RU GIS Day enriches campus tree map with new detail


Matthew Bango and Jesse Daniels work with geography faculty to double check the geographical locators in their cellphones as they prepare to map the locations of various trees around campus.

Thanks to more than 50 volunteers, people across the world can appreciate Radford University's arboreal richness.

In celebration of International Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Day on Nov. 19, the volunteers crowd-sourced a tree map of the RU campus in real-time using their mobile devices to upload data about the main campus' nearly 900 trees.

"Trees make the campus and give it a quaint character," said Donald Stewart, a freshman geospatial science major from Waynesboro on the frigid morning. "It is nice to know when spring is coming when they turn green."

GIS Day is an annual global event for users of GIS technology to educate their communities about how geography makes a difference and to demonstrate the technology. GIS technology represents computer software, data and solutions that are used for capturing, analyzing and displaying geographically referenced information.

GIS day was part of a weeklong celebration highlighting the diverse applications of the fast-growing field of geospatial sciences. Among the week's keystone events was a presentation on human geography and geopolitics by Professor of Geospatial Science Grigory Ioffe, titled "Belarus in Cultural and Geopolitical Context."


Assistant Professor of Geospatial Science Andrew Foy works with John DeGrout and Matthew Bango as they check the location indicator on one of the cellphones they used to map locations of various trees around campus.

Ioffe is the author of the recently published "Reassessing Lukashenka: Belarus in Cultural and Geopolitical Context," about Alexander Lukashenka, the controversial four-term Belarusian national leader, and the Eastern European country that is near the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.

"Belarus is an intermediate country straddling East and West with a lot of blurred cultural borders," Ioffe said. "It is a nitty-gritty reality."

Moving from global to local affairs, GIS week's tree-mapping got off to a swift start as volunteer teams uploaded coordinates of over 100 points to a map hosted online in less than an hour. In total, the volunteers entered data points – type, coordinates and diameter – marking the approximately 70 species of trees that adorn the campus. The map enhances a paper map developed by Biology Instructor John Kell, who described the campus as "essentially an arboretum." 

Daniel Honeycutt, a senior geospatial science major and president of the Geography Club, appreciated the impact made by the volunteers. "They really help speed up the data collection process. They have done in one hour what would take a single person three or four weeks to do," Honeycutt said.

Andrew Foy, assistant professor of geospatial science and director of the RU GIS center, described the process of GIS mapping for the day as collecting, sharing and publishing data by way of the cloud or web to leverage computing power, access and storage.

"This is citizen involvement helping people," he said. "The best way to get stuff people like and need on our maps is to send them out to do it. It is empowering." 

Stockton Maxwell, assistant professor of geospatial science, saw the event as an important opportunity to develop an understanding of the geospatial science field.

"It seems that people can be naïve about what geospatial sciences is," he said. "It is explaining spatial phenomena and relationships. This has been a fun, interactive way to engage new technology to explain our work and how it can collaborate with other disciplines."

Dec 2, 2014