Using ArcGIS Online to Analyze the Toxic Spill in Hungary

A reservoir at an alumina factory in Hungary burst in early October 2010, causing a toxic torrent of water to flow through three villages and creeks. People and fish died; livelihoods were destroyed. Yet from a spatial perspective, we all know that the problem did not end with those three villages and creeks. The water had to flow somewhere. But where?

A quick search on ArcGIS Online (http://www.arcgis.com) uncovered a pertinent layer. I opened this layer and found a series of news articles, photographs, and videos linked to the locations where they were recorded on the ground. Analyzing the spill in a GIS environment allowed me to make sense of the scale, landforms, population, and watersheds affected by the disaster. Suddenly, I had a spatial context and perspective that reading disconnected news stories did not provide. ArcGIS Explorer allows you to navigate the landscape in a 3-D environment, changing the base map in order to examine nearby towns, lakes, and ultimately, how the spill reached the Danube, one of the most important rivers in Europe. Like paper maps have allowed us to do for centuries, a GIS helped me to understand, and to tell a story to others. And like most geographic phenomena, I can examine this in other disciplines—for example, in biology to understand the importance of pH, in economics to analyze the importance of alumina, and in mathematics to calculate the distance and time of sediment transport.


As explained in GIM International, hyperspectral and Lidar imagery was collected and used in a GIS and remote sensing environment to model scenarios and to detect future damage to dams. This article points to the critical role that geotechnologies have in every disaster that occurs nowadays to help policymakers and residents in the decisions they have to make.

Another thing to turn into a teachable moment is an observation that struck me in searching for news about the disaster. Almost every news story was published in the first week of the disaster, with almost nothing since then. Recognizing that news is a business and that to sell it, it has to be current, I was sad to consider that this event held the world’s attention for only a brief time, yet the local residents are still dealing with the effects on a daily basis and may continue to do so for years. What are the temporal and geographic aspects to human-environment interactions?

How can you make use of ArcGIS Online to analyze current events?

-Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

Joseph Kerski

About Joseph Kerski

Joseph Kerski is a geographer who believes that spatial analysis through digital mapping can transform education and society through better decision-making using the geographic perspective. He serves on the Esri education team and is active in GIS communication and outreach, creates GIS-based curriculum, conducts research in the effectiveness of GIS in education, teaches online and face-to-face courses on spatial thinking and analysis, and fosters partnerships to support GIS in formal and informal education at all levels, internationally. He is the co-author of Spatial Mathematics, The Essentials of the Environment, The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data, and other books. Follow him on Twitter @josephkerski
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