You can turbocharge your water data management by including a geographical information system (GIS) in your toolkit! Your data analysis efficiency also gets a huge boost if your data management system includes a GIS system “out of the box” because you won’t have to manually transfer data to your GIS. All your data is seamlessly available in both systems.
Not all GIS packages are created equal, though. Here are some tips to consider when looking at mapping applications for your environmental data:
1) Confirm that integration is built-in and thorough
Mapping is easy when properly integrated with your environmental database. You should not need extra filters or add-on programs to visualize your data. Look for built-in availability of features, such as “click to map”, that take the guesswork and frustration out of mapping for meaningful results.
2) Check for formatting customization options
Look for easy editing tools to change the label colors, sizes, fonts, positioning, and symbols. Some map backgrounds make the default label styles hard to read and diminish the utility of the map, or if you’re displaying a large quantity of data, you’ll almost certainly need to tweak some display options to make these labels more readable.
3) Look for built-in contouring for quick assessment of the extent of the spatial impact
Contours can be a great way to visually interpret the movement of contaminants in groundwater and is a powerful visualization tool. In the example below, you can clearly see the direction the plume is heading and the source of the problem. An integrated GIS with a contouring engine lets you go straight from a data query to a contour map—without export to external contouring or mapping packages. This is great for quick assessments for your project team.
4) Look for something easy to use that doesn’t require staff with specialized mapping knowledge
Many companies use sophisticated and expensive mapping software for their needs. But the people running those systems are highly trained and often don’t have easy access to your environmental data. For routine data review and analysis, simple is better. Save the expensive, stand-alone GIS for wall-sized maps and complex regulatory reports.
Taking the next steps
After viewing some of the many visualization possibilities in this blog, the next step is make some maps happen!
- Make sure your environmental data system has integrated mapping options.
- Make sure your sampling/evaluation/monitoring locations have a consistent set of coordinates. If you have a mixed bag of coordinate systems, you will need to standardize. Otherwise, your maps will not be meaningful. Here are some options to try, as well as some good resource sites:
- Start with a few easy maps—and build from there.