Spatial Analysis Without Borders: Cutting-edge use of GIS, remote sensing and spatial analysis methodologies across disciplines

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What do moose fat, algae blooms, classroom and office assignments, urban residential segregation and crackling fireplaces have in common? A fascinating showcase of research by scholars and practitioners from around the Five Colleges showed how spatial analysis – the study of social and material dynamics through their patterns in physical space – can offer new layers of understanding about the natural and social patterns and inequalities all around us. 

Mi-Hyun Park

Thomas MilletteIn the natural sciences, for example, research by Thomas Millette (Geology & Geography / Mt. Holyoke) leverages hundreds of thousands of heat-sensing and visual images captured in millisecond-increments from low-flying airplanes to locate and track migration and dietary patterns among deer, moose and caribou; while Mi-Hyun Park (Civil & Environmental Engineering / UMass Amherst) leverages both remote-sensing and land-based data collection to model changes in harmful algal blooms contaminating important water sources in North America and abroad. History students and faculty work with academic technologist Andy Anderson (Amherst College) to unearth the links in early 20th century census data between highway planning, elite university politics, and elementary school racial segregation in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

Qian Yu (Geosciences / UMass Amherst) explained how the unique properties of the spatial environment (notably, the nonrandom and interlinked nature of its features) require a distinct approach to spatial statistical analysis. She illustrated its power with an analysis of factors driving residential wood-burning practices that disaggregates the effects of geographic factors from socioeconomic ones. A range of courses in the Five College campuses offers both novice and advanced training to integrate GIS and other spatial analytic methods across a wide range of disciplines – as exemplified in Mt. Holyoke College’s move to integrate GIS methods training within academic subject courses from history to environmental management. 

Niels LaCourAnd UMass campus planner Niels LaCour and GIS architect Alexander Stepanov offered an exciting vision of how the creative use of GIS and planning technologies energized the development of the UMass Master Plan, and can offer a vision for the campus as a learning laboratory in these powerful analytic methods.

Seminar participants

You can view some of the speakers' presentation slides here, and we encourage scholars interested in collaborating across our disciplines to innovate in teaching and using these methods to get in touch with ISSR Associate Director Henry Renski ( or to join the existing ValleyGIS Meetup group or 5 College GIS listserv. Please also consider the following courses, and look for others listed in Geology, Geosciences, History, Planning, and other departments in the 5 Colleges course catalogues:

Introductory short-courses in January:  January 4 – 81:00 PM – 3:30 PM  January 11 – 159:30 AM – 12 Noon
Spring 2016:
Community Service with Web-Based Geographic Information Science and Technology (GIST):