Citizen Science and GIS

“Citizen science is scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by amateur or nonprofessional scientists, often by crowdsourcing and crowdfunding.”


Applications of geospatial technologies have already proven themselves invaluable for scientific research and understanding. But is there an opportunity for citizen scientists to leverage geospatial technologies in their quest for knowledge and entertainment, and still make valuable contributions to society?

Citizen scientists have a strong interest in some facet of science, but pursue this interest outside of mainstream academic, research, and industrial organizations. These self-directed individuals might very well be using their own resources, working in their garages to develop “the next big thing.” But more often they are networked, working together with fellow citizen scientists. And this is where they become a powerful force to be taken seriously within the scientific community.

Scientists, as well as “professionals doing science,” are often the ones organizing these citizen science networks; they realize the great value a group of eager volunteers can bring to a project. Some examples of harnessing the contributions of citizens in the earth science and geospatial arenas include:

  • (CPDN) is investigating how small changes affect climate models by running hundreds of thousands of climate models using the volunteers’ PCs. The result: a better understanding of how models are affected by the myriad of small changes in parameters known to influence the global climate.
  • Atmospheric Process Simulator@Home (APS@home) is looking at atmospheric components of climate change. Everyday citizens can download and install a model onto their PCs. The model calculates atmospheric dispersion and how it affects the accuracy of estimates used in global climate models. It runs in the background using idle CPU time, so it doesn’t affect normal computing activities.
  • OpenStreetMap is a model for creating a global geospatial data set by citizen volunteers. Organizationally it provides a good example of a successful structure for managing the creation and distribution of the data, as well as maintaining quality standards.

Amassing large numbers of volunteers to work on geospatial problems such as climate change is already taking place as shown by the CPDN and APS@home examples. What is needed next is something at a much larger scale, where not just physical, but also biological, social, cultural, economic, and political data and models are integrated to give a more accurate depiction of the complexities of our planet.

First we need to create an environment that successfully brings together a plethora of data sources and modeling systems—a noble vision for GIS technology, but not something to be tackled by citizen scientists. Once the data and technology is in place, and a clear framework is established, then comes the opportunity to organize a large group of volunteers who would do the work of tackling this challenge.

The challenge for GIS practitioners is to ensure the usability of citizen scientist-created data in a GIS workflow or to turn this crowdsourced data into useful geographic knowledge. This can mean checking the data to make sure it is authoritative; it can also mean getting involved in data collection, structuring the process to ensure that the collected data has meaning and is appropriate and authoritative.

Imagine a framework where tens or even hundreds of thousands of citizen scientists log in to a web site and download geospatial data sets and work task lists, then use a focused geospatial app to run different analysis and modeling scenarios as defined in the task list, and then share the results of their analysis back to the web site for consolidation.

If properly structured and managed, the integration of citizen science and GIS will enrich geospatial infrastructure, giving GIS practitioners new types of data to use, manage, interpret, and incorporate into their work. More importantly, it could significantly advance our understanding of the planet.


Help Transform America’s Schools with Digital Learning

Esri logoPresident Obama’s recently announced ConnectED Initiative aims to transition schools to digital learning through upgraded connectivity, access to learning devices, teacher support, and digital learning resources. Esri is proud to contribute to ConnectED by providing our ArcGIS Online web mapping tools and learning resources to all schools in the United States for free.

With ArcGIS Online, students can use maps to explore places in their community or around the world. ArcGIS Online includes content from leading providers like National Geographic, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the US Geological Survey (USGS). Students can also create maps from their own data.

Using ArcGIS Online helps students develop problem-solving, data analysis, communication, and technology skills that lead to college and career readiness.

Share Your Expertise at the Esri Ocean GIS Forum


Are you using GIS for ocean or maritime projects? If so, consider giving a presentation about your GIS applications and methods. The Esri Ocean GIS Forum offers two modes for presentations. The first is the paper presentation, which is a 20-25-minute talk supported by PowerPoint and allows time for questions and answers. These presentations are part of topic tracks and are attended by people wanting information in a specific area. The second is the Lightning Talk, which is about five minutes long, wherein the speaker gives a quick overview of a project or method to the large audience in the main hall.

This year, we are particularly interested in presentations in the following categories:

  • Coastal Protection and Marine Spatial Planning
  • Fisheries and Aquaculture
  • Ocean Science
    • Fisheries Science and Management
    • Coastal Management and Resilience
    • Ocean Science Research and Analysis
    • Ocean-Use Planning
  • Oil Spill Contingency Planning
  • E-Navigation and Hydrography
  • Ports and Shipping

Whether your talk is a paper presentation or a Lightning Talk, you need to submit an abstract for consideration by August 15, 2014.

DEFENSE: An Early Warning System for Torrential Processes by Radar Storm Tracking using GIS

Computers & GeosciencesComputers & Geosciences, Published Online 17 May 2014

By Davide Tiranti, Roberto Cremonini, Federica Marco, Armando Riccardo Gaeta, and Secondo Barbero


  • A software tool for debris flows forecasting in Alpine environment are described.
  • The warning tool merges a new basin classification and the storm tracking by radar.
  • The observed/nowcasted rainfall can be compared with a thresholds system.
  • The approach is oriented to real-time analysis and nowcasting-derived products.
  • Real-time application of GIS tools to predict severe storm ground effects.

“Debris flows, responsible for economic losses and occasionally casualties in the alpine region, are mainly triggered by heavy rains characterized by hourly peaks of varying intensity, depending on the features of the basin under consideration. By integrating a recent classification of alpine basins with the radar storm tracking method, an innovative early warning system called DEFENSE (DEbris Flows triggEred by storms – Nowcasting SystEm) was developed using a Geographical Information System (GIS).

Example of storm tracking and nowcasting. Storm UTC time is shown in the centre of the cells, while colours identify storm severity and the cone represents the forecasted path.

Example of storm tracking and nowcasting. Storm UTC time is shown in the centre of the cells, while colours identify storm severity and the cone represents the forecasted path.

“Alpine catchments were classified into three main classes based on the weathering capacity of the bedrock into clay or clay-like minerals, the amount of which, in unconsolidated material, directly influences the debris flow rheology, and thus the sedimentary processes, the alluvial fan architecture, as well as the triggering frequency and seasonal occurrence probability of debris flows. Storms were identified and tracked by processing weather radar observations; subsequently, rainfall intensities and storm severity were estimated over each classified basin. Due to rainfall threshold values determined for each basin class, based on statistical analysis of historical records, an automatic corresponding warning could be issued to municipalities.”

GIS Development to Monitor Climate Change and its Geohydrological Consequences on Nonmonsoon Crop Pattern in Himalaya

Computers & GeosciencesComputers & Geosciences, Published Online 17 May 2014

By Pradeep K. Rawat


  • Average temperature has been increasing with the rate of 0.07 °C/year
  • Average evaporation loss has been increasing with the rate of 4.03 mm/year.
  • Average rainfall has been decreasing with the rate of 0.60 mm/year.
  • Climate change accelerates drought hydrological problems during non-monsoon period.
  • In order to that the non-monsoon crops yield has been decreasing 0.60% by each year.

“The main objective of the study was to assess climate change and its geohydrological impacts on non-monsoon crop pattern at watershed level through GIS development on climate informatics, land use informatics, hydro-informatics and agro-informatics. The Dabka watershed constitutes a part of the Kosi Basin in densely populated Lesser Himalaya, India in district Nainital has been selected for the case illustration. This reconnaissance study analyzed the climatic database for last three decades (1982–2012) and estimates that the average temperature and evaporation loss have been rising with the rate of 0.07 °C/year and 4.03 mm/year respectively whereas the average rainfall has been decreasing with the rate of 0.60 mm/year. These rates of climate change increasing with mounting elevations. Consequently the existing micro climatic zones (sub-tropical, temperate and moist temperate) shifting towards higher altitudes and affecting the favorable conditions of the land use pattern and decreased the eco-friendly forest and vegetation cover.

(a) Sketch diagram of high underground water level, perennial springs and streams with thick vegetation cover and dense forests in their recharge zones during 1982-1990, (b) Poor underground water level due to deforestation in the recharge zones of the springs consequently number of perennial springs and streams dried up till 2011, (c and d) Spatial distribution of perennial springs and streams in Dabka watershed respectively during 1982-190 and 2005-2011.

(a) Sketch diagram of high underground water level, perennial springs and streams with thick vegetation cover and dense forests in their recharge zones during 1982-1990, (b) Poor underground water level due to deforestation in the recharge zones of the springs consequently number of perennial springs and streams dried up till 2011, (c and d) Spatial distribution of perennial springs and streams in Dabka watershed respectively during 1982-190 and 2005-2011.

“The land use degradation and high rate of deforestation (0.22 km2 or 1.5%/year) leads to accelerate several hydrological problems during non-monsoon period (i.e. decreasing infiltration capacity of land surface, declining underground water level, drying up natural perennial springs and streams, decreasing irrigation water availability etc.). In order to that the non-monsoon crops yield has been decreasing with the rate of 0.60% each year as the results suggest that the average crop yield is just about 58 q/ha whereas twenty five to thirty year back it was recorded about 66 q/ha which is about 12% higher (8 q/ha) than existing yield. On the other hand the population increasing with the growth rate of 2% each year. Therefore, decreasing crop yield and increasing population raised food deficiency problem and the people adopting other occupations which ultimately affecting rural livelihood of the Himalaya.”

ConnectED Commitment by Esri to Provide Free Educational Software to Every K-12 School in America

“In continuing its support of education, and in line with the President’s ConnectED vision of opening new opportunity through technology in the classroom, Esri will provide to every U.S. K-12 school in America free access to ArcGIS Online Organization accounts — the same GIS technology as used by government and business. These allow users to map and analyze data, create and share content, and collaborate in the cloud — via computers, tablets, or smartphones, anytime, anywhere connected.  This commitment expands on Esri’s successful program in pilot schools at all levels across the country, and will allow students to do projects of unlimited content, from global to local, building community, as well as knowledge and skills for college and career.”

What *IS* GIS?

It seems like a simple question. It should be pretty easy to answer.

You’re a GIS professional. You’ve been around the technology for years, and you use it every day. You present your work at conferences and leave with a stack of business cards from like-minded geogeeks. You and your peers have lengthy discussions about the finer points of isolines and your latest adventures in kriging over burritos at lunch. But you struggle when a friend, neighbor, spouse, sibling, grandparent, or child asks:

“What is it exactly that you do?”

Why GIS, of course! Which is inevitably followed by a quick:

“What IS GIS?”

There are at least as many definitions of GIS as there are GIS professionals. Perhaps you’re an old school paleogeographer and prefer a classical definition:

“GIS is a tool that can access, integrate, and distribute layers of map information. The five parts of a GIS include hardware, software, data, procedures, and people.”

Ah, yes! Who can forget the “five parts of a GIS”? And layers! Layers are the reason we’re all employed! Thank you, Ian McHarg!


GIS and layers: like peanut butter and chocolate.

But maybe you prefer a little more modern definition:

“GIS lets us visualize, question, analyze, interpret, and understand data in new ways. This can reveal relationships, patterns, and trends.”

It might be easier for some people to understand what GIS is if you first gave it some context:

A transformation is taking place. Businesses and government, schools and hospitals, nonprofit organizations, and others are taking advantage of it. All around the world, people are working more efficiently because of it. Information that was limited to spreadsheets and databases is being unleashed in a new, exciting way—all using GIS.”

Or perhaps it’s easier for you to describe GIS in terms of a simple workflow:

People intuitively understand maps. When a decision needs to be made, GIS helps us gather information and place it on a digital map. We then use GIS to evaluate the decision geographically. Once we fully understand the geographic consequences of the decision, we can act in an informed, responsible manner.”

Maybe you prefer to talk about GIS in terms of the types of questions it can answer:

“Where are my customers and potential customers? Which areas of my town are most vulnerable to natural disasters? Where should we locate a new elementary school? GIS can help answer questions such as these by combining data from many sources and producing customized maps.”

Some people find it more effective to communicate GIS as a value proposition, in terms of the benefits it can bring to an organization:

GIS benefits organizations of all sizes and in almost every industry. There is a growing interest in and awareness of the economic and strategic value of GIS.  The benefits of GIS generally fall into five basic categories:

  • Cost savings resulting from greater efficiency
  • Better decision making
  • Improved communication
  • Better geographic information recordkeeping
  • Managing geographically”

Or do like to take more of a philosophical approach?

“Remote sensing satellites and earthbound sensors are providing us with vast amounts of new data about our planet.  With the availability of easy-to-use GIS tools to display and analyze this data, now everyone can be geographer. This has far-reaching benefits to both society and the environment, ushering in a new era of understanding our world.”

Sometimes, depending on who is asking the question, your only hope at getting anything other than a blank stare may be an overly-simplistic definition, even if it loses some of the most important characteristics of what GIS does:

“GIS is computer software that makes maps.”

My personal favorite definition, at least this week, is:

GIS helps us see where things are—and decide where they should be.”

Or maybe the “father of GIS” was right when he said:

“A simple definition is not sufficient.”
Roger Tomlinson

The truth is, millions of people use GIS, and there are almost as many definitions of GIS as there are people who use it.

So, I ask you:

“What is it exactly that you do?”

“What IS GIS?”


Analyzing Spatial Clustering and the Spatiotemporal Nature and Trends of HIV/AIDS Prevalence using GIS: The Case of Malawi, 1994-2010

bmcidBMC Infectious Diseases 2014, 14:285, Published online 23 May 2014

By Leo C Zulu, Ezekiel Kalipeni, and Eliza Johannes

Although local spatiotemporal analysis can improve understanding of geographic variation of the HIV epidemic, its drivers, and the search for targeted interventions, it is limited in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite recent declines, Malawi’s estimated 10.0% HIV prevalence (2011) remained among the highest globally. Using data on pregnant women in Malawi, this study 1) examines spatiotemporal trends in HIV prevalence 1994-2010, and 2) for 2010, identifies and maps the spatial variation/clustering of factors associated with HIV prevalence at district level.

Inverse distance weighting was used within ArcGIS Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software to generate continuous surfaces of HIV prevalence from point data (1994, 1996, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2010) obtained from surveillance antenatal clinics. From the surfaces prevalence estimates were extracted at district level and the results mapped nationally. Spatial dependency (autocorrelation) and clustering of HIV prevalence were also analyzed. Correlation and multiple regression analyses were used to identify factors associated with HIV prevalence for 2010 and their spatial variation/clustering mapped and compared to HIV clustering.


Analysis revealed wide spatial variation in HIV prevalence at regional, urban/rural, district and sub-district levels. However, prevalence was spatially leveling out within and across ‘sub-epidemics’ while declining significantly after 1999. Prevalence exhibited statistically significant spatial dependence nationally following initial (1995-1999) localized, patchy low/high patterns as the epidemic spread rapidly. Locally, HIV “hotspots” clustered among eleven southern districts/cities while a “coldspot” captured configurations of six central region districts. Preliminary multiple regression of 2010 HIV prevalence produced a model with four significant explanatory factors (adjusted R2 = 0.688): mean distance to main roads, mean travel time to nearest transport, percentage that had taken an HIV test ever, and percentage attaining a senior primary education. Spatial clustering linked some factors to particular subsets of high HIV-prevalence districts.

Spatial analysis enhanced understanding of local spatiotemporal variation in HIV prevalence, possible underlying factors, and potential for differentiated spatial targeting of interventions. Findings suggest that intervention strategies should also emphasize improved access to health/HIV services, basic education, and syphilis management, particularly in rural hotspot districts, as further research is done on drivers at finer scale.”

Read the paper [PDF]

Geospatial Technology Speeds Analysis for US Army

Ready-to-Use Templates Quickly Deliver Critical Information to the Field

Esri has provided a recently revised set of customized templates to the US Army for its Distributed Common Ground System-Army (DCGS-A). These easy-to-use templates come with maps, analytic capabilities, and other visualization tools, as well as a simple information model for creating geospatial products.

The templates will help geospatial engineers, intelligence analysts, and geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) imagery analysts using DCGS-A to rapidly make products to support requests from commanders for operations around the world. DCGS-A is the US Army’s main system for processing and posting data; providing mapping and weather information; and sharing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) information with army units.

“Esri technology, such as the templates, gives the army an easy-to-use, technical advantage that helps soldiers optimize GEOINT capability resident in DCGS-A,” said Colonel Ed Riehle, the US Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Capability Manager for Sensor Processing.

“Esri is pleased to have partnered closely with the staff who work with the DCGS-A to deliver these important and innovative templates and tools for the US Army,” said Esri president Jack Dangermond. “We designed them so the analysts can be more productive in what is a very fast-paced operational tempo. We also believe that by adopting these tools, the value of the US Army’s investment in Esri technology will be maximized.”

The templates were customized to match the DCGS-A workflows. Esri staff worked with analysts and specialists at the US Army Intelligence Center of Excellence at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, to refine the template requirements.

These new resources will help analysts do everything from creating sketches of military compounds to making maps that show safe and suitable areas for landing helicopters. The revised templates include

  • Incident analysis to map improvised explosive device (IED) incidents or other significant events.
  • Cross-country mobility analysis to identify key terrain and sketch approach routes.
  • Intervisibility analysis to identify areas of cover and concealment.

The templates will be available on a variety of army websites including the DCGS-A Portal and the Intelligence Knowledge Network as well as in ArcGIS for the Military—Land Operations, an Esri product optimized to provide an interoperable platform to manage, visualize, analyze, and share geospatial information for land-based missions.

Esri will demonstrate ArcGIS for the Military—Land Operations at the GEOINT Symposium April 14–17, in Tampa, Florida, in booth #5036.

To learn more about ArcGIS for the Military—Land Operations templates and other resources, visit

[Source: Esri press release]

OGC Encourages Attendance at AGILE and COBWEB Workshop – “Citizen Science, Quality and Standards”

OGC_Logo_Border_Blue_3DAGILE (Association of Geographic Information Laboratories for Europe) and COBWEB (Citizen OBservatory WEB, an EU FP7 Project) invite public participation in a special workshop on crowdsourced data and the environment.  The AGILE & COBWEB Workshop – “Citizen Science, Quality and Standards” will be held June 3, 2014 in Castellón, Spain in conjunction with the AGILE 2014 conference.

Crowdsourced data (“people as sensors” recording real-time observations and measurements) are a valuable source of scientific and policy-making information when enhanced with an indication of quality and fused with authoritative data. This workshop seeks to engage the scientific community in discussions about the use of quality controlled crowdsourced environmental data.

The infrastructure being developed within COBWEB exploits technological developments in ubiquitous mobile devices. It also exploits and contributes to developments in the operational standards that are used widely in public spatial data infrastructures and also increasingly used in science. COBWEB infrastructure is being designed to enable citizens living within Biosphere Reserves to collect environmental information on a range of parameters including species distribution, flooding and land cover/use. The main driver is the value that can result when citizens participate in environmental governance. It is anticipated that COBWEB work products will be useful in similar activities around the world.

To maximize impact, COBWEB is working with standards organizations. Specifically, COBWEB will aim to improve the usability of OGC Sensor Web Enablement standards and the OGC GeoPackage Encoding Standard with mobile devices, develop widespread acceptance of the data quality approach developed and maximize the applications potential of COBWEB outputs.

Details, agenda and call for brief presentations are available at:

COBWEB organizers:

  • Stephanie Ties, Environment Systems
  • Bart De Lathouwer, OGC Europe (OGCE)
  • Mike Jackson, University of Nottingham, 
  • Lars Bernard, TU Dresden
  • Mason Davis, Welsh Government

About OGC: The OGC® is an international consortium of more than 475 companies, government agencies, research organizations, and universities participating in a consensus process to develop publicly available geospatial standards. OGC standards support interoperable solutions that “geo-enable” the Web, wireless and location-based services, and mainstream IT. Visit the OGC website at

[Source: OGC press release]