What happens in the lab; a showcase of GIS Student creations & other good stuff.

Category: Student Blogs (Page 1 of 3)

Producing highly localized avalanche forecasts

~A guest blog post by ADGISer, Gabe

Last winter, I was at the top of a run facing northeast at Kootenay Pass with six friends discussing our descent and the possibility of an avalanche. The Canadian Avalanche Association puts out daily avalanche bulletins, or forecasts, for broad regions across Canada. Kootenay Pass is officially in the Kootenay-Boundary forecast region. The bulletin area covers many different mountain ranges where weather patterns are unique to each mountain. I read the avalanche bulletin for the Kootenay Boundary region before heading out that morning. The bulletin that morning had a special notice for this area that described slopes that face northeast as having an exceptionally high probability of producing an avalanche, either naturally, or triggered by a skier on the slope. We all agreed for one of us to cut across the top of the slope to perform a ski cut and then we would dig a pit on the slope we were going to ski. The ski cut did not produce any results. We dug a pit in the snow and were confident in the snowpack that it would not slide. The special bulletin was still in the back of my mind but local observations trumped the bulletin and the special notice.



A local avalanche forecast for this particular slope on this particular day would probably not have included that special bulletin and would most likely be very different than the avalanche forecast for the Kootenay Boundary Region.

Each slope is unique to the set of conditions for an avalanche to occur. Many variables go into producing the right conditions for an avalanche. The GIS world has been working on trying to model avalanche slopes and combine that with historical data and weather models to produce avalanche forecasts. This has produced some very encouraging results. Through www.avalanchemapping.org, an online GIS resource has been created for analyzing avalanche slopes in the state of Colorado complete with an online interactive map for Colorado as well as historical information for each avalanche slope registered.

New Satellite technology producing high resolution optical satellite imagery has also been used through mapping differences in surfaces to detect where avalanches have occurred and their extant (research can be found here ).

Through these efforts, further snowpack analysis, and online collaboration of local observations collected through geodatabases, I feel that one day we will be able to get highly localized avalanche forecasts.

The decision was made for us to ski down this slope one at a time. We skied down and all had a fantastic run down. I would consider it one of the best runs of the year. It was a long descent with lots of soft powder that ended in a gentle slope through some old growth trees. Amazing!

* additional note, new to Avalanche.ca, observations and reports can be made by anyone, read more about it in the blog post here.

Technologies for protecting endangered species

~A guest blog post by ADGIS student Trilok Gunnam

How do you find and protect an animal whose conservation status is listed as “Endangered”, which hides during the day in dens and dense bush, is active after dark but roams up to sixteen kilometers in search of food during that time?

And to make matters more difficult for this creature, a terrible disease spread through biting is devastating the population in the only known place on the planet they exist. I’m referring of course to the Tasmanian Devil, one of Australia’s unique and wonderful marsupials that was once extant on the mainland but has for the past four hundred years, been confined to the south-eastern island state of Tasmania.

The answer can be found with the use of remote sensing and GPS technologies and this is precisely what the people at the “Save The Tasmanian Devil Program” are doing. They use remote sensing cameras to monitor “local extinction or recovery in a diseased population, overall population status, and location of the current disease front”

Another technology that is invaluable in the monitoring and tracking of endangered species is GPS tagging. Tagging allows scientists and conservationists to monitor animal behavior, hunting trails, and even the model and shape of a burrow, or a nest!


To further protect animals, whether endangered or not, a future technology for vehicles could include GPS and automatic collision warning and braking systems to pick up the GPS signals from the tags of nearby endangered or wild animals.

This would not only lead to a dramatic decrease in vehicle-animal collisions but could also lead to lower auto-insurance premiums!


It altered History: Pioneers of GIS

~a guest blog post by ADGIS student Barb Robitaille

I often wonder if modern day technologists take the time out of their busy schedules to think back to when GIS started. Before satellites, GPS, computers, and accessible data; the days of historic GIS.


Can you imagine waking up in the morning not knowing what shape the earth is? Feeling like you know land is out there, but not sure where? GIS started with cave paintings and rock carvings – hard to imagine as we sit at our computer desks viewing Russia with little effort. It continued to the next level by curious scientists, scholars, mathematicians, and explorers. Because of their dedication to discovering the world, we now know the shape of the planet; we’ve become more informed and analyzing data has become easier because of historic GIS.


One great example of the first uses of GIS is by Dr. John Snow, a physician back in the 1800’s who traced the source of a deadly cholera outbreak on a hand drawn map. While everyone believed it was transmitted in the air, Dr. Snow’s suspicion that it was a water borne disease lead him to map the city, and place marks at the location of every death. In short time the hand drawn maps indicated there was a suspect water pump right in the middle of all the deaths, which turned out to be the pump with contaminated water. This discovery saved many lives.

That’s a pretty amazing use of maps and analysis of spatial patterns before any electronics could help!


The first GIS was launched in Canada in the 1960’s by Dr. Roger Tomlinson: The Father of GIS who worked within the Department of Forestry and Rural Development. This new system was used to collect and analyze environmental data to determine land capability of Canada. His adoption of GIS reduced the government’s task from three years to several weeks, and the cost from eight million dollars to two million. The Canadian government gave him the highest civilian award in 2001. The engraving on the award reads,

“He pioneered its uses worldwide to collect, manage, and manipulate geographical data, changing the face of geography as a discipline.”


It was the rapid development of computers in the 1980’s and 90’s that enabled GIS to grow exponentially to what it is now. We should be grateful for open data, the internet, and the software developers that make our jobs a little easier.

But most of all, I feel that we should honour the pioneers and great minds who started the legacy of GIS.


They helped shape what it is today, and their roots still go deep in today’s technology.



Drones: A Mapping Tool for Agriculture

~A guest blog post by ADGIS student Jess Davis

A growing market for drones is in the agriculture business. It has never been easy for farmers to obtain real-time data but with the help of drones they will be able to monitor their crops better than ever before.

Drones can be used in agriculture to tackle a variety of data gathering such as: plant counting, plant height, crop health indexes, weed detection, canopy cover, season monitoring and terrain mapping

AgriculturePreviously, a farmer would have to walk the entire expand of his crops to gather any of the previously mentioned data, which could take anywhere from hours to months to accomplish. When a drone flies over a field, not only is it taking images of the fields but it is also actively scanning for problems in the field. They are at the point now where some types of drones do not need a controller on the ground; they are just set to scan over a certain area and they go out and collect all of the data and come back.

Plant counting can be accomplished and give the user information on plant size by individual plant, row, plot or field. It can also determine plant uniformity and yields at an early stage. Canopy cover and season monitoring can give the user a picture of the changes and patterns in stages of growth of their fields.

The most important data that can be extracted from a drone lies in the health of their crops.

They can identify crop stress, track rogue plants and detect early infestations which can be correlated to weather patterns and changing environmental conditions. They can examine anomalies in the field linked to weeds, and companies like Precision Hawk are working on cameras which can ‘see’ to a plant’s sub-cellular level.  That will allow farmers to detect disease in a plant before it shows any visible sign. 

Drones are quickly becoming a popular tool for large scale agricultural businesses and the initial cost is well worth the data that can be used to fine tune production. The data received from these drones is compatible with a variety of mapping software such as: AutoCAD, ArcGIS, Google Earth, erdas IMAGINE, Quantum GIS, and Global Mapper. No matter the level of geospatial knowledge, data obtained from a drone can be highly useful in crop management. Some interesting Canadian manufacturers of drones are Precision Hawk out of Ontario and Sky Squirrel Technologies from Nova Scotia.






My relationship with technology – an ADGISer’s perspective

A guest GIS student blog post by Jen 

It has been a while since I wrote my first blog and I’ve noticed a few surprising changes:  In the last seven months, after spending countless hours in front of a computer, my love for technology has actually grown – something I didn’t think was possible.

Even though most of my days are spent looking at two 17” PC monitors in the GIS lab, I go home to spend my evenings looking at my 27” Apple monitor (apparently I am an Apple Addict) and the weird thing is it doesn’t bother me like it used to.  I used to get headaches back in September, after a couple of hours on a computer, but no more!  One could conclude this is a good thing since I am now in the professional field of GIS which requires that I constantly utilize computers now, and for years to come.

New technology and breakthroughs are happening on a daily basis and it can be somewhat tiresome keeping up with it all.

There are days when my Twitter account is overlooked (not very often mind you) which sometimes means I can be a few hours to a couple of days behind of something new!  (Gasp)

However, this RARELY happens, as I am a Pro at multi-tasking all day long;

Profs are talking while I am on the internet, doing schoolwork, back to the internet, then I’m making dinner, back to the internet (mobile of course by now on my iPhone or iPad), now on to homework, obviously the internet follows, and so it goes on…..You get the picture.

Sometimes I wonder if I missed my calling on blogging about technology on a full time basis.  Nah, I’ll stick with considering this my ‘knack’ and using these skills for keeping up with new technology and software all things GIS.

My love for technology continues to grow as new things are released, keeping my inner-child entertained, but more so because of my deep understanding and respect for technology.

What kind of person would I be if I didn’t support my fellow tech-savvy entrepreneurs?

This Jen’s second post on technology, read the first.

Earth as Art

A guest blog post by GIS student, June Dai

Earth As Art App by NASA


These sunning, beautiful images are not “paintings”, believe it or not, these are satellite images of Earth.  Thanks to NASA, they have created an app called Earth as Art available in Itunes for FREE! Here is more information about this App from Itunes:

In 1960 the United States put its first Earth-observing environmental satellite into orbit around the planet. Over the decades these satellites have provided invaluable information, and the vantage point of space has provided new perspectives on Earth.

This app celebrates Earth’s aesthetic beauty in the patterns, shapes, colors, and textures of the land, oceans, ice, and atmosphere.

The app features stunning images of Earth from the Terra, Landsat 5, Landsat 7, EO-1, and Aqua satellites. Sensors on these satellites can measure light outside of the visible range, so the images show more than what is visible to the naked eye. The app draws on several images from the USGS Landsat image gallery and introduces many new images.

You can browse through all the images from different areas in the world by area section.  The area sections are Africa, Central and East Asia, Europe and West Asia, North America, Oceania, South America, and Oceans, Atmosphere, and Polar Regions. If you want to know more about an image, just simply click the information icon on the top right corner to bring out the details of this particular image.

Here are few more striking images from the App. Enjoy!

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