Monthly Archives: December 2014
Teaching about watersheds and river systems has long been a major theme of physical geography, earth science, and environmental science instruction. ArcGIS Online now provides capabilities for educators and students to create watersheds, trace downstream, and create viewsheds, all of which can serve as an effective means to foster understanding of watersheds and river systems, how they are connected geographically and temporally, and why they are important.
Boulder, Colorado, like many mountain-front communities, is prone to periodic devastating floods. To supplement a lesson that I wrote about floods in Boulder, I used the watershed tool in ArcGIS Online to create the watershed that is drained in Boulder Creek through the mouth of Boulder Canyon. The area is 130.12 square miles, giving a clear reason why any major rapid snowmelt or any major rain event anywhere in that large area creates flood hazards for the city of Boulder.
Where does that water flow once it reaches Boulder? To find out, I used the new Trace Downstream tool with a 15 mile limit. The result makes it clear that the areas east and northeast of the city also bear the effects of potential floodwaters.
Using the same tool, I ran another Trace Downstream analysis and extended the distance to 3,000 miles. The result, shown below, fits in well with the lesson but also in any lesson that asks students, “where does a cup of water flowing from my location flow through before it reaches the ocean?”
Finally, to get a sense for how the terrain in Boulder is mountainous to the west of the mouth of the canyon but flattens to the Great Plains to the east, I used the new Create Viewsheds tool from a point on top of Green Mountain, above the famous Boulder Flatiron rock formations. The viewshed, as the name implies, indicates the land viewable from a specific point, and in my case, I specified nine miles for the extent. The result of viewshed analysis can foster understanding of the terrain and how the terrain impacts streamflow and flooding.
These activities require an ArcGIS Online organizational subscription and to generate the analysis layers such as the ones I did above, you need to have publishing rights in that organization. With your organizational subscription, examine the map I created above, and try these tools yourself for your own area!
You’ll be amazed at how easy it is, and yet how powerful, because these tools can foster understanding of how streams, watersheds, and terrain are connected spatially and temporally.
Maps in ArcGIS Online just took on a whole new dimension. “Web scenes” can display in 3D in certain desktop browsers. This bit of map magic relies on WebGL, so users of recent versions of Firefox, Chrome, and Safari will be happy; see ArcGIS Online Help for more info, as even recent browsers may need a configuration tweak.
Building, saving, and sharing maps in a web browser has been a tremendous boon for education, but reactions when I showed an equal area world map told how dramatic the distortion is in Web Mercator displays to which we have grown somewhat accustomed. The arrival of good global displays and high speed navigation is breathtaking. The ability to add in many of the same layers we had used in 2D means a much more realistic vision of small-scale (large area) content.
There is a tremendous amount of new capacity in the December 2014 ArcGIS Online release. But, for me, nothing will match the educational impact of being able to view the globe in a browser, and create/ save/ share presentations as easily as in 2D. Many of us will be madly revising lessons for months to take advantage of this new capacity. It’s a whole new world!
Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager
I finished by having a discussion with the students on my colleague Andy Gup’s relevant and timely 10 tips for new web developers, and my GIS reflections on the 10 skills the future workforce will need.
I challenge all of you in the GIS community to look for opportunities to build bridges with the computer science community. The opportunities for programming within the field of GIS are rapidly expanding and through them, students could make a far-reaching contribution not just to the field of GIS, but to society as a whole.
I was recently asked to teach a class about GIS as part of a computer science course. I would like to share this with the community, and open up the discussion to the broader issue of the linkages between GIS and computer science.
I challenge all of you in the GIS community to look for opportunities to build bridges with the computer science community. As part of your outreach, you could demonstrate that all GIS software has been developed through coding and testing, show through the Esri developer sites how code makes web GIS work, show real job ads indicating specific programming skills required, and offer resources for further exploration.
I began the class by stating that the opportunities for programming within the field of GIS have never been greater than today, because the need has never been more acute. I followed this by mentioning everyday problems that are solved because someone in GIS has learned to effectively code to solve that problem. Next, I addressed the following elements:
- What are geotechnologies? GIS, web mapping, GPS, and remote sensing.
- Why are geotechnologies important to society?
- Mapping and spatial analysis in GIS.
- Programming languages important in GIS.
- Workforce skills you should consider developing to be successful in GIS and computer science.
To address these elements, I used several ArcGIS Online presentations that I have shared in this gallery as an introduction for what GIS is, why it matters, and its connections to computer science. I love using the presentation mode in ArcGIS Online because I am using GIS to teach about GIS. Furthermore, I requested to be in a computer lab so we could do hands-on work mapping some data because I feel it is critical to be active learners in GIS. The mapping included activities such as bail bonds and car washes in Oklahoma City, to foster discussion about spatial patterns, but also on databases and geocoding. I believe that the ability to construct and use a simple database is essential. We then used proximity and hotspot and other analysis tools on these geocoded businesses. Along the way, we discussed such themes as being critical of data, including mapped data, managing error and uncertainty, being careful about where files are stored, what is online versus on the local computer, being careful about how you construct your database.
In my next essay in this blog, I will discuss the activities I created, with the advice of our Esri development team, for the second part of this class.