spatial information.  ArcNews has a worldwide readership of more than 600,000.

A publication new in 2008 is part of the “Best Practices” series, this one focusing on educators, featuring tree and park inventories by 4-H clubs, environmental assessment by students at the Santa Fe Indian School, the Environmental and Spatial Technology (EAST) program, and much more, on:

To subscribe to any of these publications, access and make your selections. 

In closing, many of the articles in these ESRI publications are written by you, the GIS user community.  Therefore, as you read these publications, consider writing down your own success stories, submitting them to the journal editors, and sharing your good work with the world! 

- Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager

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