Perhaps the most important concern for all of us today is protecting the environment we live and breathe in. Climate change issues are creating havoc with erratic weather patterns affecting everything from crop production to untimely melting of ice glaciers. There is a lot to worry about and immediate action is definitely required. It’s not that the world has not geared up to take corrective actions, but we need to do more, and GIS can help us achieve that. GIS is a powerful tool. It is enabling every sector to perform better and the environment is no exception.
How GIS can help
Human activities and global warming are rapidly contributing to environmental degradation, decreasing glacier area, growth in glacial lake size, unprecedented rainfall, changes in land use and land cover, forest degradation, floods and glacial lake outburst floods, landslides, and shortfalls in agricultural crop production are among the many problems brought on by environmental changes. These issues need timely monitoring and supervision. Effective monitoring of the environment and an improved understanding of the same requires valuable information and data that can be extracted through application of geospatial technologies such as remote sensing and GIS.
GIS can be used most effectively for environmental data analysis and planning. It 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 photographs. 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 can help in effective 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.
GIS can aid in hazard mitigation and future planning, air pollution & control, disaster management, forest fires management, managing natural resources, wastewater management, oil spills and its remedial actions etc.
GIS in disaster management
Be it modeling through early warning systems or using decision support systems to understand which disaster is going to affect or is affecting which region the most, GIS can help in mitigating the risks of a disaster to a great extent. Using GIS, preparations can be better, efforts can be more directed and response can be faster. GIS enables the response teams to gain situational awareness, engage with the public, and understand the impact of the event. As GIS leads to better identification of the affected areas and people, recovery becomes easier and faster.
In the recent past, India has made great strides in the disaster alert systems – be it cyclone alerts, regional tsunami warnings or heavy rainfall/flood alert system. The Indian Tsunami Early Warning Centre based in Hyderabad has been successful in delivering accurate alerts. Due to timely predictions, preparations have been better, even leading to timely evacuations and thus no loss of lives.
GIS in air quality monitoring
Air quality monitoring has become an important part of healthy living, and GIS can play a very important role here as well. A GIS integrated platform by leveraging sensors and IoT for air quality monitoring, analytics, and planning, can accurately predict the PM levels in varied areas within a city. It can also tell you which areas are the most hazardous or most dangerous for everyone, more specifically for asthma patients. This analysis can help the field officers to take corrective action on time to improve the air quality. Citizen engagement is also becoming an important part of such applications. Using mobile apps, the citizens can also make the authorities aware which areas need immediate attention.
GIS in forest fire management
Wildfire causes huge loss to flora and fauna. The very first strategy to defend the forests against wildfire is to avoid it. GIS has proved its potential in forest fire management. There are different applications of GIS in forest fire management out of which the most important ones are hazard map production, forest fire simulation, and resource management. Simulation by itself has a main role in the management of forest fire. GIS uses various information layers such as Digital Elevation Model (DEM) and index of flammability along with different models for the purpose of forest fire management.
GIS in managing natural resources
GIS helps in identifying the impact of human behavior on natural resources and leads to more effective utilization of the same. Data about natural resources could be collected through remote sensing, aerial photography or satellite imagery and then they are mapped using GIS technology. The major application of GIS in natural resource management is in confronting environmental issues like a flood, landslide, soil erosions, drought, earthquake etc. It also addresses the current problems of climate change, habitat loss, population growth, pollution etc. and provides information about land area change between time periods. The information obtained from GIS help to study specific areas and monitoring can be done in and around those areas. It provides relevant information about the environmental condition and policy, including conservation programs. Maps in GIS provide the information of location and current resources.
Along with the aforementioned applications, GIS can effectively aid in wastewater management, oil spilling, sewage treatment etc. Spatial information leads to better outcomes in almost every industry and GIS provides invaluable location information that makes decision-making superior and extremely productive. The benefits that GIS can yield are only limited by human’s capability to innovate and harness. We all must dedicate ourselves towards preserving our environment and technologies like GIS can be our best friends for the purpose.