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GIS in Environmental Studies – An overview

Dr. V. N. Sharma, Jafrullah Mohammed, Srinivas Uppuluri
InfoTech Enterprises Limited, Plot # 11, Infocity, Madhapur, Hyderabad, India – 500 033
e-mail : [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]
Tel : 91-40-3100857, Fax: 91-40-311 0354

In the process of human evolution the issues confronting today are safe guarding the natural environment and maintaining good quality of life. While taking up developmental activities, the assimilative capacities of the environmental components i.e., air, water and land to various pollution are rarely considered. The developmental activities being haphazard and erratic are leading to over use, congestion, incompatible landuse and poor living conditions. Hence the problems of environmental pollution are becoming a heated topic of high-risk environment.

GIS can play a vital role for analysis and in formulating the quick mitigation plans for high risk environments. GIS is one of the key tools in the environmental data framework for data validation, digital data transfer standards, data retrieval/dissemination and analysis. It can serve as the ultimate communication of environmental information to the public and policy makers since it is the technical basis for the multimedia approach in environmental decision-making. The evolution of spatial data standards, the Internet, and the next generation of GIS technology allow all types of users to access the environmental information in its proper spatial context.

GIS in Environmental Studies
GIS is a powerful tool for environmental data analysis and planning. GIS stores spatial information (data) in a digital mapping environment. A digital basemap can be overlaid with data or other layers of information onto a map in order to view spatial information and relationships. GIS allows better viewing and understanding physical features and the relationships that influence in a given critical environmental condition. Factors, such as steepness of slopes, aspects, and vegetation, can be viewed and overlaid to determine various environmental parameters and impact analysis.

GIS can also display and analyze aerial photos. Digital information can be overlaid on photographs to provide environmental data analysts with more familiar views of landscapes and associated data. GIS can provide a quick, comparative view of hazards (highly prone areas) and risks (areas of high risk which may occur) and areas to be safeguarded.

On completion of Data analysis GIS helps in Planning and Managing the environmental hazards and risks. In order to plan and monitor the environmental problems, the assessment of hazards and risks becomes the foundation for planning decisions and for mitigation activities. GIS supports activities in environmental assessment, monitoring, and mitigation and can also be used for generating Environmental models. Below are some of the applicable areas where GIS can be implemented for effective planning and management (See also Figure 1)

GIS applicable Areas :

  • Wild Land Analysis
  • Emergency Services like Fire Prevention
  • Hazard Mitigation and Future planning
  • Air pollution & control
  • Disaster Management
  • Forest Fires Management
  • Managing Natural Resources
  • Waste Water Management
  • Oil Spills and its remedial actions
  • Sea Water – Fresh water interface Studies
  • Coal Mine Fires

Figure 1: Diagram showing the application of GIS for various environmental solutions.
GIS in Field
Apart from data analysis in laboratories GIS can also help the environmental data analysts in the field, the GIS tool is flexible enough to work in the field to give the exact location of devastation and amount of devastation. Some of the examples in field where GIS is applicable are

  • Using GIS in the field, an environmental inspector can rapidly map waste storage sites; describe the volume, content, and state of waste containers.
  • Retrieve previous inspection records to compare with the existing environmental conditions.
  • View environmental data in relation to adjacent geographic features such as waterways, neighborhoods, or other sensitive areas such as high-risk zones for landslides, water pollution etc.
  • Integrated with a global positioning receiver, a field crew can use GIS to accurately ground truth satellite imagery in oil spill mapping and its affects on surrounding ecosystem.

Constraints using GIS
There are some intricate problems in implementation of GIS in Environmental studies in India. The problems posed with our Indian scenario are 1) Non availability of properly spatial data 2) Lack of proper infrastructure with the Government bodies 3) Meager skilled Manpower in the government planning and development departments 4) GIS softwares being more costly.

Some of the probable solutions are 1) Availability of map data in a centralised facility 2) Awareness and increasing the skills proficiency in GIS in government and private sector. 3) Increasing the infrastructure facilities to cope up with the latest technologies and 4) Supplementing the Environmental planning division with adequate funds

In summary, GIS technology will continue to play a vital role in environmental system management. GIS becomes the primary repository of information that can be quickly accessed and viewed when required. GIS is becoming more suitable for emergency operations and is integrating tools that allow real-time display of information. Rapid access to information, safety, efficiency, and better resource management decisions can be made with the use of GIS. GIS technology can provide critical information at the need of the hour to take the remedial measures in no time as effective as possible.

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Worboys, M., H. Hearnshaw, and D. Maguire, Object-Oriented Data Modeling for Spatial Databases. International Journal of Geographical Information Systems 4, 4 (1990), pp. 369-383.

England, E. and Sparks, A. : Geostatistical Environmental Assessment Software. Las Vegas, Neveda: Environmental Monitoring Systems Laboratory, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1992.

We thank Mr. B.V.R. Mohan Reddy, Chairman & Managing Director, InfoTech Enterprises Limited and Mr. Rajeev Lal, Chief Operating Officer who have been a constant source of inspiration and dynamism to all of us. We are also thankful to all our associates who are directly or indirectly involved.