Geographic Investigation

Two lessons highlight geospatial technology used for personal decision-making as well as for scientific research. As you work through Lessons 1 and 2, think about how you use geospatial tools and about their power to generate and support scientific discoveries. Lesson 1 introduces data that are made available by GIS mash-up. You will be asked to consider the accuracy of data and use data to select an optimal housing location. Lesson 2 compares scientific observation and analysis procedures using historical and current geospatial tools.

The Geographic Advantage provide a deeper understanding of issues surrounding tools to better observe, analyze, and visualize a changing world. In particular, the process of data collection, mobilization of citizen as data collectors, and the development of platforms to effect change across geographic scales can be better understood through the Geographic Advantages:

Relationships between people and the environment

The integration of spatial and temporal analysis

Lesson 1: Personal Decisions Lesson 2: Scientific Decisions

Lesson 1: Technology for Personal Decisions

Technology for Personal Decisions

Activity 1: Data quality

Vast amounts of geospatial information are acquired and stored for future analysis every day. However, errors may be introduced when data were collected, processed, stored, or presented. This activity encourages us, when looking at a map, to think about the data such as its source, what bias or errors exist, who collected it, how current are the data etc.

1. Click on Coffee Seeker to go to an interactive map which shows the location of coffee shops in the United States. Type your school’s zip code into the box above the map and click "Search"

2. Look at the locations of coffee shops shown on the map and think about the following questions:

  • Are any coffee shops left off the map? If so, what types of coffee shops and how many?
  • Is this map an accurate and current representation of your school neighborhood?
  • What reasons might explain the error(s) seen on the map?
  • Would this map be helpful to you if you were new to the neighborhood and wanted to find a nearby coffee shop? Why or why not?

Activity 2: Geospatial exploration for personal decision-making

Scenario: Congratulations! You have just finished school and found a job. Your task is to find a place to live. Since you are a coffee lover, you would prefer a location that is within walking distance from coffee shops. Since you are living alone, you also want to be as sure as you can that you live in a safe area. Finally, you want to bring your four-legged pet along.

The maps below show data about coffee shop locations, crime, and housing in the neighborhood you are moving to. Take a few minutes to investigate each map.

This full map combines the data from each of the above maps. You will need to print a copy of this map to complete this activity. You will also need a ruler, a compass circle, and a pencil crayon/marker of different color.

1. Decide on a price range (low, medium, or high) and shade the appropriate apartment locations with a green color.

2. To further narrow the selection, look for coffee shops close by. With the compass circle, draw a circle with a radius of 300 feet (use the scale at the bottom of the map) from the center of each apartment colored green. The circle indicates a walking distance of 300 feet from the apartment in any direction. Are there any coffee shops that fall within this circle?

3. Repeat step '2' but draw a circle with a radius of 600 feet. This larger radius is the preferred distance away from any reported crimes.

4. Based on the steps above, search for an apartment that is close to a coffee shop, far from crime, that is reasonably priced, and allows pets in the apartment. Circle this choice orange.

Lesson Summary

We use spatial data to make decisions about our own lives on a day to day basis – whether the decision is where to go for a cup of coffee or where to live. New technologies such as smartphones provide instant access to constantly-growing data networks that shape these and many other personal decisions and choices. Similar tools and approaches are used to contribute to solutions at a societal, national, and international scale. Lesson 2 examines carbon emissions across the U.S. using an online tool to visualize patterns.  

Go to Lesson 2: Scientific Decisions

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Lesson 2: Technology for Scientific Decisions

Technology for Scientific Decisions

This lesson looks at the use of geospatial exploration for scientific research. Every feature is located somewhere on Earth and it does not operate in isolation from other geographic features. For example, a tree exchanges oxygen/carbon dioxide with the atmosphere, absorbs water and nutrients from the soil, and provides the resources needed by other species. Technology provides data about Earth to support research and understanding of patterns and processes. For example, remote sensing typically involves an air- or space-borne instrument that can measure important characteristics of various geographic features over a large region.  Global Positioning System (GPS) enables ground-based acquisition of high-accuracy geographic coordinates. Geographic Information System (GIS) provides the platform to organize these spatial data, analyze their spatial relationship over time, convert data to information, and visualize that information with maps.  These geospatial techniques provide the tools needed to observe a changing world.

Activity 1: Carbon emissions at a national level

Carbon emission is one contributing factor to climate change. How much do you produce from your daily activities? Individual/family data can be calculated online from household activities or transportation. National patterns of carbon emissions can be observed, visualized and analyzed with today’s powerful computer tools.

Click on the map below to see an interactive map of carbon emissions data for the United States in 2002.

Carbon Release in U.S.
©2012 Social Explorer

Navigating the Map:

• Familiarize yourself with the map toolbar:

• Zoom in to the map by clicking on the zoom-in tool or by using the tool to drag a box around an area of interest

• After zooming in, you can zoom out incrementally with the zoom-out tool or return to the original view of the continental US by clicking “initial view.”

• Pan from one part of the map to another with the Pan tool

• You can also move backwards or forwards between your views with the left/right arrows

Answer the following questions as you explore the carbon emissions of U.S. in 2002.

1. Using the map below as a guide to identify U.S. regions, rate each region’s carbon emissions on a scale of 1-5.

U.S. Regions
U.S. Energy Information Administration (June 2000)

2. Which region(s) have the highest/lowest carbon emissions?

3. Compare patterns of population density.

Under "Choose a Map" in the drop-down box on the right, select "2000 Census Tract". Under that, select "Population", and under that, select "Population density per Sq. Mile".

Rate each of the following regions according to their population density:

4. Compare patterns of median household income.

Under "Choose a Map" in the drop-down box on the right, select "2000 Census Tract", "Income", then "Median Household Income".

Rate each of the following regions according to their median household income:

5. Compare patterns of carbon emissions to those of population density and median household income.

  • Look at the regions you rated highest in terms of carbon emissions. Are those regions also rated high in terms of population density or income?
  • Look at the regions you rated lowest in terms of carbon emissions. Are those regions also rated low in terms of population density or income?
  • Do these visualizations lead you to any preliminary hypotheses about the relationship between carbon emissions and either population density or income? Explain.

6. Explore additional demographic and socioeconomic variables to see if you can identify any regions which have a pattern similar to that of carbon emissions.

  • Does a similarity of pattern suggest a causal relationship? Explain.
  • Is there a pattern of demographic and/or socioeconomic characteristics displayed in areas with high carbon emissions?

Optional: Create a series of map slides to illustrate your observations, analyses, and conclusions. You can save a slide show after creating it.

Lesson summary

Geospatial tools make it possible to acquire and analyze a vast volume of geographic data with significant accuracy. At both a personal and a scientific level, visualizing and analyzing location-based datasets facilitates informed decision-making. At a national or global level, informed decision-making relies on geospatial information such as remotely sensed data and imagery, field data collected with GPS, and recently, on contributions from people who are on the ground. Geospatial observations, tools, and technologies are important to geographical scientists as they work to understand and resolve problems at large spatial extents. Advances in technology provide new opportunities to use geographic tools to observe, map, and represent Earth’s changing geographical character. To learn more about how people use technology to effect change and our impact on society, explore the next module on Social Implications.

Go to Lesson 1: Technology for Personal Decisions

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A mash-up is a singular product of two or more sources (Source: UTCP 2010)

Outsourcing tasks to a large group of people, often through an appeal on the internet

To see a larger image of Dr. John Snow's cholera map, click here

To see a larger image of Dr. John Snow's cholera map, click here

Relationships between people and the environment

Our planet as well as the people who live on it are constantly changing. Identifying and understanding relationships between people and the environment are critical to designing a sustainable future. This critical aspect is reflected in the fact that 10 of the 11 modules include this geographic advantage as a focus in the geographic investigation.

The importance of spatial variability

Geographers know and understand the importance of spatial variability and the place-dependence of processes. Eight of the modules include this geographic advantage as a focus in the geographic investigation.

Processes operating at multiple and interlocking geographic scales

Analysis of an issue or problem at different scales may assist geographers in understanding the connections and patterns. For example, interesting shifts in the location of US population may reveal new information when viewed at census tract, community, county, state, or regional scales. Five of teh modules include this geographic advantage as a focus in the geographic investigation.

The integration of spatial and temporal analysis

Geographers rely on historical as well as current records to analyze an issue or problem. Additional perspectives can provide a deeper more accurate analysis of events in both physical and human systems. Seven of the modules include this geographic advantage as a focus in the geographic investigation.

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