The Role of the Geographic Information Systems Infrastructure in Childhood Obesity Prevention: Perspective from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

American Journal of Preventive MedicineAmerican Journal of Preventive Medicine, May 2012, Vol. 42, No. 5

“Childhood obesity is a serious public health epidemic. Childhood obesity rates have soared in just 4 decades, nearly tripling in children aged 2–5 years and 12–19 years, while quadrupling in children and adolescents aged 6–11 years. Recent estimates from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey report that 17% of children and adolescents aged 2–19 years are overweight.

“Genetics, although a partial explanation for excess weight, is not the cause of the soaring rates of childhood obesity. Changes in human genetic composition have not occurred during the time period over which the epidemic has developed; rather, societal changes that have occurred in the past 4 decades have fueled the epidemic. Children today engage much less with the world outside their homes in terms of physical activity and much more in terms of eating. Sadly, inactivity and unhealthful eating have become the social norm in many communities across the nation, resulting in energy imbalance. Such an imbalance impedes the reversal of the childhood obesity epidemic. For reversal to occur, energy balance must be maintained.”

12th Esri Education GIS Conference Encourages Community Involvement

National Geographic’s Daniel Edelson to Lead Conversation on Engaging Learners in New Ways

Daniel Edelson, Vice President for Education, National Geographic Society

Daniel Edelson, Vice President for Education, National Geographic Society.

The Plenary Sessions at the twelfth annual Esri Education GIS Conference are undergoing a major change in format. Instead of a series of presentations from speakers, the Saturday and Sunday programs will commence with 90-minute facilitated community conversations in which Esri education managers, community spokespersons, and audience members will talk about themes of strategic importance to the education community.

“We are making a concerted effort to engage the community at this year’s conference to help formulate the direction of GIS education for the next 20 years,” says David DiBiase, Esri’s director of education, Industry Solutions. “Attendees can join the conversation with respected thought leaders about the challenges and opportunities we face at the cusp of a new generation of GIS education.”

Conversation topics include education and the cloud; open educational resources; careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM); educational policy; campus facilities; and global initiatives.

Daniel Edelson, vice president for education, National Geographic Society, will participate in the opening session on Saturday and discuss online mapping and citizen science.

“Online mapping is a huge opportunity for bringing the power of geographic analysis to learners within and outside the classroom,” says Edelson. “It can help us better understand our community and engage with it in a more meaningful way.”

Among the nearly 100 user presentations, workshops, and special interest group meetings available at the conference this year is the Education EXPO, which will highlight the demonstration of ArcGIS Online, ArcGIS 10.1, Esri Community Analyst, and more. In addition, Esri education team staff members will discuss the expanded site license program, which has undergone its most substantial upgrade in the 20-year history of the Esri Education Program.

The Esri Education GIS Conference will be held from July 21 to 24, 2012, in San Diego, California, at the Marriott Marquis and Marina hotel near the Convention Center, where the Esri International User Conference will be staged.

Unlike previous years, attendees need not be current users of Esri software. Registration includes the first two days of attendance at the Esri International User Conference. For more information or to register, visit

[Source: Esri press release]

A Multiple-Point Geostatistical Method for Characterizing Uncertainty of Subsurface Alluvial Units and Its Effects on Flow and Transport

U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2012–1065

C. Cronkite-Ratcliff, G.A. Phelps, and A. Boucher

“This report provides a proof-of-concept to demonstrate the potential application of multiple-point geostatistics for characterizing geologic heterogeneity and its effect on flow and transport simulation. The study presented in this report is the result of collaboration between the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Stanford University. This collaboration focused on improving the characterization of alluvial deposits by incorporating prior knowledge of geologic structure and estimating the uncertainty of the modeled geologic units.

“In this study, geologic heterogeneity of alluvial units is characterized as a set of stochastic realizations, and uncertainty is indicated by variability in the results of flow and transport simulations for this set of realizations. This approach is tested on a hypothetical geologic scenario developed using data from the alluvial deposits in Yucca Flat, Nevada. Yucca Flat was chosen as a data source for this test case because it includes both complex geologic and hydrologic characteristics and also contains a substantial amount of both surface and subsurface geologic data.

“Multiple-point geostatistics is used to model geologic heterogeneity in the subsurface. A three-dimensional (3D) model of spatial variability is developed by integrating alluvial units mapped at the surface with vertical drill-hole data. The SNESIM (Single Normal Equation Simulation) algorithm is used to represent geologic heterogeneity stochastically by generating 20 realizations, each of which represents an equally probable geologic scenario. A 3D numerical model is used to simulate groundwater flow and contaminant transport for each realization, producing a distribution of flow and transport responses to the geologic heterogeneity. From this distribution of flow and transport responses, the frequency of exceeding a given contaminant concentration threshold can be used as an indicator of uncertainty about the location of the contaminant plume boundary.”

University of Pittsburgh Geologists Map Prehistoric Climate Changes in Canada’s Yukon Territory

Pitt study one of many across the nation focused on understanding Arctic region’s climate changes

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have joined an international group of scientists to study past climate changes in the Arctic. Comprising geologists from Pitt’s Department of Geology and Planetary Science, the team has analyzed sedimentary and geochemical records of water-level changes in Rantin Lake, located in the boreal forest of Canada’s southeastern Yukon Territory. The results were published online in the April issue of Journal of Paleolimnologyas one of 18 articles dedicated to reconstructing Arctic lake sediments climate and environmental changes during the Holocene (about 12,000 years before present day).

“During the last 10,000 years, there have been certain times in which rapid climate change events occurred,” said David Pompeani, lead author and a Pitt PhD geology student. “By analyzing Rantin Lake, we’ve contributed a piece of the puzzle toward mapping the timing and magnitude of these prehistoric events throughout the Arctic.”

Rantin Lake is part of a watershed containing a series of small lakes hydrologically connected through groundwater flow. The regional climate is subarctic and characterized by warm, wet summers and dry, cold winters. The lake is located at 60 degrees north in the Canadian Arctic, only 30 degrees away from the North Pole, where climate change is expected to be amplified.

In July 2006, the Pitt team—including Mark Abbott, associate professor of geology and planetary science, and Byron Steinman, a former PhD geology student (now a postdoctoral researcher at Penn State University)—collected two sediment cores from the lake for analysis. The sediment cores were split and analyzed for paleoclimate proxy indicators, including geochemical composition, sedimentary structure, and macrofossil content (that which is visible without a microscope). The amount of water in a lake is directly related to its depth. Therefore, a loss in water during droughts is recorded by drop in lake levels, whereas wet periods are characterized by deep waters.

Using these proxy indicators, the researchers were able to make inferences about past variations in the balance between precipitation and evaporation in the southern Yukon. A comparison of the lake-level proxies with a previously developed fossil pollen record from the same lake found that rapid vegetation changes over the Holocene also occurred during shifts in the precipitation/evaporation balance, suggesting hydrologic conditions played an integral role in the evolution of the Yukon’s ecosystem. The development of unique shallow-water sediment at the deep-water core site indicated that lake levels dropped significantly during a “megadrought” in the early Holocene.

“About 8,400 years ago, the lake almost dried out,” said Pompeani. “We documented the timing of this drought and studied its transition to conditions more typical of what we observed in the late Holocene.”

Pitt’s study, says Pompeani, contributes to the long-term perspective on natural climate variability that is needed to understand historically unprecedented changes now occurring in the Arctic. Rapid changes in the Arctic climate system that occurred in the relatively recent past can be compared with climate models to improve the understanding of the processes responsible for such nonlinear changes.

Funding for this project was provided by the National Science Foundation.

The Holocene climate project focuses on climate records from the last 8,000 years, including two focus regions: eastern Beringia and the northwest Atlantic. For more information on the Holocene climate project, visit

[Source: University of Pittsburgh press release]

ArcGIS 10.1 Simplifies Sharing of Geographic Information

New Tools and Infrastructure Extend the Reach of GIS throughout Organizations  

At 10.1, users can deliver any GIS resource as a web service.

At 10.1, users can deliver any GIS resource as a web service.

ArcGIS 10.1, the highly anticipated update to ArcGIS, is now available. The new release puts mapping and geospatial analytics into the hands of more people than ever—even those with no geographic information system (GIS) expertise. ArcGIS is a complete system for designing and managing solutions with geographic knowledge.

ArcGIS 10.1 further integrates desktops and servers, as well as mobile and web applications. Users can author maps, models, and analytics and deliver any GIS resource, including imagery, geodata, and tools, as a web service. With the introduction of ArcGIS Online for organizations, a cloud-based, collaborative content management system, geographic information is easier to share within and outside an organization.

Hundreds of Desktop Improvements

Many of the improvements in the new release of ArcGIS make it easier to create and share content, while others improve a user’s ability to visualize patterns and trends in complex data. Highlights include the following capabilities:

  • Edit any aspect or component of a map, including feature-level metadata
  • Use new spatial analysis tools, such as spatial autocorrelation, to predict outcomes and explain geographic information better
  • Find new tools that simplify all aspects of working with large collections of imagery and raster data in ArcGIS
  • View lidar Log ASCII Standard files as point clouds, surfaces, and rasters

Fast, Dependable Services

Use ArcGIS 10.1 to deliver any GIS resource, including imagery, geodata, and tools, as a web service.

Use ArcGIS 10.1 to deliver any GIS resource, including imagery, geodata, and tools, as a web service.

ArcGIS for Server, the primary engine for powering geospatial infrastructure, allows users to turn any location-based resource into a fast, dependable service that can be used in web, desktop, and mobile applications. ArcGIS for Server has the following advantages: stet

  • Available on physical, virtualized, and cloud infrastructures or any combinations thereof
  • A native 64-bit application that runs on Windows and Linux
  • Much quicker and easier to install
  • More versatile and secure

Support for a Spectrum of Mobile Platforms

ArcGIS 10.1 supports a spectrum of mobile platforms—both with open software developer kits (SDKs) that are customizable for developers and end-user applications that can be downloaded from application stores and marketplaces. These applications can be used to access intelligent web maps and share data.

Easy-to-Deploy Applications

Esri continues to support multiple platforms and APIs for application development. The new ArcGIS Runtime SDKs for WPF and Java, which will become available within the next month, allow developers to build applications that are fast and easy to deploy and have a small footprint.

For more information about ArcGIS 10.1, visit

[Source: Esri press release]

Influence of Landscape Structure and Human Modifications on Insect Biomass and Bat Foraging Activity in an Urban Landscape

PLoS ONE 7(6), published 07 June 2012

Caragh G. Threlfall1, Bradley Law, and Peter B. Banks

“Urban landscapes are often located in biologically diverse, productive regions. As such, urbanization may have dramatic consequences for this diversity, largely due to changes in the structure and function of urban communities. We examined the influence of landscape productivity (indexed by geology), housing density and vegetation clearing on the spatial distribution of nocturnal insect biomass and the foraging activity of insectivorous bats in the urban landscape of Sydney, Australia.

Map of sampled landscapes in Sydney, NSW, Australia

Map of sampled landscapes in Sydney, NSW, Australia

“Nocturnal insect biomass (g) and bat foraging activity were sampled from 113 sites representing backyard, open space, bushland and riparian landscape elements, across urban, suburban and vegetated landscapes within 60 km of Sydney’s Central Business District. We found that insect biomass was at least an order of magnitude greater within suburban landscapes in bushland and backyard elements located on the most fertile shale influenced geologies (both p<0.001) compared to nutrient poor sandstone landscapes. Similarly, the feeding activity of bats was greatest in bushland, and riparian elements within suburbs on fertile geologies (p = 0.039). Regression tree analysis indicated that the same three variables explained the major proportion of the variation in insect biomass and bat foraging activity. These were ambient temperature (positive), housing density (negative) and the percent of fertile shale geologies (positive) in the landscape; however variation in insect biomass did not directly explain bat foraging activity. We suggest that prey may be unavailable to bats in highly urbanized areas if these areas are avoided by many species, suggesting that reduced feeding activity may reflect under-use of urban habitats by bats. Restoration activities to improve ecological function and maintain the activity of a diversity of bat species should focus on maintaining and restoring bushland and riparian habitat, particularly in areas with fertile geology as these were key bat foraging habitats.”

Esri’s Commitment to Understanding Our Oceans

On this World Oceans Day, I’d like to share some words from Dr. Dawn Wright, Esri’s chief scientist, about Esri’s new Ocean GIS Initiative.

“As a company with the mission to inspire and enable people to positively impact their future through a deeper, geographic understanding of the changing world around them, Esri recognizes that this understanding must involve a strong commitment to the oceans,” Wright said today in a post on the Esri Insider blog. “And that’s why Esri recently launched a major Ocean GIS initiative across the entire company.

“To support a better understanding of our oceans, Esri is focused on improving and expanding our products, tools, services, partnerships, and connections with the broader ocean community.”

Esri’s Ocean Basemap is a a crucial first step in the establishment of an oceans GIS

Esri’s Ocean Basemap is a crucial first step in the establishment of an oceans GIS.

As part of the Ocean GIS initiative, Esri is developing mapping and spatial analysis tools, geospatial data, associated resources, and engagement with the oceans community in five main areas:

  • Research and Exploration
  • Ecosystems and Environment
  • Coastal Protection and Marine Spatial Planning
  • Fisheries and Aquaculture Management
  • Recreation and Adventure

Wright has been working on a new e-book detailing the Ocean GIS initiative, which will be available later this month on the Esri web site. Meanwhile, the Esri oceans team is already engaged in a wide variety of projects supporting the Oceans GIS initiative.  Below are excerpts of some of the project descriptions from her forthcoming e-book:

The Ocean Basemap.  On World Hydrography Day of 2011, Esri officially released the world’s first ocean basemap on ArcGIS Online. The focus of the basemap is to provide the best possible cartographic representation of authoritative bathymetric data, as well as ocean floor feature names, water body names, and, in certain regions, derived depth values in meters. Release of the ocean basemap represents a crucial first step in the establishment of an oceans GIS.

SeaSketch map interface with forum categories.

SeaSketch map interface with forum categories.

SeaSketch.  Esri is working in collaboration with Will McClintock of the UCSB Center for Marine Assessment and Planning to deliver a cutting edge decision-support tool for effective ocean planning, for a range of end-users, including government, industries, and regional institutions. UCSB is nearing completion of the initial version of SeaSketch, a web-based ocean geodesign platform that will be accessible via ArcGIS Online.

Ocean Health Index.  The Ocean Health Index (OHI) is a project co-founded by Conservation International, the National Geographic Society, and the New England Aquarium with the ambitious goal establishing a new world standard for measuring ocean health by representing that health as a single number. The index will aid managers, policymakers, and the public in quickly diagnosing where problems lie and identify possible solutions.

ArcGIS for Maritime. ArcGIS for Maritime is a comprehensive geospatial platform for chart production and nautical and bathymetric data management. It includes workflows for nautical chart viewing and converting among International Hydrographic Organization data transfer standards, quality control/quality assurance, for management bathymetric data (load into a Bathymetric Information System; interact with grids, collections and metadata; create surfaces, features, and queries; share in various modes), for integration with data models such as Arc Marine, various map services such as the ocean basemap, and new tools as they are developed by the community.

Wind energy site suitability web app

Wind energy site suitability web app linked in ArcGIS for Ocean Use Planning showing site selection of Outer Continental Shelf blocks based on multiple criteria.

Ocean Use Planning Portal. Esri has developed an Ocean Use Planning portal based on ArcGIS Online. ArcGIS for Ocean Use Planning is a collection of maps, apps, and templates primarily for the coastal and marine spatial planning community seeking to manage US coastal and marine resources while also evaluating the impacts of human use on ocean and coastal ecosystems. A hallmark of ArcGIS for Ocean Use Planning is the many featured web apps, the most popular of which is one for wind energy site suitability.

Benthic Terrain Modeling.  The Benthic Terrain Modeler (BTM) provides a set of geoprocessing tools to analyze benthic terrain for the purposes of classifying surficial seafloor characteristics that may be in studies of benthic habitat, geomorphology, prediction of benthic fish species distribution, marine protected area design, and more. Esri has placed resources toward collaborating with NOAA CSC on porting the original code from Visual Basic to Python for deployment in ArcGIS 10.x as a toolbox. In addition, certain functions in the tools will be available as separate web-based geoprocessing services.”

Wright’s new e-book will contain much more detail about partnerships, strategic goals, and other components of the initiative. It will be available on the Esri web site later this month.  As soon as it is available, I will be sure to announce it here as well as on Twitter.

Fledermaus and ArcGIS Integration

Output of the Fledermaus mid-water mapping tool over the source of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico

The importance of visualizing the water column is shown by this output of the Fledermaus mid-water mapping tool over the source of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The visualization, produced by and courtesy of UNH-CCOM (, shows acoustic backscatter data over the wellhead collected after it was successfully capped in mid-July of 2010. Although the wellhead was indeed capped, the visualization suggests a small amount of natural gas was still escaping.

Satellites can clearly map the ocean surface, and acoustic sensors can map the ocean floor, but ocean scientists currently have a limited view of the water column between the ocean surface and the ocean floor. There is a critical need to study the internal structure of features in the water column such as plumes (hydrothermal vent plumes, oil well plumes as in the Gulf of Mexico spill) or schools of fish to obtain fish stocks dynamics, spawning grounds, seasonal habitats, and to discern the impact of the climate change on these vital resources. To exploit water column data, an efficient means of reading, processing, and analyzing the data is required.

To improve support for multidimensional data and analyses in the ArcGIS environment, Esri has been working closely with partner Quality Positioning Services (QPS). QPS is a maritime technology and services provider with headquarters in The Netherlands, with US-based operations in Portsmouth, NH and Houston, TX. They are a highly specialized company and are well known in the hydrographic, petroleum, and oceanography communities for their domain knowledge and excellent software. QPS recently acquired Esri partner IVS 3D, makers of the Fledermaus scientific visualization system, and are consolidating product lines.

Fledermaus 3D visualization of the northeast Atlantic Ocean.

Fledermaus 3D visualization of the northeast Atlantic Ocean.

Fledermaus is heavily used at the world-famous Scripps Institution of Oceanography Visualization Center and is a defacto scientific visualization standard throughout the marine geology and geophysics arm of the ocean science community, including the large international NSF-sponsored programs Ridge 2000, Margins, and the Ocean Observatories Initiative. It is also used at many national hydrographic and naval agencies.

Esri and QPS are now working together to integrate Fledermaus tools into the geoprocessing framework of ArcGIS for Maritime—Bathymetry at version 10.1.

Forest Delineation Based on Airborne LIDAR Data

Remote Sensing, 2012, 4(3), 762-783

Lothar Eysn, Markus Hollaus, Klemens Schadauer and Norbert Pfeifer

“The delineation of forested areas is a critical task, because the resulting maps are a fundamental input for a broad field of applications and users. Different national and international forest definitions are available for manual or automatic delineation, but unfortunately most definitions lack precise geometrical descriptions for the different criteria. A mandatory criterion in forest definitions is the criterion of crown coverage (CC), which defines the proportion of the forest floor covered by the vertical projection of the tree crowns. For loosely stocked areas, this criterion is especially critical, because the size and shape of the reference area for calculating CC is not clearly defined in most definitions. Thus current forest delineations differ and tend to be non-comparable because of different settings for checking the criterion of CC in the delineation process. This paper evaluates a new approach for the automatic delineation of forested areas, based on airborne laser scanning (ALS) data with a clearly defined method for calculating CC.

“The new approach, the ‘tree triples’ method, is based on defining CC as a relation between the sum of the crown areas of three neighboring trees and the area of their convex hull. The approach is applied and analyzed for two study areas in Tyrol, Austria. The selected areas show a loosely stocked forest at the upper timberline and a fragmented forest on the hillside. The fully automatic method presented for delineating forested areas from ALS data shows promising results with an overall accuracy of 96%, and provides a beneficial tool for operational applications.”

Thinking About Place, Spatial Behavior, and Spatial Processes in Childhood Obesity

American Journal of Preventive MedicineAmerican Journal of Preventive Medicine, May 2012, Vol. 42, No. 5

“There is no single solution to the childhood obesity epidemic, but there is a need for transdisciplinary collaboration and approaches that consider the potential mechanisms that promote or reduce obesity at all levels of enquiry, from cells to society. In this theme issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine,we focus on place (obesogenic and leptogenic environments), specifıcally the use of GIS, related technologies, and spatial analytical methods in the study of childhood obesity.

“A proven technology, GIS facilitates the measurement, management, mapping, and analysis of the real world. GIS is not a panacea, but the integrative nature of GIS and its linkage with spatial statistical analysis offer an important means of better understanding and dealing with some of the most pressing problems of our time and provide valuable tools for researchers and policymakers alike. Not surprisingly, as GIS has matured (the ready availability of geospatial data, enhanced visualization tools, and advanced spatial analysis methods), there has been an explosion of interest in the application and use of spatial concepts and methods in health-related research.”