one of societys most valuable tools. A new generation of maps,
capable of housing vast amounts of data, is being created with the
tools of geographic information systems (GIS). The relatively new
field marries the power of computers with the ever-increasing amount
of information that is geospatially based.
tools organize, relate, analyze, and visualize data to help discover
new meanings and insights and support important decisions. A GIS-based
map can combine information that is found in hundreds of traditional
maps. Data can be added with the click of a mouse, and new mixtures
of data can be visualized on a screen or printed out.
What distinguishes GIS from
other forms of information systems, such as databases and spreadsheets,
is that GIS deals with information that is related on the basis
of location, such as longitude and latitude or Global Positioning
Satellite coordinates. GIS maps let users visualize this spatial
information in ways not possible with spreadsheets, databases, or
GIS maps are composed of
superimposed layers of geographic data that allow analysts to handle
and visualize large amounts of information simultaneously. There
is no limit to the number of layers that can be visualized simultaneously.
A user can drill down through data layers to discover
all the data associated within a certain distance of a designated
locationfor example, all the schools and hospitals located
within 16 kilometers of an earthquake fault line.
GIS tools create a
new visual language, says Livermore GIS analyst Lynn Wilder.
She adds that researchers have jumped out of their chairs when she
showed them how GIS maps allowed their research data to be almost
GIS has been traditionally
confined to the computer screen or a printout of one or more map
layers. Recently, Livermore GIS specialist Lee Neher and Web designer
Marisa Price have been developing Web-based versions so researchers
can access and manipulate data while working anywhere in the world.
||Geographic information systems
(GIS) maps are composed of layers of geographically superimposed
data. There is no limit to the number of layers that can be
visualized. Such capabilities are particularly valuable to researchers
working at the National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center,
located at Livermore. In the example above, the Geographic Information
Sciences Center assembled layers of data about natural and human-made
features, including geography, topography, demography, roads,
railroads, surface water, and facilities.
Stunning Breadth of Applications
The field has
a stunning breadth of applications, says Charles Hall, leader
of the five-year-old Livermore Geographic Information Sciences Center.
The group is working with Laboratory researchers from many disciplines
and has been particularly successful in combining GIS with computer
models. A user can select or remove data to analyze quickly how
different factors affect the model. Dave Layton, Health and Ecological
Assessment division leader within the Energy and Environment Directorate,
says that GIS maps aid modelers by taking advantage of the enormous
amount of geospatial information that is available. Layton, who
helped establish Livermores Geographic Information Sciences
Center, notes that much of the information is available from aircraft
and satellite imaging. This information, when digitized, forms one
of many GIS layers.
The GIS group often supports
the Department of Energys National Atmospheric Release Advisory
Center (NARAC), located at Livermore, that models atmospheric releases.
The GIS group has also mapped factors affecting international security
for a number of Livermore researchers.
Closer to home, GIS analysts
have done emergency planning for local governmental agencies in
showing the best emergency response routes. The group has also mapped
seismic activities and fault lines to help Livermore geologists
and engineers understand the relationships among the occurrence
of earthquakes, location of faults, surface topography, and underlying
geology, which will be used to develop models of future tectonic
The group built an interactive
Web site for the California Energy Commission to help site future
power plants. Using a menu of options together with 30 layers of
data on California, a user can request the location of prisons,
canals, urban areas, railroads, watersheds, oil and gas fields,
earthquake faults, and many other features, all within a specified
distance. Each of the options corresponds to a separate GIS layer.
A similar Web site is being
created for the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which must
evaluate applications for new operating licenses for nuclear power
plants as well as for license renewal for each of the nations
103 nuclear power plants. With the click of a computer mouse, the
location of endangered species, low-income populations, past hurricane
and tornado routes, seismic fault lines, highways, cities, and many
other factors are shown within a user-specified radius of a given
|An interactive Web site built
for the California Energy Commission was developed to help the
state to locate sites for future power plants. Users can request
to view the location of prisons, canals, urban areas, railroads,
watersheds, oil and gas fields, earthquake faults, and other
features, within a specified radius. This image shows selected
features within 16 kilometers of a proposed power plant near
Modeling the Tallgrass Prairie
GIS tools are particularly helpful to people who
do environmental and ecologic modeling. The Geographic Information
Sciences Center is helping to develop an Internet-based, interactive
site to help assess the ecologic risks of oil exploration and drilling
for vegetation and wildlife located in the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve
in Oklahoma. The modeling project, funded by DOEs National
Petroleum Technology Office, is a collaboration among the Laboratory,
Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and oil industry partners.
The reserve consists of
152 square kilometers of rolling prairie in northeastern Oklahoma
and is owned by The Nature Conservancy. The reserve plays host to
a variety of plant and animal species, including bison, and is one
of the last substantial remnants of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem
that once covered large areas of the United States and Canada. The
reserve has over 600 nonworking wells and 120 active wells, and
a number of oil and brine spills have occurred in the preserve over
the years. As a result, says Livermore ecologist Tina Carlsen, the
land is characterized by small patches of contaminated or otherwise
The projects approach
takes an ecosystem perspective rather than relying on traditional
organism toxicity studies. In this project, were working
as traditional ecologists using state-of-the-art tools to determine
the effects on the prairie vole and the short-eared owl of removing
them from their habitat because of an oil spill or the construction
of a new access road, Carlsen says.
GIS tools allow ecologists
to access and manipulate numerous data layers covering the prairie
as they model hypothetical conditions in the preserve. The layers
show vegetation, bison grazing areas, elevation, oil well locations,
access roads, slope, drainage basins, streams, soil type, precipitation,
contaminated areas, and the location of past years prescribed
burns. Hall notes that this work should allow the models to run
from the Web site, with the results displayed over various layers.
GIS has become essential to ecological work, says Carlsen.
Information Sciences Center is supporting ecologists studying
the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Oklahoma. The centers
tools allow ecologists using the Internet from anywhere in the
world to access and manipulate numerous layers covering the
prairie and to model hypothetical conditions in the preserve.
The layers show vegetation, bison grazing areas, elevation,
oil well locations, access roads, slope, drainage basins, streams,
soil type, precipitation, contaminated areas, and the location
of past years prescribed burns.
Supporting Livermores SIte 300
In other environmental applications,
the center is supporting the Environmental Restoration Project at
Site 300, Lawrence Livermores remote 18-square-kilometer test
facility. The group has developed sets of data describing the topography,
facilities, utilities, roads, groundwater contamination, population,
zoning, and digitized aerial photographs. The data, organized as
GIS layers, are helping researchers to place wells that extract
and treat contaminants. The work also helps biologists to estimate
the remedial works effects on native species.
In another project, the group
is also assisting Lawrence Livermores Fire Department and
Site 300 managers to conduct annual prescribed burns. Such burns
prevent an accumulation of wild grasses that could pose an unacceptable
risk of wildfires. To understand better the atmospheric dispersion
of smoke from prescribed burns at the site, NARAC researchers simulated
the smoke dispersion from eight prescribed burns, four in June 1999
and four in July 2000.
Laboratorys Fire Department provided information on the area
of each burn plot, the time of ignition, the duration of the burns,
how much fuel was burned, and the estimated plume heights. Using
this information, the NARAC researchers estimated the smoke emission
rate for each burn.
The GIS team analyzed the
smoke dispersion simulations, importing the data into GIS software
and then superimposing it over a satellite image of the area, which
constitutes another layer. Data layers were also developed that
corresponded to the location of nursing homes, schools, hospitals,
day-care centers, and other facilities, called sensitive receptors,
that might be affected by the smoke. Other layers corresponded to
streets and highways, towns and cities, and county boundaries.
The simulations showed that
for 24 hours after the burn, the simulated smoke concentrations
were substantially below the legal limit of 50 micrograms per cubic
meter, except directly over the burn area, as expected. Also, in
no case did the simulated smoke plume drift over a sensitive receptor.
NARAC meteorologist Mike Bradley says that the simulations provide
persuasive evidence that the prescribed burns would cause no air
quality problems. The study also confirmed that combining the modeling
capabilities of NARAC with GIS provides a powerful predictive tool
for evaluating the consequences of atmospheric dispersion of smoke
from future prescribed burns.
Bradley is leading an effort
that uses supercomputers and GIS to model wildfires more scientifically.
The project, funded by the Laboratory Directed Research and Development
program, combines NARAC weather prediction models with a physics-based
combustion model developed at Los Alamos. Bradley is testing the
model by reconstructing the early stages of the 1991 fire in the
OaklandBerkeley hills, which claimed 25 lives and destroyed
Hall explains that the Geographic
Information Sciences Center assembles data describing topography,
streets, houses, lot parcels, vegetation, transmission lines, population,
and aerial imaging. Topographical and vegetation (fuel) data are
fed to the combustion model, which simulates the spread of the fire
from its origin. The simulation results are displayed with GIS over
the topography and lot parcels to assist in calibrating or checking
the accuracy of model resolution. Eventually, this system could
be used to manage vegetation, assess risks and consequences of wildfires,
and plan and manage evacuation.
|A model of the June 10, 1999,
24-hour average of smoke concentration, summed for all three
controlled burns that were conducted at Livermores Site
300. The GIS team superimposed the simulated burn data over
a satellite image of the area. Data layers were developed that
corresponded to local nursing homes, schools, hospitals, day-care
centers, streets and highways, towns and cities, and county
boundaries. The model showed that 24 hours after the burn, the
smoke concentrations were substantially below the legal limit
of 50 micrograms per cubic meter except, as expected, directly
over the burn area. Also, the simulated smoke plume did not
drift over a sensitive receptor such as a nursing home, school,
of Californias most threatened ecologic systems is the Salton
Sea, an inland, 644-square-kilometer saline lake in the Sonoran
Desert of southeastern California. It was formed between 1905 and
1907 when the Colorado River burst through irrigation controls south
of Yuma, Arizona. Over the years, much water has evaporated, leaving
behind high concentrations of salt.
Preventing the seas
salinity level from rising is critical to the survival of many fish
and to hundreds of species of birds that eat the fish and that depend
on this oasis as a wetlands habitat. Livermore researchers have
been studying options to ensure that the sea has a ready supply
of fresh water. At the request of Congressman Duncan Hunter of Californias
52nd District, which includes a majority of the Salton Sea, the
researchers met with key stakeholders in May.
The Livermore research and
the presentation to stakeholders were aided by GIS maps of the sea
and the surrounding area. The many-layered maps created a virtual
overview of the area, with layers corresponding to canals, farmlands,
cities, power plants, rivers, and elevation.
|This geographic information
systems image shows the locations of historic nuclear tests
at the Nevada Test Site and the location of ground motion recording
stations. The large number of ground motion sites in the lower
right corresponds to the Las Vegas area.
Vegas on the Map
is playing a role in determining the seismic effects on Las Vegas
if the United States had to resume underground nuclear testing at
the Department of Energys Nevada Test Site (NTS). Livermore
engineer Dave McCallen is developing a computer model that shows
the structural responses of Las Vegas buildings, many of them highrises
constructed during the past decade. The models are based on ground
motion recorded by monitoring stations located throughout the area.
notes that Las Vegas, located some 90 kilometers from NTS, lies
in a sedimentary basin that traps and amplifies seismic waves. The
city has experienced dramatic growth since the United States last
conducted an underground nuclear test in 1992. Much of the growth
has occurred in the deepest part of the basin, where no monitoring
stations were sited and where the strongest ground motions might
be felt from an underground blast.
maps include the entire basin and extend to NTS. The maps contain
layers corresponding to streets, highways, railroads, fault lines,
geology, elevation, ground motion stations, buildings, locations
of past nuclear tests, and other features.
the GIS layers, we can see the relationship between geology and
a buildings structural response, says McCallen. By
mixing and matching the layers, we can understand a complex, large-scale
problem, visualize the data, and gain insight. Without GIS, it would
be difficult to get our hands around all of the data and explain
our findings in a meaningful way, especially to nontechnical people.
He notes that the research spinoff to Las Vegas residents is a better
understanding of the areas general seismic hazards, especially
from strong earthquakes centered in California.
|Comparison of the number of
roads in greater Las Vegas, Nevada, in 1990 and 2000 reveals
that significant growth occurred in the area. This image combines
three layers from the geographic information systems: roads,
elevation, and highways.
for Homeland Security
has proved itself to be well suited to projects involving international
and homeland security, especially when combined with modeling. Livermore
scientists have developed two prototype programs called BIOURBAN
and BIOBASE. Says Layton, We wanted to answer two driving
questions: Can we recreate the point of release and reasonably estimate
the population at risk from a clandestine bioagent release days
or weeks later on the basis of what happens to a few early victims?
And can we analyze a facilitys vulnerabilities to a chemical
or biological release and evaluate ways to reduce the effects of
is a Web-accessible GIS-based program designed to back-calculate
the point of origin of a clandestine biological release in an urban
area in the U.S. and determine the size of the population at risk.
The program reconstructs the probable time and location of biological
agent attack from information including the location of victims,
their activity patterns, the characteristics of the pathogenic organisms,
disease latency, and meteorological data.
contains data layers describing street and freeway networks, public
places such as large arenas and auditoriums, public buildings, schools,
hospitals, and mass transit systems. It can access meteorological
data and dispersion models such as those used at NARAC.
related prototype program, BIOBASE, is also Web-based. It is designed
to investigate the potential vulnerabilities of a military base
to chemical and biological agent attack and to evaluate alternative
operating methods that could minimize exposure after such attacks.
program uses GIS layers corresponding to roads, buildings, runways,
topography, military personnel by function, local people employed
on base, dependents, and citizens living in the surrounding area.
It contains a database of historic meteorological conditions and
a library of simulated plumes. The program also contains a database
of potential biological agents and their potency, known health effects,
time until onset of symptoms, medical intervention options, and
Information Sciences Is Advancing Many Fields
Although the field of computer-based geographic information
systems (GIS) is about 30 years old, examples in the
last 150 years predicted the utility of its powerful
modern versions. For example, more than 500 people,
all from the same section of London, died of cholera
within a 10-day period in September 1854. John Snow,
a local physician, constructed a map to show the distribution
of the disease. The map helped authorities to conclude
that the Broad Street water pump was linked to the outbreak.
By removing the pumps handle, they stopped the
By the early
1980s, advances in computer hardware had made GIS cost-effective
for many organizations. Today, GIS is growing rapidly
and used by many government organizations and businesses.
Some new cars are equipped with GIS and Global Positioning
Satellite tools that show the driver the vehicles
exact location or the best route to a selected destination.
GIS has its
origins in landscape architecture. It currently draws
upon several related disciplines including cartography,
cognitive science, computer science, engineering and
land surveying, biology, environmental sciences, geodetic
science (methods for determining precise positions on
Earths surface), and remote sensing. GIS applications
span many disciplines, including anthropology, sociology,
marketing, environmental science, health sciences, biology,
planning, history, geography, geology, and climatology.
use GIS to update property boundaries, site new schools
and parks, and calculate emergency response times and
plan the best access routes. Livermore GIS researchers
have worked with Californias Highway Patrol to
analyze highways with high accident rates. GIS is used
by businesses to identify potential markets and determine
where to locate new stores. U.S. military services rely
greatly on GIS tools because geography is an important
factor in military action, and analysts or commanders
can quickly see the effect of the terrain on possible
analyst Lynn Wilder notes that new GIS tools appear
every few months, thereby increasing the power and utility
of the discipline but making it difficult for analysts
to keep current. Increasingly, colleges are offering
GIS courses. Last fall, Wilder co-taught an introductory
course at Las Positas Community College, near the Laboratory.
She uses commercial software that takes at least two
years to master fully. Her colleague, Lee Neher, develops
software that permits users to manipulate their data
with customized graphical user interfaces.
Neher says that the fields GIS can address have no limit,
so long as data have an x or y coordinate. In that respect,
GIS works equally well on an area of 10 square kilometers
or 10 square millimeters. Livermore GIS researchers
have worked on maps of the entire world as well as maps
of small worlds of contaminants passing
through rock strata.
than 500 people, all from the same section of London,
died of cholera within a 10-day period in September 1854.
A map showing the distribution of the disease led authorities
to close the Broad Street water pump, an action that stopped
the epidemic. The map anticipated modern, vastly more
complex, GIS analyses.
is helping a growing number of Livermore researchers understand
and communicate their research data. Im very optimistic
about the possibilities of GIS, says Hall. At Livermore,
were only beginning to take advantage of its capabilities.
NARAC researcher Bradley says, GIS helps us to understand
the meaning and significance of our data. Without GIS, its
just a bunch of numbers or pretty plots.
Key Words: BIOBASE,
BIOURBAN, geographic information systems (GIS), Geographic Information
Sciences Center, National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center (NARAC),
Nevada Test Site (NTS), Salton Sea, Site 300, Tallgrass Prairie
For further information contact Charles H. Hall (925) 422-0922 (firstname.lastname@example.org).