Going Geo

Going Geo<@VM>Programs apply data to the big picture

Geographic information systems add new dimensions to mapping

By J.B. Miles

Special to GCN

When the National Cancer Institute wanted help assessing the relationship between environmental factors and breast cancer for the Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project, it asked AverStar Inc. of Burlington, Mass., to develop a prototype geographic information system to initiate the study.

Map Viewer Web, part of Byers Engineering's Map Viewer series, allows databases via the Internet or an intranet. Its price ranges from $300 to $1,500.

AverStar officials said the GIS will be the first system to provide data for the relationship between breast cancer and exposure to environmental hazards such as contaminated drinking water, air pollution, electromagnetic fields and radiation, pesticides and other toxic chemicals, and hazardous and municipal wastes.

The project is just one example of the growing number of uses for systems that put data of all kinds into a geographic context.

The Global Forest Watch program is using GIS software donated by Erdas Inc. to analyze satellite imagery and map the precise condition of forests in Russia, Canada, Venezuela, Chile and the United States to help identify threats such as logging, mining, road building and other forest development.

Global Forest Watch was launched earlier this year by the World Resources Institute to map and publicly document forest development activities around the world.

Mapping features in Rockware's RockWorks99 include the ability to present a 2-D aerial photo over a 3-D color mesh of the land's topography. RockWorks99, which is updated weekly, is priced at $899 for one user and $4,999 for a 10-user license.

Useful utility

New England Electrical System companies are using a GIS to better manage their right-of-way corridors through the forests and townships of New England.

The Kenerson Group, a Boston GIS consulting agency for public utility industries, developed the Vegetation Integrated Information Management Solution using the ArcView GIS from Environmental Systems Research Institute.

'Transmission systems occupy sensitive habitat, adjoin or occupy areas owned by private citizens, and can interrupt or displace ecosystems,' said Kerri Kenerson, director of the Kenerson Group. The VIIMS system was designed to help the utility company maintain its right-of-way without impinging on these other concerns, she said.

Both large- and small-scale projects can make use of a GIS. MapObjects, from ESRI, is used in conjunction with ShotSpotter from Trilon Technology LLC and Bradshaw Consulting Services Inc., and the Communicator from Dialogic Communications Inc. to help find ways to reduce illicit gunfire in urban areas.

ShotSpotter first detects gunfire with specialized microphones strategically placed within high-crime areas. It then uses MapObjects to locate exactly where the shots were fired. MapObjects generates map and aerial photograph displays and provides law enforcement with the name, address and phone number of the home or business closest to the gunshot. The Communicator then uses this information to initiate a system of rapid notification to area residents.

The use of GIS applications is expanding annually as industrial, economic, military and government planners learn to harness their benefits. Total GIS core business revenues worldwide'including software, hardware and services'reached $1.5 billion last year, up 10.6 percent from 1998, according to a study by Daratech Inc., a Cambridge, Mass., market research company.

GIS software revenues alone accounted for $845 million, a 12.8 percent increase over 1998, the Daratech study disclosed.

This guide lists desktop PC GIS programs that are compatible with Windows 95, 98 and NT operating systems, as well as Mac OS for the Macintosh and various flavors of Unix for such workstations as the Sun Microsystems Sparcstation series.

Although there are relatively few, I selected them for their versatility. Most can easily be customized to meet goals as diverse as studying the effects of pesticides on wildlife in Michigan, finding the best site for an airport in Florida, or determining the amount of toxic waste oozing from a landfill into a swamp at the end of a street.

Some vendors listed, notably industry leaders such as Caliper Corp., Caris Ltd., Erdas, ESRI and Intergraph Corp. provide entire suites of GIS modules targeted to specific industries or interest groups. The products are too numerous to list here. More information is available on the companies' Web sites.

Other GIS software manufacturers market their products as part of service packages for a number of industry functions, such as oil and gas exploration, municipal planning or public utility operation.

For a list of these and manufacturers of other GIS products, visit www.geoplace.com, an excellent online source of GIS news and developments worldwide.

What can GIS do for you?
' Information retrieval. A user can point to locations, objects or areas on a computer screen to access information about them from its database.

' Topological modeling. A GIS can recognize and analyze spatial relationships among mapped phenomena. A user can determine conditions of adjacency'what is next to what; containment'what is enclosed by what; and proximity'how close something is to something else.

' Networks. A GIS can simulate the movement of materials along a linear network. By assigning digitized values such as direction and speed to the
motion of contaminants, for example, a GIS could determine how long it would take pollutants to move from a toxic site to an uncontaminated area.

' Overlay. A GIS can produce many kinds of maps, for areas such as wetlands, slopes, streams, properties and soils. A user can combine map data to produce a map layer that, for instance, would illustrate effects of nearby building sites on wetlands.

' Data output. A GIS can show the results of a complex analysis in graphic form on a monitor or a printout for departmental or agency decision-makers.

By definition, a GIS is a system designed to work with data referenced by spatial or geographic coordinates. GeoMicro Inc., a GIS software company, defines a GIS as a program that 'captures, stores, retrieves, analyzes and displays spatial data using a set of hardware, software and procedures.' A GIS combines the capabilities of databases with the visualization and geographic analysis offered by maps, according to a company white paper.

A Geological Survey report on geographic information systems lists six basic functions that GIS programs should perform Check the USGS' Web site, at www.usgs.gov, for more details:

Relating information from different sources. If an Idaho farmer could relate information about the rainfall in his state to aerial photographs of the county where his potato farm was located, he might be able to gain information about optimum planting and harvesting times. By using a GIS, he could input information from many different sources and in many different forms for a solid analysis of the results.

In any case, the primary requirement for the source data is that the GIS recognizes the locations of all variables, which are annotated by x, y or z coordinates of longitude, latitude and elevation, or by other systems such as ZIP codes or mile markers.

Because any variable that can be found spatially can be digitized and fed into a GIS, it is possible to use various types of digital information such as satellite images and census data in the system.

Data capture. If data to be used by the GIS isn't already digitized, the program can use various techniques to capture it. For example, portions of maps can be digitized by drawing around them with a computer mouse or by using electronic scanners to convert map lines and points into digital data.

Once a GIS has captured and digitized data, extraneous data can be edited out and the resulting information placed into a specialized database.

Data integration. A GIS can link information from various, usually incompatible sources by using combinations of mapped variables for building and analyzing new variables.

The Geological Survey cites the example of researchers who combine data from a GIS and billing information from a water company to simulate the discharge of materials in the septic systems in a neighborhood upstream from a wetland. The water bills show how much water is used at each address, and the total amount of water used by the neighborhood helps predict the amount of material that will be discharged into the septic system. Thus, a GIS can identify neighborhoods with heavy amounts of septic discharge.

Caliper's GIS+ 3.5, designed for professionals, can be used to create and maintain 3-D data sets. It's priced at $2,995 per license.

Projection and registration. Maps are designed according to different scales, but a GIS can adjust the scale of one map to fit another's. If the maps use different types of projection'a mathematical method of transferring information from the Earth's three-dimensional curved surface to two-dimensional paper or computer screen displays'the GIS can blend the projections into a common one using a PC or workstation.

Data structures. Digital data is collected and stored in many ways, so two data sources may not be compatible. A GIS can make them compatible by restructuring the data; that is, converting it to different formats. In this way, a regional property map may be related to a satellite image of the entire area.

Data modeling. The Geological Survey cites such problems as the difficulties of relating wetlands maps to rainfall amounts recorded at several points, such as airports, TV stations and high schools.

Because a GIS can depict two- and three-dimensional characteristics of the Earth's surface, subsurface and atmosphere from many information points, it can generate a map with rainfall contour lines that indicate rainfall amounts in specific locations.

J.B. Miles of Pahoa, Hawaii, writes about communications and computers.

Applied Biomathematics Corp.
Setauket, N.Y.
Ramas GIS 3.0Win9x, NTEcological GIS software that links landscape data with population viability analysis for endangered animal speciesImports landscape data from a GIS, identifies habitat patches, builds a metapopulation model and performs viability analysis and risk assessment; has a user-friendly interface$1,595 per single-user license
Avenza Software Inc.
Burlington, Ontario
MAPublisher 3.5Mac OS, Win9x, NTA suite of Xtras for Macromedia FreeHand and plug-ins for Adobe Illustrator 8.0.1 that bridges GIS technology with high-end graphics software for high-resolution printing and electronic publishingHas import filters, map scale tools, table of attribute values, column mapping tools, add column, edit column, drop column, selection management tools$495
Autodesk Inc.
San Rafael, Calif.
AutoCAD Map 2000 Win9x, NTFor precision mapping and analysis in an AutoCAD environmentFeatures querying, properties window, presentation and plotting, nonrectangular viewports, multiple map assets, multiple layouts, multiple design environment, map creation and cleanup, GIS spatial analysis, flexible plot styles, data integration, coordinate conversion, construction tools$4,250
Byers Engineering Co.
Map Viewer Series 8.0Win9x, NTA family of products designed for telecommunications professionals to navigate and analyze areas, propose equipment and routing costs, print maps and distribute plans Provides big-picture view of the network, with detail filters, file overlays and multiyear planning; imports and displays geocoded data, performs spatial queries, projects multiple what-if scenarios, prints to standard Windows printers and plotters, captures competitive information, views entire service areas or user-defined boundaries, dynamically displays Global Positioning System coordinates$300 to $1,500
Caliper Corp.
Newton, Mass.
GIS+ 3.5 Win9x, NTA system for professional users that provides tools for the creation, validation and maintenance of geographic databases and a range of spatial analysis tools. Supports data visualization, custom map design, map display and access to all software functionsHas true 32-bit Windows application code, client-server processing, multi-user database access, GPS interface, support for digital orthophotography and satellite-derived base maps, support for 3-D databases, address matching, thematic mapping tools, WYSIWYG page layout tools, network analysis tools, a GIS Development Kit $2,995 per license
Caris Ltd.
Fredericton, New Brunswick
Caris GIS 4.3.5Win9x, NT, UnixA full-featured GIS with editing, query, analysis and visualization capabilitiesHas two, three and "n" dimensional data viewing, extensive cartographic capabilities, support for multiple map projections, GIS analysis and modeling tools, support for multiple RDBMSes and data exchange formats, plotting capabilities, data compaction, open environment, full functionality on Windows and many Unix platforms$635 to $5,000
Comgrafix Inc.
Clearwater, Fla.
MapGrafix 4.01Mac OSA tool that links every map feature, graphic or text with database information to relate descriptive data to specific geographic locationsSupports real-world coordinate systems, uses intelligent cartographic data structures, supports standard vector formats, imports raster images in TIFF format, has open architecture for customized applications, has comprehensive editing functions$995
Digi-Rule Inc.
Calgary, Alberta
DIGGIS 1.04Win9x, NTA tool that captures data for export into any GIS program using a digitizing table or The Rat portable digitizerDigitizes any map feature, works with standard digitizing tables, uses Windows Graphic User Interface, has multiple editing tools, converts data to true coordinates, imports data from .dxf files or other data vendor formats, supports most popular printers and plotters$995 per seat
Erdas Inc.
Imagine 8.4Win9x, NT, Windows 2000A full-featured GIS program with multiple componentsAdd-on modules include VirtualGIS, Vector, NITF, OrthoBASE, Subpixel Classifier, Developer's Toolkit, Radar Mapping Suite$2,000 up
Environmental Systems Research Institute
Redlands, Calif.
ArcView GIS 3.2Win9x, NT, UnixA customizable desktop PC mapping and spatial analysis programFeatures visual mapping, cartographic wizards, labeling and text tools, industry and application symbols, Crystal Reports report writing, on-the-fly data updating, analysis wizards, geographic hot links to all supported data formats, client-server access to data warehouses, comprehensive developer environment$1,195 per seat
GeoMicro Inc.
Santa Ana, Calif.
AltaMap Professional 2.0Win9x, NTA set of OLE/COM objects for building applications. Includes more than 20 programmable objects with 250 properties, methods and custom events. Works in standard development environments such as Visual Basic, Delphi and Visual C++.Includes record object, spatial indexing, animation layer, thematic mapping objects, query and selection model, cross-layer smart labeling$2,495
Georef Systems Ltd.
Waterloo, Ontario
MapSpace 6.02Win9x, NT, Win 2000For a single user or client-server Available in single-user or client-server applications$900 per single user license
Intergraph Corp.
Huntsville, Ala.
GeoMedia 4.0NTAn enterprise app with expanded data access and integration tools, improved plotting and workflow features and many other enhancements over earlier GeoMedia versions Has expanded data server support (Oracle 8i Spatial Object Model data server, Microsoft SQL Server and others), advanced plotting capabilities, CAD-like data capture tools, open standards support including Extensible Markup Language, Geographic Markup Language and Wireless Markup Language $1,500 up
MapInfo Corp.
Troy, N.Y.
MapInfo Professional 6.0Win9x, NTA full-featured mapping programIncludes Internet support, charts and graphs, layering, 3-D viewing, thematic mapping and templates, continuous thematic shading and raster image support; attaches data to map objects, can link views, builds and saves SQL queries, creates buffers around objects, does geographic searches; has Crystal Reports, a drop and drag tool, built-in conflict management, server-side storage and data management, universal translator$1,295
PCI Pacific GeoSolutions Inc.
Victoria, British Columbia
PAMAP GIS 5.2bWin9x, NTA comprehensive set of tools for analyzing point, vector and area informationIncludes Mapper with data input, editing, display and query tools; Analyzer with comprehensive statistical reports, specific or variable width corridors, distance-form analysis, simultaneous overlays of multiple polygon covers; Topographer for 3-D analysis and visualization; Networker for building network topology from line and point elements; Modeller for developing complex models for solving difficult planning problems; Data Presentation and Plotting, PAMAP GIS Translators and Filtering$5,000
Proactive Surface Solutions Inc.
Calgary, Alberta
Rapid Emergency Response Plan 2.0Win9x, NTEmergency response planning on WinGIS 2000 from Austrian GIS manufacturer ProGIS Corp.Does enterprise resource planning and development with interactive software detailing database information and maps of facilities, pipelines, residents, wellheads, roads and land markers; provides ongoing resident contacts and updates, design and distribution of resident information packets, land negotiations and mutual aid agreements$300 up per user
Rockware Inc.
Golden, Colo.
RockWorks99Win9x, NTGeological data management, analysis and visualization softwarePerforms point mapping with multivariate symbol maps, contour maps, 3-D surface diagrams, land grid utilities, surveying utilities, gridding tools, solid modeling, volumetrics, stratigraphic diagrams, statistics, lineation analysis, planar feature analysis, geotechnical analysis, hydrology, hydrochemistry, coordinate conversions, geological tools, Virtual Reality Modeling Language, advanced 3-D visualization, graphic utilities, Import/Export options$899 per single user, $4,999 per 10 users
Safe Software Inc.
Surrey, British Columbia
FME Professional Suite 2000 Win9x, NT, UnixGeneral purpose, full-featured data migration and translation softwareSupports the databases and data formats of most popular GIS programs$1,749 up
Uclid Software LLC
Madison, Wis.
IcoMap 2.2Win9x, NTModularized land parcel conversion softwareConverts maps, deeds and legal descriptions into vector files; does specialized text conversion, batch-text recognition, distance and bearing interpreter, source document linking$1,995 up


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