GIS Analyst and Consultant
Education: M.A. in Geography (San Diego State University) B.A. in Geography, English (University of Vermont)
The following profile was compiled by Brendan Vander Weil (Texas State University) for the Encoding Geography initiative. To learn more, visit: https://www.ncrge.org/encoding-geography/
Please describe your job, employer, and the primary tasks you perform in your position.
I am self-employed as a GIS analyst and consultant. In this position, I perform a wide variety of tasks to solve analytical problems and provide GIS solutions to clients. Most recently, I provided GIS support for a renewable energy development company. In this role, I ran and maintained a customized tool to extract land that would be suitable for solar energy development. I also provided customized GIS analyses, including a process for displaying areas of neighboring landowners with large acreages of land for potential solar development outreach. I also spent much time searching for and compiling data, such as parcels and endangered species and maintaining a variety of geodatabases for running tools and processes.
What geographic knowledge, such as terminology and concepts, is important and useful to know in your line of work?
For a recent client, it was beneficial to know basic physical geography concepts such as the definition of a 100-year flood zone, and knowledge of other FEMA-related data and concepts. In addition, understanding how parcel data is assessed and attributed was important to know as well as basic knowledge of environmental geography, such as state-listed versus federally-listed endangered species.
What conceptual geographic knowledge is important and useful to know?
For one renewable energy client, there was a significant element of interconnection and the importance of place as it related to the natural environment. Many different factors – such as the location of land, any constraints on the land, ownership of neighboring land, and governance of land – contributed to identifying potential sites for developing solar energy. Both general knowledge of how location is important to this work, as well as knowledge of environmental considerations, were useful to know.
What procedural geographic knowledge is important and use to know?
Knowing GIS and spatial analysis methods was crucial to performing this work as a GIS Analyst. Also, understanding where to look for downloadable spatial data and managing and interpreting said data was key to this role. Having a solid grasp of geoprocessing methods and procedures was also essential, as well as quality-checking and analyzing the results.
What areas of computer science are important and useful to know?
Definitely basic computer programming — such as Python (which is used with GIS).
Can you provide an example of a project where you apply geography and computer science to analyze and solve problems related to important issues?
For my most recent client, we were constantly looking for new land on which to develop solar energy. Therefore, one of my most common tasks was to run and maintain a customized tool in GIS to extract this developable land – the first step in assessing where to build solar and promote the advancement of renewables.
What types of geographic questions did you ask and think about in your project?
Before running the tool, I needed to ensure that the databases that the tool would connect to and iterate through were in the right location with the right datasets. The first question was, are the databases ready, and is all my data there? Next, if there was an error with the tool, I had to discover where the issue was and ask myself whether it was a data issue, a server connection issue, or something else. And when the tool finished running, I needed to examine the output and ask myself if the results made sense – did the flood zone and wetland layers appear to show correctly? Did the developable land align in a sensical way and did not overlap with the constraints layers? Were any data layers missing?
What types of data did you acquire to support your project?
I acquired many types of data for my project, with the following being the most critical:
- DEM tiles from USGS
- 100-year flood zone FEMA data
- Wetlands data from FWS
What types of knowledge and skills, both geographic and general, do you use to evaluate, process, and analyze the data you gather for your work?
I used my prior knowledge of working with DEMs and the Spatial Analyst extension to effectively download and organize DEM tiles from the USGS site and analyze the resulting slope data. For the 100-year flood zone data from FEMA, I used geoprocessing skills such as extracting data by attribute and exporting data between databases to process and organize the data to be ready for use in the tool. I used similar techniques to prepare the wetlands data. To analyze the output of the tool, I used a variety of content knowledge/skills like interpreting aerial imagery, quality checking spatial and attribute data for accuracy, and problem-solving/error tracking if something did not look right.
How did you apply geography to communicate the results of your project? Do you have a recent product or publication to share with us as an example?
The output results of the tool were needed by the client in KMZ (Google Earth) format, so I used skills in spatial analysis and QA/QC to ensure the KMZ file was spatially accurate and displayed properly. If the output KMZ did not look right, I used GIS/spatial analysis skills to correct the data that was input into the tool, or manually alter the tool’s output layers in GIS and re-convert to KMZ.
Reflecting on your work, how does it align with your aspirations from when you were a student?
Being able to contribute to advancing the field of renewable energy by working with my most recent client was certainly a step in the right direction for me — ever since I was a student I have aspired to address important social and environmental issues. I hope to take on more clients with this goal in mind, particularly for social causes as I was more human geography focused when I was in graduate school.
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grants No. 2031418, 2031407, and 2031380 (Collaborative Research: Encoding Geography – Scaling up an RPP to achieve inclusive geocomputational education). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation