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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Steven Walters
ESS 490
Seattle Campus

Special Topics

Class description

This course provides an introduction to the use of geographic information systems (GIS) in the geologic sciences. We begin by covering the fundamentals of GIS, including the way spatial data are represented and stored, the software tools available, and some of the fundamental methods of analysis. This introduction will also include some of the theoretical aspects of GIS. The bulk of the course will then explore various geological applications of GIS. Topics include discussion of imported data for GIS analysis, introductions to analyses of topography and hydrologic flow, geologic mapping and analysis, and a brief overview of other geomorphologic phenomena for which GIS analyses can serve as a useful if not essential tool.

The practical nature of GIS usage means that this course will be very hands-on in structure, with in- and outside-class computer lab activities comprising the bulk of the instruction. Lectures and in-class discussions will also cover significant aspects of the course content. Course activities will consist of a number of lab exercises related to each week’s topics, midterm and final exams, and an independent class project. Collectively these activities will help students to become comfortable in the skills necessary to perform spatial analyses for a wide range of geologic problems and questions.

Student learning goals

Gain a fundamental understanding of geospatial analysis principles and techniques

Have a basic understanding or better of spatial and tabular data used in GIS

Know the basics of using ArcGIS software (ArcMap, ArcCatalog, ArcToolbox)

Be able to perform essential data manipulations, analyses and graphical presentation skills, particularly with respect to geologic data

Learn of some key sources for geologic spatial data sets – including how they are collected as well as where some data repositories can be found – and sources and types of uncertainties therein

Have a basic understanding of some of the fundamental uses of GIS in the geological sciences

General method of instruction

two ~1.5-hour lecture and discussion sessions, and two ~2-hour computer laboratory sessions, per week

Recommended preparation

Students are expected to have reasonable competence working with MS Windows and Office (particularly Word and Excel), since much of the work in the course will entail using these platforms. (Other software frameworks will be introduced in the course).

It is helpful if students have taken basic geology/earth science courses (e.g., ESS 101, 201, 211), but these are not pre-requisites. Additionally, though some background in earth sciences will be helpful for some course content, the focus of instruction is on applying GIS to geological, geomorphological and hydrological phenomena; thus, much of the necessary background will be included in the course itself.

Class assignments and grading

Seven computer lab assignments will be assigned on a roughly weekly basis; these consist of hands-on tutorial exercises designed to familiarize the students with key techniques, data types and software tools used in GIS. Additionally, students will complete a class project on a topic of their choosing (with the instructor's assistance as needed).


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Steven Walters
Date: 12/01/2011