Applications of GIS in Natural Resource Mapping


For management of natural resources, remote sensing and GIS are mainly used in the mapping process. These technologies can be used to develop a variety of maps including:

1.        Land cover maps

2.       Vegetation maps

3.       Soil maps

4.       Geology maps

However, before these maps are developed, there are a variety of data that need to be collected and analyzed. Most of these data are collected with the help of remote sensing as images. Data can also be collected throughor aerial ground photographs of the area of study. The choice of photograph usually depends on the topography of the area of study and the aim of the study. For instance, aerial photographs are always useful when spatial data need to be collected in the same area of study within intervals ranging from hours, through daysand  seasons, to years. This form of data collection shows the variations of the area of study within different periods of time. Satellite images can also be used to collect relevant data for the study. Satellite imagery are superior to aerial photographs in the sense that they have higher spectral, spatial, radiometric and temporal resolutions. Thus, satellite images are more detailed, providing a lot more data than photographs.  However, for remote sensing data to be effective, it needs to be incorporated together with topographical maps that show the variation of climate, soils, and other factors.

The visual and digital data that has been collected is usually analyzed to generate a pre-field map. Various components and elements of the data areanalyzed.  Elements such as tone, texture, pattern, association, size and shape are essential in the analysis process. These elements bring about a detailed view of the area of study. The pre-field map that has been generated together with the results from the analysis of the various elements is used to determine the characteristics of different elements and themes found on the ground.

Ground verification of the collected data is a critical process. To ensure that it is carried out in the most effective and efficient manner, the study area is usually divided into quadrants or transects. This is done to ensure that the interpreted elements of the satellite data conform to the ground characteristics. The data that is collected on the ground is geo-referenced with the help of a GPS to ensure that its corresponding location can be accurately identified in the images that were collected earlier. Additionally, field points identified in the images are visited to verify information regarding the state of the vegetation, geomorphology, topography, soils, and so on. With the use of the pre-field map that was generated, information from ground verification procedure and any other secondary source that might have been used, the final map is usually prepared. The scale of the map is also variable depending on the nature and extent of the study and the goals that it aims to achieve.

Application of GIS in Forest Mapping

Over the last century, the forest cover of the world has declined at an alarming rate. Being a renewable resource, forest cover can be regenerated through sustainable management. Hence, with the help of remote sensing and GIS data, a forest manager can generate information with regards to forest cover, types of forest present within the area of the study, human encroachment into forest land/protected areas, encroachment of desert like conditions and so on.

Application of GIS in Watershed Mapping

Water as a resource has been diminishing over the years. In Africa and other developing nations, the availability of clean water has always been scarce. Water management has therefore been a challenge in developing nations. However, with the use GIS technologies and satellite data, water bodies such as rivers, lakes, dams and reservoirs can be mapped in 3D. These maps can be used for the sustainable management of water bodies since concerned authorities can decide which regions need effective protection and management. At the same time, decisions regarding the most effective means of utilization of these regions can always be arrived at.

Application of GIS in Mapping Desertification

Geospatial data can be used to determine the soil types present in a given area and nutrient availability. Negative change can always be identified once this data is collected over a long period of time. GIS data can also be used to determine the land use practices within a given area and vegetation constitution and the impact that they have on the environment. Consequently, slope information of a region can also be determined with the use of GIS data. With all this information, an individual can easily determine whether desert like conditions are encroaching in an area. If desert like conditions are identified, its impacts and intensity can be analyzed in order to decide on whether artificial or natural methods shall be used to combat the situation.

Application of GIS in Mapping Biodiversity

Geospatial data can also be used in the mapping of flora and fauna within protected areas. Ground and aerial photographs, for instance, are essential in this practice. Aerial and satellite photographs can be used to determine the presence and distribution of vegetation within a protected area. These photos can also be used to determine the presence and distribution of invasive species within an ecosystem. This information is essential as it determines the amount of cover and food that is present, particularly for herbivores during various seasons of the year. Aerial photographs can be used to ease the process of counting during animal census activities. It is always essential for protected area managers to determine the population and distribution of various animal species within a protected area to ensure that they have enough food and water, to eliminate the chances of overstocking that might lead to soil erosion and to ensure that a balance within the ecosystem is arrived at. Geospatial data can also be used to show human encroachment into protected areas as well as animal activities outside protected areas. This data is critical especially in the process of resolving human/wildlife conflicts. Finally, the use of GPS technology can be applied to monitor the movement of endangered species as well as newly introduced species to determine their progress as well as protecting them from poachers. Finally, geospatial data can be used to carry out environmental impact assessment (EIA) of various projects carried out within protected areas. Projects such as road construction, buildings, laying of pipelines, dams, etc. might have various effects on the flora and fauna of the ecosystem. Thus, geospatial data has become essential in biodiversity management.

Notes & Handouts

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