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Mapping the Depths:

Using spatial analysis technology to map the world around us BY ERICA YEE, INFORMATION SCIENCE & JOURNALISM, 2020

Humans have used maps since ancient times, from handdrawn atlases to foldable pamphlets to mobile apps. Today’s technological developments have allowed mapping to go far beyond what the original cartographers could have imagined. Beyond the day-to-day convenience of using Google Maps for directions, researchers can use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to explore layers of mapped data.


departments, are also taking advantage of the technology. Maps of election results, for example, can now compare all types of demographics with voting patterns. The New York Times correlated political and cultural bubbles by mapping the popularity of different TV shows throughout the US with how those areas voted in the 2016 presidential election: Duck Dynasty correlated most with support for Trump and Family Guy for Clinton.

GIS is used to manage and visualize any plottable geospatial data, such as postal codes, city boundaries or elevations. Analysis of the processed On a computer, you can put and mapped data can reveal multiple layers of information relationships and patterns to problem-solve and impact on top of each other and find policy. These capabilities relations and hidden patterns have a lot of potential for revolutionizing research in a within the data.” variety of fields.

“Traditional cartographic maps are about one layer of information. But on a computer, you can put multiple layers of information on top of each other and find relations and hidden patterns or a story with the data,” explained Bahare Sanaie-Movahed, Northeastern’s GIS specialist based in Snell Library. GIS was initially used mainly for engineering and natural resources fields, according to Sanaie-Movahed, who has master’s degrees in GIS and environmental engineering. Now, other fields, such as history and political science

Businesses, too, see the benefit. “Say I want to build a business selling pet food,” SanaieMovahed proposed. “I can use GIS to select my location, check how many people around Massachusetts [have] pets, where are other stores that would be my competition. I put this information together and come up with the location where I want to build my own company.” A new interactive web tool from the CDC, called the 500 Cities Project, allows users to explore health data estimates at city and neighborhood levels for the largest cities in the U.S. Mapping the data can help government and health workers visually identify patterns of health issues facing specific locations and develop targeted prevention campaigns.

Issue 32: Space  
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