Geographic Information System (GIS)

Interesting Applications

GIS is a very powerful and flexible tool, and there are many interesting web sites that display its many applications.  The web sites listed below have tickled our interest in the past, and are great examples of what you can do with a GIS.

Explanation of GIS

Explanation of GIS (video)

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) integrates computer technologies, people, and detailed information about location that lets you visualize relationships, patterns, and trends in maps. GIS skills are in high demand in the job market, which should be of interest to students and educators.  This presentation presents some examples of how GIS is used in education, science, business and the service sector.

Geography Based Websites

Geography Based Websites (video)

The Internet abounds with sites that use maps to display and analyze information from many disciplines.  Interested in finding where Portuguese-speakers live in the U.S.?  Which countries export the most cars or have the highest literacy rates?  Want to see how the relationship between median household income and life expectancy changes over time in the world?  This is a good place to start!

ESRI's ArcWeb Explorer

ESRI’s ArcWeb Explorer

ArcWeb Explorer takes the model and functionality of ESRI’s more powerful ArcView software and delivers it via a web-based application.  ArcWeb Explorer uses a series of powerful widgets to help users find locations, create driving routes, design data-based chloropleth maps and generate demographic reports.  Users can upload their own data from Excel or text files in order to map a series of locations and download data found using the program to Excel files.  Users can also instantly create web links to the street or satellite maps that they create, or embed the maps in e-mails.  ArcWeb Explorer is a great first step into the world of GIS.

ArcWeb Explorer

The Modern Language Association Language

The Modern Language Association Language Map: A Map of Languages in the United States

The MLA Language Map uses data from the 2000 United States census to display the locations and numbers of speakers of thirty languages and three groups of less commonly spoken languages in the United States. The census data are based on responses to the question, "Does this person speak a language other than English at home?" The Language Map illustrates the concentration of language speakers in zip codes and counties. The Data Center provides census data about over three hundred languages spoken in the United States, including actual numbers and percentages of speakers.

The Modern Language Association Language Map


Worldmapper (map collection)

Worldmapper’s tag line is “The world as you’ve never seen it before” and it’s an apt slogan.  It is a collection of world maps, where territories are re-sized on each map according to the subject of interest.  The maps presented on this website are equal area cartograms, otherwise known as density-equalizing maps. The cartogram re-sizes each territory according to the variable being mapped. The particular method used is one described by Michael Gastner and Mark Newman (Michael T. Gastner and M. E. J. Newman (2004) Diffusion-based method for producing density equalizing maps. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 101, 7499-7504).



Gapminder (online application)

Gapminder is a wonderful site that can be used to examine differences and similarities between countries of the world on a series of demographic factors related to public health.  The Gapminder site can help users create great-looking data-based maps, but its most powerful tool is its Chart feature.  Users can create charts that plot the location of countries on a standard x-y chart, but that’s just the beginning of this tool.  Both the size and the color of the dots for each country can represent additional fields of data, and then to top it all off, the charts can be animated to display the change in the data over time.  Mere words cannot describe how cool this is in action!  The example chart I display here plots child mortality by per capita income.  The dots are color-coded by continent and their size is proportional to their population.  The red and yellow caterpillar-looking shapes are actually tracings of how the data for China (red) and the U.S. (yellow) change between 1975 and 2004.  If you’re not sure how to use this tool, the Gapminder website has a series of webcasts available where you can watch how Hans Roslings, the developer of Gapminder, uses the tool.  Fascinating.


The World Freedom Atlas: The World Freedom Atlas is a great tool and a thorough source of data for those who wish to learn more about global issues of freedom, democracy, human rights and good governance.  A chloropleth map of the world is used to display data on these topics, using intensity of color as the indicator.  Zachary Johnson of collected over 300 variables from dozens of datasets covering the years 1990 to 2006 to populate the maps.  As you manipulate the map tool you can learn more about the individual indicators that are being mapped, as dialogue bubbles pop up to describe what the various colors represent.

The World Freedom Atlas

Google Earth Tours

One of the remarkable things you can do with Google Earth is create virtual tours.  Tours are created by saving a series of placemarks collected in a folder, as a file.  The placemarks can include narrative text, pictures and links to web sites.  Authors can share their tours simply by posting the tour file on the web or e-mailing it to other users of Google Earth.  Tours can be about any subject, as you’ll see from the examples below.

The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake: Of course, you would expect that a significant geologic event like this would have some great Google Earth resources, and you won’t be disappointed.  The main page for this USGS project displays a collection of Google Earth Tours, looking at things such as the path of the fault, the location of the epicenter, measurements of fault displacement and current fault status.  What I found most interesting was a tour using Historic Photographs of the 1906 Earthquake. The photos are wonderfully annotated, with many “before and after” shots.  There are a number of other good Tours on this web site, including one which displays all of the earthquakes worldwide that occurred in the past week.

The Paris Art Scene, 1860-1940:  This tour covers a wide assortment of artists who lived, studied and created in Paris during the listed time frame.  The placemarks include museums, studios, homes, birthplaces, burial places and many, many other locations deemed significant to the creative process.  The placemarks include narrative text and pictures, and many have links to web sites specific to a particular artist.

San Diego County Fires – KPBS OnLine:  KPBS set up this Google Maps and Google Earth site to display information about the San Diego Wildfires.  It isn’t a Google Earth Tour, per se, but it has a great collection of placemarks for significant locations from the fire events: burn area overlays, evacuation center locations, road closures, and other points of interest.

Famous Photos:  This tour is a collection of placemarks showing the locations where many famous photographs have been taken.  All of the Pulitzer Prize winners from 1944-1977 are included in this collection, along with many other historically significant pictures.

Losing Georgia:  This site is a web-based documentary, of sorts, of the effects of development on a formerly rural Georgia county.  The Losing Georgia project has been the recipient of several awards for use of the Internet and Google Earth to convey information.  By moving interactively between the website and the Google Earth data you can learn quite a bit about the effects of urban/suburbanization on a rural community.

Hank Williams’ Last Ride:  This Google Earth Tour is devoted to following the tumultuous life of country singer Hank Williams.  The project apparently started out as a documentation of the car ride taken (as a passenger) by Williams on the night of his death.  Controversy surrounds just exactly when and where the singer died.  The first two-thirds of the tour chronicles Hank’s early life and his musical career.

AntWeb:  If you are at all phobic about bugs, don’t even bother with this site.  It is, however, a wonderful example of using Google Earth to display the location of species around the world and provide links to encyclopedic information.  The AntWeb folks have created an amazing Google Earth tour of the locations of seemingly countless species of ants that includes pictures of each type of ant along with links to more info.  This model could be used to catalogue any type of plant, animal or mineral, but this collection of ants is one of the best I’ve seen.

The Works of Claes Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen: Claes Oldenburg, and his partner/collaborator, Coosje van Bruggen, are sculptors who create large artistic versions of everyday objects.  This is really interesting and peculiar pop art, and they have been quite prolific.  This Google Earth Tour takes you around the world to see their varied collection of larger-than-life objects, including big flashlights, clothespins, knives, screws and garden hoses.

How to Create a Google Earth Tour

Google Earth tours are a great way to introduce an audience to information that is geographically dispersed.  The tours help users travel automatically from point to point on the globe, whether those points are thousands of miles away or right around the corner from one another.  To date, Google Earth users have create tours on a mind-boggling variety of topics – from a biographical tour through the life of Charlie Chaplin, to a fly-over of the San Andreas fault, to tours that follow the path of significant military campaigns.

More on creating a Google Earth Tour ...

A Quick Look at Google Earth Tours

A Quick Look at Google Earth Tours (video)

Google Earth tours are a powerful, yet easy-to-use method for presenting points of interest around the globe and the information associated with these locations.  Join us on a meta-tour where we fly under the St. Louis Arch, visit CSUSM, the San Andreas Fault, locations of ant species around the world, giant-sized pop art sculptures, Paris and its artists, and places where George Washington slept.  Whew!

    Last Modified: by jrees