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What is a GIS

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GIS @ Lincoln
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Intro to GIS
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Steps for Effective GIS Problem Solving


So, by now you've (hopefully) explored the "Intro to GIS" part of this website and you're sitting there thinking to yourself: "GIS is pretty cool and would be really useful for me. How can I become a GIS maverick?" (well....you might not be thinking exactly those words...) You've come to the right place. Even though the world of GIS can seem a little intimidating at first, the good news is that even seasoned GIS users must go through most of the same steps at the beginning of each new GIS analysis project. The following simple example will illustrate a standard set of steps that you can use for every GIS project you carry out. GIS Problem Solving: An Example Let's say that you are a student who, in your spare time, is an avid amateur nature conservationist. You were out one weekend with your local conservation action group to a seminar hosted by the Department of Conservation (DOC) on rare native plants of New Zealand's South Island. Something the speaker says at the end peaks your interest.... "....One of the confounding issues is that some plants are classed as endangered simply because few extant populations have recently been found in nature. This doesn't mean that they don't exist, it just means that all potential habitats haven't been searched for their existence" You start thinking about this some more... "Wouldn't it be nice to establish an easy way to narrow down and prioritise the best potential habitat sites at which various endangered plant species might exist?" With your newfound GIS knowledge, you exclaim, "This is a job for GIS"!! This problem deals with determining locations based on certain conditions - one of the most common uses of a GIS. So, how do we go about tackling this problem? Take a look at the steps below and find out.

Steps for effective GIS problem solving GIS, GPS, and remote sensing GIS Glossary

Step 1: Familiarise yourself with the fundamentals Step 2: Familiarise yourself with the GIS software Step 3: Formulate your GIS problem as specific questions Step 4: Consult a GIS professional Step 5: Identify the types of GIS data needed and decide on the final format Step 6: Decide whether to use a vector or raster data structure for your analysis Step 7: Obtain/collect/create the data and examine them for quality Step 8: Carry out any required data organisation and preparation Step 9: Carry out GIS analyses or mapping procedures Step 10: Evaluate and interpret your results

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What is a GIS

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Step 1: Familiarise yourself with the fundamentals


If you're an experienced GIS user then you can probably skip this section. For the rest of you, this is probably the first crucial step in tackling a GIS problem. Just as a solid house requires a solid foundation, so too does the use of GIS require some up-front knowledge of what a GIS is and how it works. To help you tackle the rare plant problem posed above, you'll first need to learn the basics, enabling you to "talk the talk". Beef up on GIS basics: For a crash course in GIS basics, take a look at the Intro to GIS pages on this site. Go to other GIS-related websites....take a look at our Links page for some URL's to a few of these. Read a couple books on GIS....go to our GIS Resources pages for some suggestions. Take an undergraduate or postgraduate paper on GIS here at Lincoln....go to our Subjects page for more info.

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Step 2: Familiarise yourself with the GIS software


After getting familiar with GIS fundamentals, the next step in solving your GIS problem is learning to use GIS software. Without the software, your GIS experience will be short-lived. We can hear the groans now: "Aww, not another software package to learn!" Well, as they say, "Dem's da breaks". But, let's not lose morale now, after getting this far! Although learning a new software can be intimidating, there are tons of resources available to help you get on track with GIS software. Here at Lincoln, we use the ESRI suite of GIS software. ESRI's ArcGIS 9.0 software is considered by most to be the worldwide standard in the GIS industry. At the very least, learning these skills will be a beneficial addition to your CV. Before you do anything else, take a look at the different GIS Software components that we have available for use at Lincoln and of the different ways to get some GIS Software Training.

Some software training options Do the tutorial in the "Getting Started with ArcGIS" manual. If you're a self-learner, this might be a good way to get started. Contact Brad for more info. Taking one or more on-line Virtual Campus tutorials through ESRI's website. Lincoln has free access to a whole range of Virtual Campus tutorials. Attend a full-day Lincoln Intro to ArcGIS workshop offered several times throughout the year on campus. Send Brad an email for more info or to reserve a place in the next course. Take one or both of the two GIS papers offered at Lincoln. This option, although requiring the largest commitment, will provide the most thorough introduction to

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What is a GIS

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GIS and the ArcGIS software suite.

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Step 3: Formulate your GIS problem as specific questions


Ok. You've done all the necessary groundwork: learning the GIS fundamentals and learning the software. Now you can start tackling you GIS problem. The next step is to formalise your ideas as one or more specific questions that can be addressed with GIS. The first thing to do is to know everything about the problem that you're facing. In terms of our rare plant example, this might involve getting some help from an ecologist or someone knowledgeable in the field. In GIS terms, this knowledge can then be used to formulate the questions in a spatial context. On the surface, the problem can be approached in a GIS context using the following questions: 1. What factors are known to influence the spatial distribution of a given rare plant in New Zealand? 2. Based on these factors: (i) where will a given rare plant species potentially be found?, (ii) how much habitat is there?, and (iii) in what pattern will the habitat be distributed throughout the South Island (ie in one big chunk or as fragmented small patches)?
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Step 4: Consult a GIS professional


With some ecological knowledge, you've formulated some basic questions that will help you tackle the problem. Now's a good time to get some advice from one or several experienced GIS users. They can help you hammer out the specifics of the questions you're trying to answer, identify the types and sources of data that are available, and determine the flow of the GIS work required to answer those questions. This step will most certainly save you time and energy and you'll end up thanking yourself for it in the end! Consult the professionals! Consult with the friendly Lincoln University GIS team (Crile and Brad). We're always on call to help GIS enthusiasts of all stripes! For our contact details, go to the GIS@Lincoln Home page. Join an online GIS list-serv. There's a huge discussion group on the ESRI website. For more local help, join the NZ ESRI GIS email list and tap into a whole community of GIS knowledge in New Zealand. Join our very own LUGIS User's Group and meet people on campus who use GIS and who may be able to provide some much-appreciated advice and/or technical help.

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What is a GIS

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Step 5: Identify the required GIS data layers


The next step in the process is to figure out the types of GIS data you'll need to tackle a given GIS problem. The data needed, as you might guess, will depend on the problem itself. Hopefully, after consulting with a GIS professional, you'll be well on your way to determining the data you'll need. Using the rare plant example, you've identified an interesting species - Plantus plantus as the focus of your GIS analysis. With the help of the latest literature and the advice of a plant ecologist, you've produced a relatively simple set of main factors and related criteria determining where Plantus plantus may be found:
Factor Historical distribution Elevation Slope Vegetation Criteria based on historical records, Plantus plantus will only be found in the West Coast region of the South Island usually found between 800 and 1500 m above sea level usually found on moderately-steep slopes of between 8 and 15 percent only occurs in native forest

Based on these criteria, you determine (with some GIS advice) that the GIS data you require are:
GIS Data Layer South Island outline Digital Elevation Model (DEM) Landcover Database (LCDB) layer Usage delimit the study area boundaries obtain elevation values and to calculate aspect and slope classified into urban/rural and non-urban/rural types

You also determine that these four data layers can be found right here, in Lincoln's GIS Data Archive.
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Step 6: Decide whether to use a vector or raster data structure for your analysis
At this point, it's important to be aware of one of the basic issues in carrying out GIS spatial analyses: all your GIS layers must ultimately be in either Vector format or Raster format, not both. In general, vector and raster data are incompatible when it comes to spatial analysis. To refresh your understanding of these two main GIS data formats, refer to the GIS Data Structures page. This is the point where you'll need to decide which type of GIS data structure will best suit your specific problem and the data you've obtained. Don't despair...we've made this easy for you! Just follow the Vector vs. Raster flowchart to determine the most appropriate data format for your purposes. In the case of the Plantus plantus problem, you observe that three of the four data layers are structured as Vector data and one is structured as Raster data. Using the flowchart, you see that a raster data format is the best choice for this problem. Why, do you think? Now that you've made this crucial decision, you can move on to downloading and inspecting the data.
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What is a GIS

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Step 7: Obtain the data and inspect them


OK. So far so good. At this point, you've done most of the hard work. Next, you'll just need to obtain the data you need, make sure they have no major inconsistencies or errors, and that they satisfy your project aims. Obtaining and Using New GIS Data Things to be aware of: some organisations do not like other people using their data, making it difficult to get your hands on them.....sometimes you'll need to investigate multiple sources to get the data you need... plan on this taking longer than expected! GIS data will often not initially be suitable for your particular purpose.....some pre-processing is often required to make the data useful for answering your question (eg. does the co-ordinate system match the one you'll be using?) all GIS data are not necessarily good data....they must first be checked for errors, inconsistencies, and applicability!!

Take a look at the GIS Resources page for a description of the GIS data available here at Lincoln. For our Plantus plantus example, we'll be needing a copy each of: (i) the South Island outline map (ii) the South Island DEM, and (iii) LCDB data. These layers can be copied from the GIS Data Archive to your computer hard drive or your personal network space (H:) using the ArcCatalog software. Here are the steps you'll carry out: (1) Create a connection between your computer to the TOKE network drive where the GIS data is stored. View a tutorial - Connecting to GIS data on TOKE (2) Once you've connected to TOKE, use the ArcCatalog software to access the data layers and copy them to your hard drive or network space. View a tutorial - Example: copying the LCDB layer to your hard drive (3) Next, you'll want to examine and evaluate the data to make sure they are really suitable. To do this, you'll need to open and view the various GIS data layers within the ArcMap program. Take a look at the GIS Software page for an overview of this software and some tutorials to get you started. (4) Finally, ask yourself some questions about the data. The following tables present some general questions you can ask yourself when looking at either vector or raster data layers for the first time. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, and not all of the questions have easy answers. It is always helpful to find out as much about the the data layers at the source. For example, data often have an attached metadata file which provides information about how the data were collected, their accuracy, who created the data, the date of creation, the projection/coordinate system information etc. Vector Data
Feature (Spatial) Data Component Attribute (Non-spatial) Data Component Other Issues

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What is a GIS

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What is the spatial extent of each layer? Are features comprised of lines, points, or polygons? Are there any obvious topological errors? (unclosed polygons, gaps between line segments etc.)

What attributes are found in the attribute table attached to each data layer? Are there any missing attribute data? Are there any column headings (field names) or data that don't make sense?

What coordinate system is each layer referenced to? Do the layers come with metadata, a data dictionary, or other descriptive data? At what spatial scales are these data most relevant for use?

Raster Data - General Issues


Of what format is your raster data? (eg. is it a true GRID or is it in some other format like a TIFF?) What is the spatial extent of each layer? What is the resolution of the grid data (what is the grid cell size?) What is the coordinate system? Does it have one? What quantity is the raster surface representing (eg. elevation, precipitation, etc.)? What is the numeric data format (eg. whole number, integer, floating point)? If there are NO DATA areas, are they represented by a specific number (eg. 9999)?

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Step 8: Carry out necessary data organisation and preparation


This next step is crucial for carrying out a meaningful GIS analysis. Many frustrations arising from the use of GIS result from poor project management. Before you go any further, take a close look at the GIS File Management page to get some tips on minimising your frustration and maximising your efficiency. Once you've: (i) decided on a plan of attack for your GIS analysis, (ii) made copies of your GIS data layers to work from, and (iii) organised a space on your network drive or PC hardrive to store your project data, the next step is to start preparing your data for analysis. Take a look at the following table to get an idea of some common GIS data preparation tasks:
Data Preparation Task Re-project layer to new coordinate system Explanation All of your GIS layers must use a common projection and datum (e.g. NZ Map Grid) New data need to be added to a GIS feature layer (eg. calculation of an area field in a polygon layer's attribute table All of your layers must be in either vector or raster format The GIS data layer is for all of the South Island but you want only data for Canterbury

Adding and/or calculating new attribute data

Convert vector to raster or vice-versa Clipping your GIS layer to a smaller extent

Digitising new features or editing existing features in eg. there are features that you've seen in the field a GIS layer that you want to draw in an existing GIS layer eg. your raster analysis will be based on a 100m grid cell size - layers with larger or smaller grid cell sizes must be resampled and transformed to 100m size Removes polygon boundaries between adjacent polygons that have one or more similar attributes creates fewer, larger polygons - decreases

Resampling a raster layer

Dissolving polygon boundaries

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What is a GIS

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complexity

In our rare plant example, there are several data preparation steps that need to be carried out before we can use the data to determine the location of potential habitats for Plantus plantus. It is always good practice, at this point, to formalise the required data processing steps in the form of a workflow chart. Click here to take a look at a workflow chart for the rare plant example. The basic data preparation steps required to carry out the analysis are as follows: 1. Create a new shapefile that outlines the extent of the study area. In this case, the study area consists of the West Coast region of the South Island. We can obtain a polygon of this region using the Regions.shp file in the GIS Data Archive. We will select this polygon and create a new shapefile containing only the outline of the West Coast region. 2. "Clip" both the DEM and the LCDB data layers with our West Coast shapefile. This will provide us with DEM and LCDB data for our study area extent only. This process gives us only the data we need for our analysis, making our analysis more efficient. 3. Create a "slope" grid layer using the DEM. The "Spatial Analyst" extension within ArcMap will allow you to derive a number of useful data layers including slope and aspect. 4. Convert the LCDB data to a raster data format. We decided earlier that a raster-based analysis would be most appropriate for this problem. Therefore, we must ensure that all of our layers are in raster format. Our elevation and slope layers are rasters. We just need to convert our LCDB vector data to raster. Again, this can be achieved using the "Spatial Analyst" extension in ArcMap. 5.

Step 9: Carry out GIS analyses and mapping

Step 10: Evaluate and interpret your results


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