UMass Amherst Joins National Consortium for Geographic Information Systems

AMHERST, Mass. - he University of Massachusetts was recently accepted as one of 48 members of the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing high-tech research in geographic information systems (GIS). UMass was accepted for membership based on its strong interdisciplinary interests in this field. The announcement was made by Richard Taupier, associate director of the University’s Office of Geographic Information and Analysis (OGIA).

"Very simply, GIS is the use of sophisticated computer systems to show demographic and environmental information using maps," explained Taupier. "We use GIS to explore topics as diverse as employment statistics, health information, transportation systems, and the distribution of natural resources. Seeing information on a map can help us spot trends and relationships that wouldn’t necessarily be apparent if the information were listed on a chart or graph." GIS was sparked by efforts in the 1970s to make the best use of natural resources in North America, Taupier said. That information is used by a variety of clients, including governmental agencies, sociologists, and utility companies. GIS has been applied to many environmental problems, such as preservation of wildlife habitats and wetlands, and better understanding of the environmental impacts of development.

Taupier offers this example: "We may know that 10 percent of the people in a community are from low-income families. But we would use GIS to answer questions such as whether the low-income families live in one part of town, or whether they’re evenly distributed, and where their children go to school."

The University established OGIA within The Environmental Institute in July 1994, to assist the eight academic departments which use GIS technologies. In addition to specialized and highly technical computer equipment, including hardware and software, GIS requires satellite systems, scanners, and digital cameras, Taupier explained. The office helps to build and maintain GIS laboratories, works with faculty and administrators who use GIS, and functions as the campus clearinghouse for geographic information, Taupier said. OGIA maintains laboratories in Hasbrouck Hall and Hills North, and has assisted some 100 graduate students studying GIS. The office’s research and outreach activities have involved academics and professionals throughout the U.S. and the world, Taupier said.

Consortium members have the opportunity to participate in reviewing and setting national research priorities in GIS and related fields, according to Taupier. The consortium’s goals include setting research priorities, assessing the field’s contributions to national scientific and public policy issues, and fostering geographic information and analysis in support of global environmental quality; international economic competitiveness; and maintaining leadership in basic science, mathematics, and engineering, he said.