Data of natural disasters

Transactions in GIS
December 4, 1998

Transactions in GIS, published since 1996, is an international journal with editors based in Europe, North America and Australasia. More importantly, it includes a wide range of topics related to Geographical Information Systems, from the computational advances in GIS through to the practical application of the data.

Particular issues are introduced by a guest editorial, often on the themes of technology or data policy. A good example is B. Buttenfield's contribution "Why don't we do it on the web?" which is a pithy discussion of the distribution of geographic information on the web. This summarises the current problems facing anyone working with spatial information which arise from the nature of the data (the data sets are huge), the policies on information access (which vary by country) and the behaviour of scientists (rather territorial). These themes are also addressed more extensively in other articles which appear periodically in the journal.

Technological innovations in computing have been a recurring theme in the journal, and one whole issue has been dedicated to this area. Although these selected papers on "Geocomputation and GIS" (as it is referred to by S. Fotheringham, G. Clarke and B. Abrahrt) were first presented at a conference, this subject is reported in Transactions in GIS. This is an effective means of disseminating information about the latest technology to a wider readership.

Many of the GIS applications reported in the journal are those that fall under the remit of physical geography. These range from the theoretical research and modelling techniques to those that have developed a more applied approach. The vital element in all these articles is that they are well constructed and the analysis is clear. An excellent example is that of "Biophysical aggregations of a forested landscape using an ecological diagnostic system" by J. Coughlan and S. Running, who describe their current work on two river catchments using artificial intelligence.

The more applied articles such as those of J. Wang, S. Wise and R. Haining who report their Anglo-Chinese research, "An integrated realisation of earthquake, flood and drought hazards in China", show how GIS can be used to assess areas at risk from natural disasters. However, given the catastrophic flooding in China in the summer of 1998, it is clear that while such applications of GIS have enormous potential to highlight vulnerable areas, we are still a long way from being able to use this information in a practical way.

One outstanding article is "GIS and people with visual impairments or blindness: exploring the potential for education, orientation and navigation" by D.R. Jacobson and R.M. Kitchin. This is interesting conceptually because GIS has traditionally been a means of displaying spatial data on a screen (or a visual medium). In this case, the authors used the GIS to provide information of different scales and perspectives and transformed this into large-scale simplified maps on a web-based tool (with a simplified graphical user interface) for the partially-sighted and audio-tactile maps for blind people. Although this aid is still at the pilot stage, it is one of the few GIS applications reported in the journal which really can improve the quality of people's lives on a day-to-day basis.

A further theme which has been deemed worthy of its own issue, is that of GIS in education. The argument is that GIS can and should be used in all levels of education. Since the use of GIS is now established as a means of data analysis for industry and research it is argued that training in its use should be incorporated into the education system to complement other skills learned under the heading of geography.

Transactions in GIS balances a mix of geographical application and modelling studies with the computing concerns which affect GIS users. This journal is a valuable source of topical information on GIS for those in industry and research as well as for students studying in any of the GIS related fields.

Anna Corlyon is principal engineer, VEGA Group.

Transactions in GIS

Author - Anna Corlyon
Editor - John P. Wilson, A. Stewart Fotheringham and Pip Forer
ISBN - ISSN 1361 1682
Publisher - Blackwell
Price - £60.00 (individuals) and £175.00 (institutions.)

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