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What's next for GIS: The fourth dimension

What are the next big steps in GIS analysis? James Hipple, GIS adviser to USDA's Risk Management Agency, points to two.

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First, he said, is the ongoing effort to integrate data sets. Noting the massive data sets generated by various government agencies, Hipple pointed to the analytic potential they could deliver if they are combined. The snag? "Because they are such large data sets we end up with bandwidth problems," he said.

The other major step, he said, will be the inclusion of temporal analysis — mapping changes in selected characteristics over time. It could be a flood, the spread of a wildfire, or changes in crop plantings. 

"A lot of times we haven't been doing the temporal stuff because the analysis tools haven't been there," Hipple said. "Now that those analysis tools are there I think a lot more of us are thinking, ’OK, how do we look at this in more of a temporal fashion?’ "

The tools for temporal analysis indeed are there, said Sinam Al-Khafaji, Esri’s account manager for USDA, at least since Esri introduced its temporal analysis tools earlier this year.

"You can with near real-time information set up a 'geofence,'" Al-Khafaji said. "If you're monitoring something that's moving you can set up a boundary and when that boundary is crossed you can set up actions and alerts to say, 'Hey, something has entered or exited this boundary.' You can also have workloads that say, 'When something enters this boundary run this process.' "

And it doesn’t have to be just moving objects, he said. The same thing can be done with tabular values in data attached to a map. For example, a map might be configured to display changes in soil moisture over time, and a change in the data that rises above a specified value can trigger an alert.

"There is interest, and a lot of this technology is already available to USDA," Al-Khafaji said, "but it just takes time for this type of technology to gain wide and prevalent adoption."

About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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