Monthly Archives: May 2008

Using Reference Systems Maps in ArcMap

Are you aware that ArcGIS comes loaded with map layers for numerous reference systems? These serve as handy backdrops when you are teaching about map projections and coordinate systems, as a reference to your own project, and as additional teaching resources. Available under Program Files > ArcGIS > Reference Systems, they include 1, 5, and 15-degree latitude-longitude grids for the world, USGS 1:24,000-scale, 1:100,000-scale, and 1:250,000-scale USA topographic map grids, the USA State Plane Systems, the Universal Transverse Mercator grid for the world, World Time Zones, and others.

How might you use these projects in educational contexts? Take, for example, a lesson where students examine trade balances in different places around the world. Measuring the distance between their own country and other countries around the world gives students one way of understanding how far apart the places are. But another way to give students this impression is to ask them what time it is currently in each place using the World Time Zones layer.

To illustrate another application, I am preparing a population lesson about Turkey. To give students an idea of how large the country is, I added the Universal Transverse Mercator zones map layer, as shown below. Because each UTM zone is 6 degrees wide, students quickly see that Turkey spans 2 complete zones (36 and 37) and parts of 2 additional zones (35 and 38). The UTM zone grid is also a helpful reference if your students are collecting field data and using UTM as the coordinate system in their GPS receivers.

Another example applies to the lesson I wrote to have students examine land use in the Loess Hills of eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, using data for the area covered by the 7.5-minute by 7.5-minute USGS topographic map of Blair, Nebraska. Adding the USGS 1:24,000-scale grid from the reference map library, and then labeling the grid helps the students orient the study area in the broader region of the Loess Hills.

Try these handy reference systems maps for your next GIS in education project!

- Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager

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Mapping A Lunchtime Walkabout in ArcGIS Explorer: Hyperlinking

As I described elsewhere on this blog, I have used ESRI’s 3-D virtual globe program, ArcGIS Explorer, to map my favorite lunchtime walking course here in Colorado. First, I collected my track with my GPS as I walked. Then, I used the Minnesota DNR Garmin tool to upload and save my GPS track as a shapefile that I added as a layer inside ArcGIS Explorer. Then, I saved my ArcGIS Explorer project, shown below.

Now I want to add hyperlinks to these points, much as you might like to do at locations where you or your students have collected data. Say they are studying invasive weeds. These links might be a website for an invasive species, a video of your students explaining and showing the weeds at that site, a photograph or sketch of the species here and in other places where it appears, a text report that the students have created, or a sound file recorded in the field or in the classroom documenting the topic of invasive weeds. In short, it could be anything that you can view, watch, or listen to on the computer.

To add hyperlinks, first add a text field to the attribute table of your GPS coordinates using the table editor in ArcGIS or in Excel. Populate the field with the names and paths of your hyperlinked files or URLs. Next, delete the GPS layer in ArcGIS Explorer and add it again so it will reflect your changes. Next, right click on the map layer containing your GPS coordinates. Select “Popup Content” and choose the field that contains your hyperlinked file names. In the example below, the field is named “Filename.”

That’s all there is to it! Double-click on the individual points and your popup content will appear, as shown below. I changed my symbols from yellow spheres to cameras to illustrate the fact that you have hundreds of symbols to choose from.

What will you hyperlink to your field points to examine this fascinating world of ours?

- Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager

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Real Time Data: 19th Century Style

It’s springtime in Dallas and that means stormy weather. A quick check of WeatherBug‘s “Radar and Maps” gives me a snapshot of what’s overhead at the moment. Hitting the animation button, I have a sense of where the weather is from, its changing intensity, and where it is going.

Ah, the joy of “real time” data. We have grown to expect it. If I do a quick Web search of the phrase—“real time data,” I quickly end up with tons of links to places like the US Geological Survey for stream flow, NASA for ocean surface topography, NOAA for buoy data…and the list goes on.

But what about the production and dissemination of geographic data in the age of sail, horse, and foot in a world still marked by terra incognita? We can get a sense of it by using ArcGIS Explorer to investigate a map from the David Rumsey collection—the 1812 world map by John Pinkerton.

After launching ArcGIS Explorer, I opened the 1812 map service by going to File > Resource Center and clicking on the word “Historical” in the list of globes. Touring the map I begin to see what is there and what’s not in terms of geographic information for the period. For instance, focusing on North America, I immediately see a green area—the United States as of the Treaty of Paris, 1783. Surprisingly, the US map does not show the addition of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. It also does not show topographic details from the 1804-1806 Lewis & Clark expedition, but does present some resulting stream details and names. (Note: The official expedition map was not published until 1814.) The Pacific Northwest coast and Western Canada, however, display rich detail from coastal mapping by George Vancouver and interior mapping by Alexander MacKenzie before the turn of the century. Both men, British explorers. North American Spanish territory is clearly hand-colored in yellow. Interestingly, British political geography for the period encompasses Lower and Upper Canada, Hudson’s Bay Company territory and then angles southwest from Minnesota to the San Francisco Bay, and all of then Russian America.

Besides the time it was taking to get new geographic information to cartographers, it also is important to note that this world map is the product of a British map maker and publishing house. How might these have affected the data they had access to and what and in what ways they chose to present them?

We’ll return to this map in a future blog posting.

- George Dailey, ESRI Education Manager

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Studying Hurricanes with AEJEE

We live on a dynamic planet with geohazards. I’m just back from the Caribbean, where folks are always conscious of the threat of hurricanes. As we approach hurricane season, it seemed appropriate to explore this using ArcExplorer Java Edition for Education (AEJEE), ESRI’s free, downloadable, dual platform (Win/MacOSX), lightweight GIS tool.

I went to the NOAA hurricane website ( and clicked the link for “GIS Data”. I wanted to search the historical track data using GIS (link “2″), and clicked “Search for Historical Hurricane Tracks.” Cool — an ArcIMS site! I was able to bring the full site into AEJEE, but it’s too much data, so I returned to the website, played with data briefly to show hurricanes since 1985 beginning with “A”, and clicked the “Extract” button. Given the choice of limited data or the full set, I chose to download the 1MB zipped shapefile of about 30,000 tracks.

I built a map in AEJEE and added the tracks. Too much info! I could have gone back to the NOAA site and requested just individual years, but I wanted to test the limits of mapping and analysis with AEJEE. Since AEJEE 2.3 does not allow extracting features from a dataset, I would have to accomplish the task with creative analysis.

I set a custom classification of tracks by year, with only two classes, breaking at 1985. I gave the old tracks a 1-pt light grey line; the recent tracks received a 1-pt red line. Since the data include things besides hurricanes (such as tropical storms), I built a complex query to focus on a date range and highlight just the hurricanes, using the “Cat” (category) field. Since this is a string field, I used a particular alphabetic range.

The results are impressive, if also intimidating in a geohazard sense. The barely visible grey lines are old tracks, the red lines are recent tracks, and the yellow lines are recent hurricanes, H1-H5.

What next? Teachers could explore how many people in the U.S. now live in counties within a certain distance of the selected tracks, or which areas are effectively protected by coastal wetlands. When people understand and pay attention to geography — the patterns and relationships among and between physical and human phenomena — we can make good decisions, including how best to live on a dynamic planet.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, ESRI Education Manager

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Youth at 2008 ESRI Education User Conference

The 8th annual ESRI Education User Conference will happen in San Diego, August 2-5. In response to the broad growth of GIS in schools and other youth-serving programs, youth aged 14 or older may attend as part of a formal program led by an adult attendee. The guidelines and registration info are available online at

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Mapping A Lunchtime Walkabout in ArcWeb Explorer

In one of my blog entries, I discussed the way I save my lunchtime walking course at the ESRI Denver office as a saved track on my GPS receiver. What is the easiest way I can map this course? The easiest way is to use a web-based, Flash-enabled GIS on the web, ESRI’s ArcWeb Explorer. ArcWeb Explorer is really a showcase to help people understand what web-based GIS services are and how to use them. However, it is also a very useful tool for education, enabling an educator or student to quickly map his or her own data, as well as make satellite image, shaded relief, or even choropleth maps of census variables, as Tom Baker and I have described in the lesson “ArcWeb Explorer—Flash Based GIS on the Internet” on No software, other than a web browser, is required to do make all of these maps.

How can you use ArcWeb Explorer to map your field data? First, use a program to transfer your GPS track to your computer. I used the Minnesota Garmin DNR program to save my track as a comma-delimited text file. Open your points in Excel, which pulls up the text import wizard. Indicate that the text is delimited and that the delimiter is a tab, as follows:

After saving your file as an Excel spreadsheet, navigate your web browser to ArcWeb Explorer, Use the “Find” widget, select the “Find in Excel spreadsheet” tool, navigate to your Excel file, and select “OK.” ArcWeb Explorer maps all of your points onto a shaded relief, road, choropleth map, or satellite image map, such as the one shown below.

This field coordinates map provides instant gratification and is an excellent introduction to the power of the combination of GPS with GIS. To map the attributes of your field data, or to hyperlink your field data to videos or photographs requires a logical progression to the next level of tools, such as desktop GIS—ArcExplorer Java Edition for Education (AEJEE) or ArcGIS.

- Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager

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ArcGIS Explorer Blog Posts: Myanmar Cyclone…

Natural and human-made events unfold around the world every day. Those with dreadful consequences seem to more often make the news. People want to see and understand what is happening and more and more ask where. “Are friends or family at risk?” “Is the danger near me?” “Is the impact local or global in nature?” Geography and geographic tools are critical pathways to this personal knowledge and also for disaster and relief entities working to understand, respond, and positively affect the situation(s).

We can discover much at the click of a mouse through numerous news and information sites. If we wish to begin to put together our own geographic view of the situation, pulling in data and multimedia resources from disparate avenues (a mash-up) is possible with the rise of GeoWeb browsers and tools, including ArcGIS Explorer.

Since last year, the ArcGIS Explorer Blog has covered the use of this free 3D application in settings of fire, storm, and earthquake as well as those more mundane—exploring the geography of Flickr photos and videos from YouTube. To discover all of these, be sure to explore the ArcGIS Explorer Blog.

- George Dailey, ESRI Education Manager

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GIS is Integrative and Interdisciplinary

At conferences and exhibits, we regularly have educators come by and ask “where does GIS fit in the curriculum?” Once getting beyond the moment of having that deer in the headlights look on my face and the thought “it fits everywhere,” I get into a rhythm of describing how while the “G” in GIS means it is foundationally geographic, it is integrative and interdisciplinary by nature given the kinds of questions and data people are exploring. My next step is to point directly to the annual ESRI Map Book which is loaded with examples of the kinds of projects and tasks users in numerous careers and settings are tackling—from local community concerns to efforts that seek to sustain the planet. In doing a quick tour of the Map Book with an educator, I point out how these project snapshots demonstrate that not only geography is embedded there but also math, science, technology, social sciences, and communications…to name a few intersecting subject areas.

Having done the above sequence numerous times, it struck me that it might be worthwhile to share this in a different way with a broader audience. So, I have created a short presentation that you can share with students and colleagues: GIS is Integrative, Interdisciplinary: Let Maps Tell the Story. (Download 1MB PDF file.)

The presentation basically asks the viewer to consider the variety of subject matter areas they see in a sampler of Map Book maps, as well as their integrative nature. It also points to a one-period lesson: Exploring Geographic Careers with the ESRI Map Book.

Consider also using this presentation as “starter dough” to make your own version(s). For instance, find a sequence of map images from previous Map Books that help you and your students examine a particular topic or geographic scale or region, such as including a map on Global Soil Regions as part of an exploration on sustainability issues, or a Hawaiian Volcanoes map and story as part of an examination of earth science and geospatial careers.

- George Dailey, ESRI Education Manager

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Mapping A Lunchtime Walkabout in ArcGIS Explorer

Here in Colorado at the ESRI Denver office, I have a favorite walking course that I take at lunchtime, which affords wonderful views of the Front Range mountains. I collected this course as a track using my GPS as an illustration of how easy it is to take field-collected positions and map them with a variety of GIS tools. Here, let’s use ArcGIS Explorer, a freely downloadable GIS that can easily stream data from the Internet or display it from the GIS data files on your local computers. In the field, I simply turned on my GPS receiver, a Garmin GPS 76S Map, and it automatically collected my track. Back in the office, I saved the track in the GPS receiver and used the Minnesota DNR’s free Garmin software ( ) to transfer my track to the computer. I used the DNR tool to save my track as a point shapefile. I had 129 points in the file, and the attribute table associated with the shapefile had a latitude and longitude value for each point, as shown below.

I then added my track using “File” and then “Open” and I navigated to my locally stored shapefile. I changed the symbols to a 6-meter yellow pushpin, and then rotated and tilted my walkabout to view it from southeast to northwest, as follows:

I saved this document as an .nmf file so that I can return to it. The advantages of mapping in ArcGIS Explorer are that it is quick, that the base imagery automatically was added, and I could examine my route in 3-D. Your students could use the same procedures to map their route to your campus or between data points at their field study site.

What else could you do with these points once they are inside ArcGIS Explorer? You could hyperlink selected points to ground photographs or movies, to web addresses, to text files, or anything else that could be accessed on your computer. I will discuss these tasks in a future blog posting.

- Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager

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Student Assistantship Program Deadline Extended!

Submit your application by May 16, 2008.

Don’t miss this exciting opportunity to attend the largest GIS conference in the world. Graduate students and fourth-year undergraduate students who use or apply geospatial applications and concepts in their coursework are invited to apply for the ESRI International User Conference Student Assistantship Program.

As many as 60 students will be selected to attend and assist with the ESRI International User Conference, August 4-8, 2008, in San Diego, California.

Student responsibilities include monitoring sessions, registration, staffing, and overall logistics. ESRI also sets aside time for the students to attend sessions led by some of the most talented people in the GIS software industry. View application details.

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