Archive for November, 2005

GIS in Baseball

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005

This goes along with a previous post on the application of GIS to tennis. From a student in the Intro to GIS course:

In an attempt to reach Americans as well as the few ashamed Canadian baseball fanatics, I examined Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball”. In this top-selling sports/business hybrid novel, Lewis writes about the elusiveness of an accurate way to measure defense. The typical statistic used to gauge a player’s defensive skill is his number of errors, meaning the mistakes a player makes throughout the season. However, Lewis challenges this simplification of defense, reasoning that a less fleet-footed athlete might not even be afforded the opportunity to make some mistakes due to physical incapability to even get to the ball.

The solution to this conundrum, Lewis says, is a new breakdown of defense, in which the entire field is broken into smaller units of areas, known to GIS people as the implementation of the raster model. With this type of structure, every ball hit to any fielder can be documented with set of geographic coordinates. The fielder’s position prior to the ball being put in play is also noted. Both the velocity with which the ball travels, as well as its trajectory, is also tagged to positional location as attribute data.

The Oakland Athletics, a major league baseball team, have implemented these tactics, along with other scientific methods, and have experienced tremendous success. With one of the smallest budgets in baseball, they have used GIS to efficiently spend their meager funds to acquire players that provide the most production for the amount of money they are willing to pay. Over the past five years, the Oakland Athletics have been among the league leaders in victories per season despite their inescapable “poverty”.

Being from New York, I constantly have it drilled into my head that the Yankees are the team to beat and that rooting for anyone else is futile. I despise the Yankees. Where is the fun in rooting for a team that’s expected to win because of the throngs of hundred million dollar contracts they hand out on a yearly basis? The Oakland A’s, however, have successfully shown that money can’t buy everything. The Yankees are Goliath, and the A’s are David, with their heads buried in science books. The Yankees continue to chase their own tails, failing to win a World Series since their payroll ballooned to over $200 million, compared to Oakland’s $40 million. Baseball may not look like a battle of intellect, but behind the scenes brilliant minds (many of whom are experts in GIS) are quickly gaining respect and snatching up all the jobs previously bestowed upon those who were said to have an immeasurable “baseball sense”. It appears that what you need to win at baseball is not the biggest muscles, but rather some thick coke-bottle glasses, a McGill diploma, and a computer loaded with ArcGIS 9.

So, to all my Canadian friends: before you write baseball off as a useless “American Pastime”, you should realize that there is a growing market demand in this sport for those who have skills in GIS. Major League Baseball is accepting applications now.

References: Lewis, Michael. Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. W.W.
Norton and Company, Inc., New York, 2003.

Ecotourism’s downside revealed through GIS

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005

Thanks to Mongoose girl for this post:

The study of the spread of diseases has tended to focus primarily on human suffering and mortality. In many cases, animals were the vectors of transmission for the virus or bacteria to humans. However, a study from the journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases is attempting to assess human’s negative impact on animals’ health. This study utilized GIS to research the spread of Mycobacterium tuberculosis in free-ranging mongooses in Botswana and suricats in South Africa (also known as meercats).

In these areas of Africa eco-tourism has emerged as a profitable way to support local economies. It has many positive attributes such as encouraging local communities’ autonomy, preserving wildlife habitat, and encouraging responsible resource use. However, increased human presence in what used to be remote and fairly undisturbed areas has resulted in disease transmission to animal populations. This is one of the first studies to consider the transmission of a primarily human pathogen into free-ranging wildlife.

Researchers required a tool to assist them in tracking the geographic locations infected animals as they roamed throughout the day. Researchers also needed to map all of the human infrastructures in the animal’s range, which included national parks and multi-purpose lands. GIS was an ideal solution as it allowed them to overlay multiple layers and look for geographic similarities between human presence and sites of disease transmission. Point layers were used to depict tourist facilities, garbage dumps, and locations of mongoose TB cases. Lines and polygons were used to portray roads and land use. To monitor the disease outbreak, mongoose troops were followed by patrollers in both the morning and evening. They collected and then georeferenced information such as animal sightings, important geographic locations and individual TB cases. This created enough graphical and non-graphical attribute data to determine the rate of infection spread, by calculating the time and distance between new outbreaks. The GIS output was also useful in visualizing the extent of TB’s spread within the mongoose populations and the humans’ role in transmission.

GIS technology has allowed for the domains of epidemiology, geography and wildlife biology to be incorporated into one analysis. Future emphasis can be placed on protecting wild species, either by limiting visitors contact or by simply ensuring that garbage is hygienically disposed of. Ecotourism plays an important role in supporting rural communities. However, animal health cannot be neglected. After all, there needs to be something wild left to encourage visitors to come!

For more information see: Alexander, K., Pleydell, E., Williams, M., Lane, E., Nyange, J. and Michel, A. 2002. Mycobacterium tuberculosis: An Emerging Disease of Free-Ranging Wildlife. Emerging Infectious Diseases. 8: 598-601. Accessed November 25th, 2005.

Youth and the UNFCCC

Tuesday, November 29th, 2005

From a former CS&N blogger, Jennifer.

On Thursday, November 24th 109 youth from 26 countries met in Montreal at Environment Canada’s Biosphere to address the challenge of climate change. We spent four days in discussions and debates around the subject of climate change, and it wasn’t just for fun! As a result of these discussions and debates we produced an international youth declaration, entitled Our Climate, Our Challenge, Our Future: International Youth Declaration, Montreal 2005, that our delegation will present at the high level segments of this UN conference and distribute to all conference delegates and negotiators.

The delcaration has been released to press around the world and circulated on various listserves. Our goal is to distribute our declaratin as widely as possible – to young and old, near and far alike. I invite you to read the pdf file with an open mind and join in our optimism. After reading the declaration yourself, if you can take a moment, please circulate it within your networks.

Here’s their blog.

Tous Azimuts

Tuesday, November 29th, 2005

From a student in the Intro GIS course.

One example of GIS which I use quite often is a program called “Tous Azimuts”How to Get There. This program can be found at the Societe de transport de Montreal, STCUM. What this program does is it tells people how to get from one specific location in Montreal to another using the Montreal public transit system.

When you first start the program, a map of Montreal is displayed with all of the districts names on it. The instructions of “Tous Azimuts” are very easy. At the top of the screen you have three options: Click Origin, Click Destination and Click to Zoom in. You simply use those options to tell “Tous Azimuts” where you are coming from and then where you would like to be; you would start by using the “Click to Zoom in” option, as you want to be very specific about your origin and destination. Once you do this, a Calculate button will appear next to the other options.

This next section of the program is to me, the most amazing part. When you click on the Calculate button, it will take you to a new screen with a list of about five or six other options. “Tous Azimuts” now knows, because you selected the different areas in Montreal on the map, where you would like to go and from where you are coming. You are then asked which day you are taking this trip; this is important as public transit schedules are obviously different on the weekends. Your arrival time or departure time is also needed, although you have the choice to select which one you want; I personally always use arrival time, because it makes sure you will be at your destination when you want. Finally, you can choose to minimize walking distance and decide whether or not you wish to use the metro or the train to get to your destination.

Once all the options are chosen, you will click on another Calculate button at the bottom of the page. This then takes you to the results page. Three of the best routes will be displayed. The time you will get to your destination will be given as well as when you should leave your house; it even tells you how long the walk is in meters to the nearest bus or metro stop. The bus number as well as the bus/metro direction will also be given as well as the street corner or metro stop that you should get off at. And if after looking through the results you are unhappy about a route or bus time, you can always modify the options on the previous page or view the bus times yourself.

What this program really does is use information that has been inserted into the map of Montreal to help someone get from Point A to Point B using the Montreal public transit system. I highly recommend using “Tous Azimuts” to anyone that is new to the city that wants to explore Montreal without getting lost; I have lived in Montreal my whole life and I definitely still use it.

[STCUM is very concerned about climate change and has created a separate portal to welcome attendees to the UNFCCC meeting, to help visitors get around using public transit. It is also running events at the meeting on sustainable transport.]

Health Geographics: improving medical care with GIS

Tuesday, November 29th, 2005

A post from Solizma in the Intro GIS course.

Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, MA uses GIS applications to treat illnesses, address medical issues, and analyze health abnormalities. The only hospital with a full-time GIS staff, Baystate initiated its health geographics program in 1998. Since then they have been awarded the ESRI “Special Achievement in GIS” Award in 2002 and ESRI “Vision” Award in 2004 at ESRI’s International Health GIS Conference. (The latest conference proceedings are here.)

Baystate’s GIS staff have experience in demographics; cancer, cardiovascular disease, and injury epidemiology; hospital facilities; non-hospital facility siting; healthcare marketing; bioterrorism; and emergency preparedness, planning and support. Current applications vary in scale from single human organs to the whole hospital to multiple states.

The medical center staff are developing a “four-tiered conceptual model for hospital surge capacity planning and response” which they have named the “Healthcare Preparedness Infosphere (HPI).” This GIS-based model is made up of four “health information systems” that provide hospital healthcare, situational awareness, incident management, and decision support at multiple levels ranging from the individual hospital to multiple states. The model allows tracking of patients, resources, and assets, and it can be used to support improved
healthcare and quality. It is applicable to both routine situations or emergencies and disasters.

Another current initiative of the GIS unit at the medical center is flu tracking: staff are mapping the historic geographic distribution of flu and pneumonia patients to identify areas of higher incidence. Staff will use this information to plan vaccination clinics and educational activities accordingly.

The “Rays of Hope” breast cancer program used US Census data to determine areas of breast cancer screening nocompliance by looking at geographic areas with a high advanced-stage-to-case ratio (ASCR). That is, they looked for areas with a high proportion of advanced stage breast cancer cases out of the total number of cases, which indicates that the cases are not getting detected as early as they could or should. The screening noncompliance areas were identified by spatial analysis and their demographic characterisics were evaluated. Based on these results, researchers were able to design screening programs to target high-risk areas, allowing optimal allocation of resources and a maximization of screening yield.

[Of course, the assumption above is that this is a geographic phenomenon when instead it may be more strongly correlated to poverty or availability of health insurance--Sieber]

At a much finer scale, Baystate staff are using GIS to analyze results of Transanal Endoscopic Microsurgery (TEM). This surgical procedure requires parallel positioning of instruments in a 4 by 20 cm long rectoscope. Researchers want to determine whether location of the polyp requiring operation in the rectum correlates with difficulty in performing the surgery. A cylindrical coordinate system and topology is being used as a basis for both 2-D and 3-D visualization and analysis. Findings indicate that polyp location may be relevant to the
limitations of the surgery.

Other initiatives and applications at Baystate include hospital mapping, route optimization management for delivery trucks and drivers serving home-bound patients, trauma surveillance, and development of a regional geodatabase to provide basemap support for regional emergency preparedness, planning, response, recovery, and hazard vulnerability assessment. See the links below for more information.

Overview of Baystate’s Health Geographics Program

Baystate Health

ESRI: Medical Center Improves Community Programs with GIS

GIS and Environmental Gerrymandering

Tuesday, November 29th, 2005

Thanks to Simon in the Intro GIS course.

The term gerrymander was coined in 1812 after the governor of Massachusetts, Elbridge Gerry. The term applies to the process by which political districts are reorganized to weigh voting in favor of the dominant political party. In this way the opposition is concentrated into few districts or the minority strength is reduced and diluted over many districts. Gerrymandering is a commonly used legal practice in U.S. states to influence the voting outcome.

The spatial and attribute data supplied by users of GIS now makes the process of gerrymandering easier than ever. With a click of a mouse district boundaries can be remapped according to racial, household income or polling statistics, to name a few. Whereas GIS can be used to ensure fair redistricting, it also facilitates redistricting on a basis of political power.

Of particular concern to me as an environmentalist are the effects of gerrymandering on environmental policies. Gerrymandering not only redistributes voter opinion in unwieldy patterns over counties, but stretches districts over multiple distinct bioregions. How can voters adequately express their opinions on key environmental issues when they are clumped into the same district as other regions that have completely separate environmental concerns?

Without a formal template to assign districts, GIS provides politicians with a tool to perform increasingly sophisticated analyses on voting behavior and assign districts based on a desired outcome. One solution to this problem is to assign districts to watersheds or ecoregions. In this way GIS could be used to define districts based on bioregions rather than voting behavior. The outcome would be a reasonable redistricting system, where the inhabitants of each bioregion could express their opinions on related environmental issues.

For more information of gerrymandering, visit Fair Vote: Program for Representative Government.

RINGOs

Monday, November 28th, 2005

No, this isn’t about the Beatles. At the COP I wanted to introduce myself to the RINGOs–research and independent non-governmental organizations. Without knowing a lot about the UNFCCC process, there doesn’t seem to be a significant role for climate change scientists or research institutes if they are not already attached to country delegations or inter-governmental organizations. Only recently has the UNFCCC begun to differentiate among the non delegate observers (the ‘yellow’ badges). So RINGOs are now part of 5 categories of NGOS–environmental organizations (eNGOs), business associations (BINGOs), indigenous peoples organizations (IPOs) and local government and municipal authorities (LGMA).

RINGOs seem to be composed largely of foundations, such as the Pew Center, think tanks like the International Institute for Sustainable Development (which I always thought of as a Canadian institution because it was started here and a huge percentage of its funding comes from Canada even though it now has offices in NY and Geneva), and a couple of universities, like Imperial College. I’m interested in RINGOs because it seems to be a good association for McGill’s School of Environment to be involved in.

Didn’t get much information about them because I got waylaid by the tree puppets people (who must be connected to the RINGOs in some way). I’ll blog more about them after their Wednesday meeting.

Tree Puppets

Monday, November 28th, 2005

A serious instance of physical activism (as opposed to cyberactivism) at the COP:

Towering Tree Ambassadors Call for Anti-Deforestation Measures To Be Added to Climate Change Convention

Washington DC, USA – November 29, 2005 – Trees will arise at the Palais des congrès de Montréal in Canada from 1pm to 2pm, to draw attention to continuing extreme levels of tropical deforestation worldwide. The large tree puppets – some as high as 4 meters – will call attention to the lack of resources in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) & and the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) to halt tropical deforestation. Tropical deforestation is the leading cause of species extinctions worldwide and emits 20% of the global greenhouse gas emissions. Sadly, even though tropical deforestation is a proximate cause of biodiversity loss and global warming, neither UN treaty has made progress in halting the 25 million acres of tropical forest destruction each year.

The trees will gather in front of the UN meetings and negotiators will be encouraged to come and “listen to the trees”. Then, several large puppets representing the UN Treaties will come out from the UN talks and fail to notice that a large Axe-Machine is cutting all the trees. The trees will then call on diplomats to pass a vote in favor of more help for the world’s diminishing rainforests. Several high-level delegates, including the Honorable Robert Aisi, Papua New Guinea’s ambassador to the UN and lead negotiator to the FCCC, will address the press at a press conference marking the end of the parade at 2pm. Other speakers include Beatrice Ahimbisibwe, Ugandan schoolteacher and international carbon consultant; John O. Niles, project manager for the Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance; and Ole Patenya Yusuf, Masai and community organizer.

The Tree Pageant will be filmed, and a satellite-uplink will be immediately available to the 1,000 reporters covering the CBD and FCCC talks at: www.cjpictures.com. The pageant will be held from 1pm to 2pm at the corner on St Antoine St, between St Urbain and Rue de Bleury. In addition, several large tree puppets will be on display at the Palais des congrès on November 28th and the morning of November 29th.

While the trees make their statement outside, inside the UN negotiations a coalition of ten countries will be making the same argument, albeit diplomatically. The Coalition of Rainforest Nations (comprising: Papua New Guinea, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Chile, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, and Bolivia) has submitted agenda item #6 of the 11th Conference of the Parties to the FCCC. This agenda item requests that FCCC negotiators redouble their efforts to find solutions to tropical deforestation. Specifically, it calls for the FCCC to consider how financial incentives generated by the treaty could be used to help conserve tropical forests.

Twenty-five million acres of rainforests are destroyed each year. In addition to the environmental harm of species extinctions and greenhouse gas pollution, this destruction wreaks havoc on the lives of rural poor throughout the world. It causes air and water pollution, soil erosion and the loss of critical ecosystem services that local people have relied on for generations.

Day One, UNFCCC

Monday, November 28th, 2005

Having never been to one, I didn’t know what to expect. Instead of taking the Metro, I decided to walk to the Palais de Congres to see if there was any outdoor activity. Minimal police and army presence, although they might be well-hidden. I expect that this is a more low-key event than it would be if it was sited in the US or if it was something like a World Bank or IMF-related event. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are huge players at the UNFCCC/COP so it’s not like they were relegated to the cold drizzly weather outside. Indeed, there were no protests of any kind outside. Just a couple of cold LaRouchians at a small table (yes, followers of Lyndon LaRouche).

Went to a plenary session. The plenary was booooring but I was prepared for this. My colleague in the Faculty of Law, who actually studies international agreements, said that she would have to study the protocol and other agenda items to even begin to understand what was going on in a plenary. For me, these giant meetings were unintelligible.

Of course, I’m interested in what the environmental NGOs are doing and they are all over the place. Equiterre, a local NGO, is organizing the local activities of the eNGOs. The Climate Action Network (CAN) is the big international player–they have a meeting every day to strategize the actions of the relatively large number of old hand NGOs, organizations that have been to many COPs. CAN will be publishing the official newsletter of the conference here but it’s most important manifestation is the paper version.

UNFCCC bound

Sunday, November 27th, 2005

A group of students and I will be attending COP-11 this week and will be blogging from it. We’re focussing on the use of cyber activism in and around the site during the 12 days of the meeting.

For an example of conference blogging, see It’s getting hot in here, started by a graduate of McGill’s School of Environment.

Inefficient household products

Thursday, November 17th, 2005

American households spend $1 billion a year on energy that they are not even aware of consuming. No, not to fuel their cars or charge their ipods, but rather to keep their televisions and vcrs running at night- WHEN THESE DEVICES HAVE BEEN TURNED OFF! The energy needed to fuel such items amounts to 1000 kilowatt hours a year per household. The invention of the microchip has partly led to this phenomenon. It brought improvements over the traditional switch (in the form of a soft button) in that it was more durable and compact. The downside, however, is that the chip requires a steady flow electricity. Thus, even when home devices using this chip have been shut off, they are still sucking electricity out of the sockets, resulting in huge amounts of energy wasted. While there are more efficient alternatives available, they do not compete very well in the marketplace, especially since most consumers are unaware of this overnight energy use. There has been call from the most unlikey of places, notably the Bush administration, to increase the energy efficiency standards of such objects. The energy department had a meeting this week to discuss the implementation of energy standards in homes and California has already created such a program, to begin in 2006. As more and more electronics flood the home, it is important that consumers understand the energy implications of their actions, specifically that “off” does not neccessarily mean “off.”

GIS and natural disasters

Thursday, November 17th, 2005

Thanks to Enrico from the intro GIS course for this post.

Here’s an interesting use of GIS for history/background information about natural disasters on National Geographic’s website.

It is a spatial application made using Macromedia Flash, so it has vector qualities and doesn’t take as long as ArcGIS to restructure all of the entities when changing the map extent. Once the Flash is loaded, everything is pretty much ready to go. The “Navigator” on the bottom right functions as the inset map that indicates where you’re zoomed in on and also as a means of moving the map extent within North America.

One also can view ALL dates of selected disasters or choose any increment of 25 years by ticking a box and sliding a rule along the bottom timeline.

When rolling over a natural disaster (a point), a small window pops up nearby to give quick facts. For tornatoes and hurricanes, their paths (represented by polygons and a lines, respectively) are highlighted when the mouse is over their point. Larger disasters allow you to click on them to bring up detailed information. These attributes are videos, photos with captions, and large text blocks of information.

There is a nice color scheme that makes it easy to distinguish between types of “forces of nature,” and the scheme is continued when following the links of the larger disasters. Each type of disaster also has a different shape for its “point” representation on the map, making it even easier to distinguish among them.

This application is useful in understanding the spatial trends of hurricane and tornado origins and paths as well as seeing evidence of volcanoes and earthquakes along the “ring of fire.” This example of GIS can be used for public general interest or as a fun way to educate students about the forces of nature.

Google base

Wednesday, November 16th, 2005

Google announces Google Base. Google Base enables content owners to easily make their information searchable online. Anyone, from large companies to website owners and individuals, can use it to submit their content in the form of data items. We’ll host the items and make them searchable for free.

As far as I can tell, here are the main features:

  1. You describe the items that you post with attributes, that is tags that describe or catalog the items. The tagged items will be searched by the Google search engine and will be more accessible to people looking for these sorts of items.
  2. Items can be online information, including images, video and sound but thay also can be “offline” information (competition with eBay and craigslist, anyone?).
  3. This might be useful to people who don’t want to design a whole web page or series of web pages and services to support the distribution of information about said items.
  4. Presumably this opens up your items to a much larger audience. Unlike searching through millions of web pages with unstandardized categories, people will more easily find you and your item. Of course, what happens when there are millions of items?
  5. It’s free. I assume that Google makes money off the banner ads.

The feature was announced on Google Blog. Google has a blog? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

I love this comment from slashdot:

Google to me seems like a new Catholicism. Everything consolidated under a monolithic central power with a mandate of “doing no evil”. They send missionaries in the form of Bots and Ad Words to uncharted territory seemingly to help netizens in the wild, while gathering statistical data about what large masses of people are doing where, when and why. With this they can build their own versions of everything. Your home (page) is nothing compared to their cathedral. Heathens flock to it and erode their old societies under Google (capital G).

I tried Google base and immediately found a link on virtual activism and on environmental nonprofit organizations.

Your printer is ratting you out

Wednesday, November 16th, 2005

It sounds like a conspiracy but it’s true. Your computer printer is conducting surveillance on you. Apparently some time ago, the US federal government convinced numerous manufacturers of colour laser printers to print nearly invisible markers on sheets of paper, which could be used to tie a printout to a specific printer. A series of faint yellow dots is printed on each sheet of paper that can be used akin to a serial number. It was originally designed to thwart conterfeiters using colour printers to print fake money or to forge documents.

Recently these dots have been drafted in the war on terror. In other words, mission creep has occurred. Technology designed for one purpose is being used for another purpose, in this case, in the expanded Patriot Act. So dots that once could catch conterfeiters now catches terrorists, or whatever activities governments determine to be terrorist. Considering that the FBI has already collected hundreds of documents on Greenpeace, the potential application of dots allows for ever better monitoring of non-violent environmental organizations. Since there are no laws preventing the use of dots and little oversight of the Patriot Act, these secret little dots are truly worrisome.

Check to see if you have one of these models of printers.

GIS for effect, disease, and outbreak response

Tuesday, November 15th, 2005

Thanks to Andrea for this post.

Public health needs are most often at the forefront of international discussion. Disease outbreaks need to be readily dealt with, as to minimize effects. The tragedy of epidemics is to great to risk. Proper planning, with up-to-date and useful information, is needed in any effective decision-making process. GIS has become an invaluable tool to address public health needs.

With the development of the Public Health Mapping and GIS program in 1993, the World Health Organization can now map disease outbreaks, assess epidemic risk and analyze epidemiological data. Analysis of spatial data in tabular format often misses details and trends in space. GIS has facilitated decision-making processes by creating a visual representation of disease to look at outbreak control, monitoring and management.

The roles of GIS in WHO’s Public Health Mapping and GIS program include: determining the geographic distribution of disease, analyzing spatial and temporal trends in disease, determining populations at risk and other risk factors, and planning resources, targets, intervention and monitoring needed to mitigate impacts of the disease.

GIS maps diseases outbreaks in relation to social and ecological variables that may factor into the spread of the disease, such as population demographics, the natural environment and existing health services. Visualization of the problem aids in targeting areas of greatest concern, for more effective disease treatment and control.

Mapping of disease is not a new thing, but GIS can do this faster than ever before. The speed at with GIS can map the distribution of disease and the social and ecological that may play a role in the spread of the disease can get aid to the areas its most needed, fast. There is great hope in the fact that GIS can target areas that lack the health resources to deal with disease outbreak, making aid more readily available to those who do not have the basic, required health resources and to those in areas of high risk.

WHO’s HealthMapper describes applications of the Public Health Mapping and GIS program. Over 500 people in 70 countries have been trained to use GIS software; this has resulted in the mapping of HIV/AIDS risk worldwide, malaria spread in Ethiopia and post-tsunami relief in Indonesia. The visual representation of disease leads, not only to better and more prompt decision-making processes in disease control, but also to better public awareness and understanding of epidemics.

Check out WHO’s Global Atlas for interactive maps on disease distributions. The site also contains excellent encyclopedic descriptions of the use of GIS for health mapping.

Dental topography

Monday, November 14th, 2005

Thanks to huds for this post about Dental Topography and Food Deserts: The Role of geographic information systems (GIS) in our Diets

A more scrumptious application of GIS technology allows food scientists to not only “map out our appetites”, give the reasons for why we eat what we eat, but also gives us insight into what our ancestors ate!

At the University of Arkansas, a professor and his team of researchers managed to create GIS based methods to examine fossil teeth to help extract diet information. A combination of GIS software and laser technology gives insight into a dramatic shift in anatomical time, from more herbivorous habits to meat eating.

Why teeth?
“Teeth are perfect for testing diet hypotheses, because they are the best preserved items in the fossil record and are part of the digestive system,” said Peter Ungar, professor of anthropology. “But until now, we haven’t had the technology to pull much information out of them.”

That’s where GIS come in. Teeth shape can tell us what the initial chewing design was capable of, and the “wear and tear” gives clues into food habits and textures. With modern day benchmarks, the research team can get a pretty good idea of what we were all consuming back in the day.

Professor Ungar looked to technology to avoid time consuming manual analysis and gain better, more accurate results. “Dental landscapes” were examined by a high-resolution laser that reads three-dimensional coordinates of the teeth along the surface, which is coupled to GIS software that then calculates them and produces a 3-D map of one tooth.
The team’s analysis showed that Australopithecus afarensis had shallow slopes on their teeth, suggesting a diet of brittle foods like nuts, seeds, roots and tubers, while the teeth of early humans showed steeper slopes with greater shearing power, suggesting a dietary shift to tough meats.

Widely accepted archeological evidence argues the consumption of meat by early human ancestors, but it hasn’t been until Professor Ungar’s research that these dietary hypotheses can be supported!

To analyze more recent food habits, scientists at the UW College of Architecture and Urban Planning in collaboration with the UW School of Public Health have been able to map out the relationships between local environments and health to give insight into why certain population diets vary across regional settings.

Based on data collected via telephone surveys, the team links poor, unhealthy nutrition to socioeconomic status, spending power, and residential transportation accessibility, GIS based environmental variables were measured to highlight distances to fast food joints as opposed to health food stores, annual income and health food costs, and walking/exercise space in neighborhoods.

“The use of GIS offers many exciting ways to map the health-enhancing dimensions of neighborhoods”, the team insists.

I could eat to that!

See
Fat Neighborhoods: Spatial Epidemiolgy Meets Urban Form

Diet Information from Fossil Teeth

GIS and conservation biology

Sunday, November 13th, 2005

Thanks to “a tree lover” in the introductory GIS course for this post.

The Smithsonian National Zoological Park has an informative and interactive website concerning the use of GIS in conservation biology. Of particular interest, is a project called World forests: Biases in forest protection across world biomes. This project aims to assess the decline and protection of forests across the major biomes – temperate, boreal and tropical. The GIS application they created contained layers such as the estimate of the original coverage of forest, the current protected areas, and the modern forested area.

With this application they could then answers 3 questions :

  1. Did deforestation in past centuries differ among major global biomes-the boreal, temperate, and tropics? The GIS allowed them to determine that temperate forests declined the most (by 65%), followed by tropical forests (45%) and then by boreal forests (13%).
  2. How much forest remains in boreal, temperate and tropic zones? Of the total remaining forests in the world, 51% are in the tropical zones, 45% in the boreal zone and only 4% in the temperate zones.
  3. What is the degree of protection in these biomes relative to the degree of threat? Less than 5% of the remaining temperate forests are currently protected, for boreal forests the proportion is less than 4%, and for tropical forest more than 15%.

It is possible to see the resulting GIS application and even to use some of the tools of GIS (e.g., identify, query, and measure) with the conservation atlas of the Smithsonian Institute. We can see from these GIS results that more efforts must be directed towards protecting areas of the temperate forests.

computers chock-full o’ evidence

Sunday, November 13th, 2005

In the best lead yet, American intelligence officials have dissected an Iranian laptop computer, which has divulged overwhelming ‘testimony’ as to Iran’s nuclear agenda. Nearly everything about the physical operations of the nuclear plants & facilities, weapons, and deployment are contained. Iran has a nuclear power program currently touting itself as a peaceful, energy-producing project.

The by-product, however, of such a program can be manipulated into weapons-grade warhead material, and the documents and specifications on the apprehended laptop seem to suggest Iranian nuclear weapons will go into production in the next few year. A whopping 5 pages from the NYTimes gives all the lurid details and all the big names involved.

New web site

Friday, November 11th, 2005

I never thought of the Sierra Club as an organization that was interested in global scale issues. But their mission has broadened. Visit the Sierra Club’s new website on climate change.

Environmental Groups Found a New Ally??

Tuesday, November 8th, 2005

Environmental groups in the U.S. have found a new ally in an unlikely place- the Evangelical groups that help form the base for conservative support of the republican party. As reported in the New York Times, the National Association of Evangelicals, an organization that comprises a network of 30 million people across the U.S., is circulating a draft of a policy statement that is meant to encourage lawmakers to pass laws requiring reduction of carbon emissions. The association is motivated by biblical obligations that require humans to be good stewards over the earth. Environmental organizations like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club are welcoming the support. Since the Evangelical group mainly support the Republican party, they could bring an entirely new sphere of influence into our current governmental regime.