Welcome to Drew University’s Spatial Data Center, a part of the Environmental Studies and Sustainability Program, sponsored by generous grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and NASA. This website is designed to help you get started with Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Everything from choosing software, downloading data, and performing spatial analysis is covered. As part of the EPA-TRI University Challenge, the tutorials on this site specifically introduce the EPA Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) database; however, the instructions are designed to facilitate GIS use in any field of inquiry.
Web GIS Applications
A growing number of spatial data tasks can be accomplished with web GIS applications. These include applications that work through your web browser, like Google Maps, through freely downloadable software, like Google Earth, or through specialized web mapping sites, hosted by specific sources, like the National Library of Medicine’s TOXMAP. To generate a map or identify locations of the facilities regulated by the EPA, and included in the Toxic Release Inventory, you have multiple choices of web-based applications. Some of these include the EPA’s TRI Website, TOXMAP, ArcGIS Online, and Google Earth.
Stand Alone GIS Software Packages
Though Web GIS features are becoming increasingly diverse, complex, and customizable, many analysts wishing to design their own maps, generate their own specific queries, and conduct analysis with a diversity of data layers prefer to use stand alone GIS software packages. Though all GIS software integrates the web to some degree, stand alone packages provide downloadable software that allows users the most flexibility in managing, creating, visualizing and analyzing their own data. A variety of commercial and open source options are available, and the choice of which package to select depends on the user’s resources, needs and experience. Some of the most common commercial packages include ESRI ArcGIS, MapInfo, and AutoCAD Map 3D. Open source packages, which are free, include Quantum GIS, Diva GIS, Map Window, and GRASS.
Specialized Analysis Software
Last, there are very specific GIS tools for very specialized types of analysis that are also important. For example, if you would like data on how specific toxins travel through the air, ground, or water, you will need to probably need to gather your own data and create a custom project. Several EPA tools are designed to help with various tasks in this endeavor. One example of a specialized software for TRI data is the Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators (RSEI) program, which allows users to identify and compare health risks generated from TRI emissions. Because the data are tied to regulated facilities, it is spatial in nature, and functions as specialized GIS software. Other specialized GIS software allows you to examine correlations over space (GeoDa), and space and time (STARS). To review, for easy and quick access to data, web GIS tools will probably cover your basic needs. For more customization of the display, and control and analysis of the data, stand alone GIS packages, and some training in GIS will meet your needs. For very specific data and analysis tools, specialized software may exist, or you may need to customize your own tools for the job.
- NASA’s Earth Observing System: massive collection of imagery and important earth observation data
- Natural Earth: a useful collection of global boundaries
- IPUMS: global census microdata
- Data.gov: all types of geospatial data, a federal clearinghouse of information
- USGS National Map: elevation, imagery, land cover – an essential resource
- National Historic GIS: current and historic census data for the US
Most states in the US maintain their own geospatial data warehouse. For New Jersey, see the New Jersey Geospatial Information Network.
Environmental Data – Relating to EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory
Google Earth Tutorials
For a brief introduction to the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) and GIS: Download all QGIS Tutorials.
Also, all materials for the spring 2014 GIS course, dedicated to the spatial analysis of the TRI, are publicly available on our course Google Drive site.
Click here for tutorial videos that guide you through downloading, extracting, adding and analyzing Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) data in a GIS.