July 19, 2019, 9:37 pm
Do you G.I.S.?
Written by Matt Zielke

Whether you know it or not, I would bet you have used or benefited from GIS in the last month. In car GPS? Guilty. One of those great web mapping services? Guilty. Check the weather map on your favorite website or channel? Guilty. Our daily lives are more directly tied to GIS than most people think. For those who are still wondering, GIS (Geographic Information Systems) is a tool for collecting, storing, manipulating and analyzing data with geographic characteristics.

Think of a database or a spreadsheet with every cell also having physical location staked out on the earth. The GPS, mapping site, and weather site all have collected data and displayed it to help you make a decision. Similarly more sophisticated geographic information systems have been helping managers and leaders make decisions for decades. Decision makers can use GIS for choosing a location for the next shopping center, projecting growth and transportation needs, or mapping and projecting the latest FDA recall. GIS is even more powerful now with the exchange of data between the entities that collect it. What most people don’t realize is that most of this data is readily available to you.

Much of the data collected, while interesting (like the migratory patterns of the extinct Dodo), isn’t applicable to everyday use. There are however many data sets that can be useful. The tricky and often time-consuming part is to find what you need. In an office of foresters and environmentalists, much of our field work is tied to weather. With projects spanning over 19,000 square miles of South Carolina, weather details can be critical in setting schedules. Both live and historical data is available from sites like NOAA. By overlaying project areas with a live radar feed, proximity alerts can be created to alert project managers of weather events. NOAA also creates historical data that is extrapolated from radar signatures.

The coastal plains are notorious for dumping large amounts of rain in isolated areas. For farmers or businesses that manage land, rainfall data can save you both time and money. It can help you decide to move a logging job across the county or hold tight a couple more days. When mobilizing a job costs upwards of several thousand dollars, it becomes apparent that GIS can save you money. Similarly, when you overlay site data, such as harvest rates, ground conditions, and possible access and transportation routes with the rain totals, analysis of the data may help future decisions. It may have appeared that the ground conditions were suitable for logging, but based on post ground conditions, it may become clear that logging two weeks after a rain on a certain soil will result in rutting. This attribute can then be added to your GIS to warn you on future logging jobs.

Another great source for data is the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. With access to historical infrared aerial photos, topographic quadsheets, soils, and the national wetland inventory, one can see what is above and below the ground anywhere in the state. Much of this data requires some type of expertise benefit to its full potential. However, for the novice user, the data, with the power of a search engine should be able to prepare a land owner for minor decisions or give basic understanding to ask the more important questions of an expert.

So, whether you own a couple of acres, or thousands, GIS has some tools for you. There are both free and small fee services that allow users to combine much of this data and in many cases share it. Thanks to a few mapping web sites, a simple computer and a connection to the Internet , a powerful tool exists for millions of future GIS experts. Add the introduction of inexpensive hand held GPS devices and you literally have your very own one-man GIS department with remote sensing capabilities. Alternatively, these same websites have features to integrate with industry standard GIS software. Consulting firms can quickly and accurately load this data to your base map. So create your personal GIS, or hire a firm to help you, but remember this is a tool to work smarter. With your base data established you should have a new understanding of your property. Take this newfound knowledge and explore your property. Try to use the GIS to learn what the data on the map looks like on the ground. Make notes and load them back into your GIS and you will soon realize, there is no substitute for getting your boots dirty, but it is better when you know which direction you are heading.

For more information on GIS and setting up your own system, call Sabine & Waters at 843.871.5663, and check back for more resources in our links of interest.