Daily Archives: September 21, 2009

Fun with GIS#28: Visualization AND Analysis

Seeing is believing. Recent innovations in visualizing basic information through maps has made more of the public aware of the power of geography. Seeing spatial patterns is still truly eye-opening for many, which is at the same time exciting to see and yet disconcerting that it can have lain “hidden in plain sight” for so many for so long. But the really important element is combining visualization with analysis. “What’s where?” is important, but multiplied many times over if you know also “What’s it like in relation to other things and other places?” That’s analysis. I wanted to write this week’s blog about one favorite topic — oceans — and wound up instead coming back to a different one — the power of analysis.

This past weekend marked the 24th Annual International Coastal Cleanup — an effort lead by Ocean Conservancy to collect trash from and along the waters of the world, and educate people about the need to be more responsible for our impact on the planet. It’s a very important mission, and people have been engaged in many places. Ocean Conservancy’s 2008 report on ICC and 2007 report on the National Marine Debris Monitoring Program have important content, but the data must be scoured to “get it.” The reports lack the impact that comes from even a single analytical map.

Earlier this year, there was attention in the news to a report about the level of plastic debris in the ocean. Algalita Marine Research Foundation has been doing analysis, and reporting their findings through analytical maps. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a report this week showing that global sea-surface temperatures for August and northern summer were the warmest on record. (See also my “Exploring Climate Change” blog entry from last week.) Visualizing a robust analysis can be done swiftly with a well-constructed map.

Global Surface Temperature Anomalies (image from NOAA)

The power of GIS is the combination of two elements: visualization AND analysis. Processing and classifying a large volume of data, making decisions about what constitute sensible divisions, and symbolizing them in ways that communicate a message … that’s the power of GIS.

In 1989, I was flying home from Washington DC, sitting in my usual window seat. The next seat was occupied by a US Congressman from my state. Halfway through the trip, he put away his work and looked up. I took that opportunity to introduce myself and hand him a newsletter I’d written for our state geography alliance. He flipped in just a few seconds through 11 of the 12 pages, but spent five full minutes studying a full-page thematic map. That’s impact.

Visualization is good. Visualization PLUS analysis is infinitely better. To see a final, simple, interactive example, go to www.esri.com/mapping and look at the map on the right. It’s dynamic, so you can move the map around, and shift the slider bars, and even change the topic. Visualization PLUS analysis … that’s where it’s at!

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, ESRI Education Programs

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