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2020 BTAA GIS Conference

The 2020 BTAA GIS Conference has concluded.

The 2020 Conference was held on November 13th and featured presentations, social hours, career networking, a map contest, a geo-trivia night, and an Open Humanitarian Mapathon. It also highlighted GIS educational programs across the BTAA.


GIS Day Trivia Night

Thursday, November 12th, 2020 6:30 EST / 5:30 CST

Raechel Portelli (Moderator), Michigan State University

Come out and put your pub trivia knowledge to the test! The MSU SWIG group will be hosting trivia in honor of Geography Awareness Week. We'll play two rounds of traditional pub trivia covering a myriad of geography topics and pop culture!


Friday, November 13, 2020 10:00 - 11:30 am EST / 9:00 - 10:30 am CST

Humanities and Social Sciences

  1. Shaking Up Small Business: The Impact of Seismic Retrofitting on Small Businesses in 3 San Francisco Supervisor Districts

    Lauren Ashley Week, University of Michigan, San Francisco Office of Small Business

    In 2013, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors established the Mandatory Seismic Retrofit Program. Requiring all ‘softstory’ buildings – defined as structures with ‘soft’ wall lines – to seismically reinforce their ground floors, the law is an example of proactive environmental resiliency planning. However, the legally sanctioned passthrough of capital improvement costs onto commercial tenants has resulted in an unintended consequence: extreme rent burden. I will spatially analyze the impact of mandatory seismic retrofitting on small businesses across three San Francisco Supervisor Districts: 1, 2, and 5, each of which represent different median income levels for my comparison. I gain further detail on the Program’s impact by comparing commercial census tracts (where clusters of businesses exist) within the districts.

  2. Mapping Prejudice: Cartographic Activism and Primary Sources

    Ryan Mattke, Map & Geospatial Information Librarian and Head of the John R. Borchert Map Library, University of Minnesota

    Mapping Prejudice is mobilizing people of all ages and backgrounds to map racial covenants. Racial covenants are legal clauses in property deeds that barred people who were not white from buying or even occupying certain parcels of land. The project has developed an innovative methodology to map these covenants while catalyzing community conversations. The result is a digital, interactive map. The process of making that map ‒ and the dataset that undergirds it ‒ has proven a powerful vehicle for social change. Those who contribute to the map are forced to confront structural racism. Covenants are irrefutable examples of racially discriminatory practices. Engagement with these documents drives participants to identify systems-level solutions to contemporary housing problems. In addition to this mobilization, the map and the dataset are invaluable resources for policymakers and researchers who want to demonstrate how structural racism perpetuates inequalities. This talk will describe the project and its methods, cartographic and otherwise, and the social progress made, so far, toward a more honest future.

  3. Homegoing: The Technology of Living Spatial Data and Black Public Mourning in the Age of COVID-19

    Dr. Kim Gallon, Associate Professor of History, Purdue University

    This project is a spatial visualization of COVID-19 mortality data based on race. It tells the story of systemic inequality and health disparities in the pandemic. However, the map also recovers the humanity of Black Americans who have died from the coronavirus. Overall, the map acts a site of grief and mourning.

  4. Twitter Data for Social Science Research

    Guangqing Chi, Pennsylvania State University

    The skyrocketing growth of social media data provide significant opportunities to study social problems and advance social sciences. In comparison to traditional survey and census-based data collection that is expensive and labor intensive to conduct, Twitter offers one of the newest, most rapidly growing, and accessible Big Data streams and has drawn interest from disciplines such as computer science, transportation planning, urban studies, public health, and behavioral science. As the data are generated from a massive group of individuals across the globe in real time, Twitter data have great potential for understanding various population dynamics. However, as evidenced in many existing studies, the use of Twitter data suffers from their mis-representativeness of the population and we know little about the characteristics of the users, such as the composition of demographic and complex user behaviors. This presentation will introduce Twitter data, evaluate their biases, discuss the usefulness of Twitter data for social science research, and introduce the Twitter data resources and capacity at the Computational and Spatial Analysis Core of the Pennsylvania State University.

Agriculture and Natural Sciences

  1. Understanding the Disturbance of Human Recreation on Wildlife using Multiple Dynamic Agents within an IBM Framework

    Soraida Garcia, Purdue University

    Human recreation within outdoor landscapes is growing, and the extent and intensity of the impact of such activities upon the wildlife are increasing. The presence of humans may increase risk averse behavior by wildlife, restricting the access of wildlife to essential resources. Understanding the impacts of recreating humans upon wildlife is a complex challenge that is dependent upon the wildlife species and human activity types. This can be improved by combining results from empirical studies with simulation models to extrapolate mechanisms and investigate their implications. We developed an IBM modeling framework, that enables both dynamic virtual human and wildlife agents to change their actions based upon their state as a consequence of their interactions with their environment and other virtual agents. We use this framework to model the disturbance of birds, in the Lawrence Creek Forest Unit (LCFU), IN, by human recreation. We parameterize the model with human recreation data collected through an intercept survey of recreationists and bird data from published studies. By incorporating GIS mapping, we are able to simulate various scenarios of alternative trail spatial configurations. Our results indicate that birders influence the rates of disturbance of birds and the energy provided to nesting birds. Interestingly, simulations with imposed static human behavior rather than dynamic human agents estimated a much lower impact of birders on the disturbance of birds. This comparison illustrates the value of simulating human and wildlife agents in dynamic ways and demonstrates a better approach to understanding the conflicts between human recreation and wildlife.

  2. Deforestation in the Agricultural Landscape: Impacts on Water Quality in Indiana

    Shourish Chakravarty, Yangyang Wang, Mo Zhou, Purdue University

    Indiana is primarily an agricultural state with about half of its land utilized for growing crops, mostly in the northern region. High concentrations of nitrogen, phosphorus, and pesticide residues due to agricultural runoff not only deteriorate the quality of surface and ground water within the state, but also contribute to pollutions as far as in the Gulf of Mexico. Forests in this intensive agricultural landscape, therefore, play a pivotal role in reducing runoff and purifying water, especially in areas with high hydrogeologic and aquifer sensitivity. In this study, we quantified changes in forest cover between 2008 and 2018 in Indiana and estimated their impacts on water quality. Cropland Data Layer, a crop-specific land cover data based on satellite imagery and ground truth, was used to obtain information of land use change for the study region. It is found that although the total forest area has remained relatively unchanged, there have been some significant reductions in forest cover around farmlands in the north. We applied the InVEST Water Purification Nutrient Retention model to estimate the impacts on water purification attributed to such changes. The model used, in addition to the land cover data, other geospatial datasets and user-defined nutrient export and filtration coefficients to estimate pixel-level nutrient export and retention magnitudes. They were then aggregated to 10-digit watershed boundaries, enclosed within Indiana.

  3. Assessing soybean stands with sUAS

    Richard, M, Smith, Shaun Casteel, Purdue University

    An economically important task to be completed shortly after soybean emergence is to ensure that there is an adequate plant population to obtain a profitable grain yield. Early detection of poor emergence and replanting decisions are critical for maximizing profit because grain yield decreases as planting is delayed. The objective of this research is to determine the ability of sUAS to assess soybean emergence as it relates to optimal plant population and growth stage. Large-scale field studies (~20 ha) were established at 4 locations in Indiana. Two commercially popular varieties of soybean with differing relative maturity were planted at 5 seeding rates (123,500, 247,000, 370,000, 494,000, 617,500 seeds ha-1). These treatments were arranged in a randomized complete block design with 3 to 5 replications. Aerial imagery was collected at two altitudes with a RGB (red, green, blue) camera equipped to a sUAS at multiple stages throughout the crops vegetative growth. Targeted sampling locations were selected using LiDAR derived terrain maps. Targeted sample imagery was collected at low altitude (< 22 m), where transects were flown perpendicular to the plot direction, collecting subsamples (4 to 5 images) of each plot. These images were co-registered to whole-field orthomosaics which were constructed from high altitude flights (>75 m). Each target subsample location was ground referenced to determine actual plant population. Imagery of locations with known plant populations were subjected to processing then used for comparing canopy coverage values from low altitude (<22 m) and greater altitude (>75 m) aerial imagery to evaluate the importance of spatial resolution in assessing soybean plant population with a RGB sensor.

  4. Development of soil and land cover databases for hydrologic modeling in Arequipa, Peru

    Fariborz Daneshvar, Jane Frankenberger, Laura Bowling, Keith Cherkauer, Johann Alexander Vera Mercado, Purdue University Martin Juan C. Villalta Soto, Universidad Nacional de San Agustin

    Spatially complete GIS data sets of land cover and soil properties are needed to effectively run hydrologic models such as the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT). However, data suitable for SWAT simulations, which requires a detailed set of properties by layer for the entire area of interest, are not readily available in many regions around the world. In this study, GIS maps and databases needed for the ArcSWAT, the ArcGIS interface of SWAT, were developed for the Peruvian Andes region. Soil maps that lacked detailed layer-based properties were combined with point soil profile information in an innovative method that defined soil classes based on a combination of two maps of soil taxonomy and suitability. Through this process, 172 soil classes were mapped, with 15 properties set for each class. For the land cover dataset, maps of land cover exist for the region, but required properties based on Andes vegetation were not available. Therefore regional climate maps and remotely sensed satellite data were used to estimate parameters such as the maximum leaf area index that controls the seasonal cycle of local vegetation. Spatially complete GIS data for estimated physical properties of soil and land cover classes will be posted on the Purdue University Research Repository (PURR) as a freely available resource to support hydrologic modeling in Arequipa, Peru.

GIS Infrastructure

  1. A quick tour of our Nation's Geodetic Infrastructure

    Jeff Jalbrzikowski, Ohio State University

    Join the National Geodetic Survey’s (NGS) Appalachian Regional Advisor Jeff Jalbrzikowski, P.S., GISP, CFS, as he provides a glimpse into our nation’s geodetic infrastructure, the framework that makes efficient GIS analysis possible. Jeff will review NAD83 and NAVD88, along with NGS’s plans to replace them both with new datums in a few years, and discuss some of the other elements of the National Spatial Reference System (NSRS).

  2. GIS in Interesting Times: An ArcGIS Enterprise Deployment by Purdue University Physical Facilities

    Anna C Burman, Angela Slocum, Mark Hickman, Dean Romack, Purdue University

    Purdue’s Physical Facilities deployed ArcGIS Enterprise beginning in April 2020. Campus disruptions from COVID-19 forced us to pivot quickly to a remote installation. The learning curve associated with that pivot illustrated where our planning went well and where we needed to improve. GIS has a two decade history at Purdue Facilities. GIS platforms have ranged from Bentley Geographics to ESRI ArcMap. Support and approval to move to ArcGIS Enterprise required collaboration with our IT partners and senior leadership to complete a return on investment (ROI) exercise and project charter. The outcomes of both set our project priorities and expectations. That focus allowed us to identify specific potential cost savings. Since deployment, ROI priorities and the project charter continue to lead development. Our primary objectives are improving data management, GIS content accessibility and reducing technical debt. As a result, we provide more efficient and effective stewardship of facilities assets. Our analysts have been working since July 2020 to build our ArcGIS Portal, create and manage Portal user groups, and create content and resources for the campus community. They serve as de facto educational and PR contacts for our growing number of users while furthering ongoing campus operations. Purdue University is Indiana’s land grant university. The work we do maintains its lands, facilities and infrastructure. Thorough planning enabled us to support Purdue’s needs in unprecedented circumstances. The process has been exhilarating and a privilege.

  3. Campus Waste Map - A Web of Connections

    Travis Blomberg, University Of Wisconsin - Madison

    Time's running out on UW-Madison to reach its zero waste goal. To accelerate UW-Madison's efforts, the Office of Sustainability created a living "Campus Waste Map" with its Waste & Recycling division in order to manage its material collection assets, optimize route collection, and inform campus decision makers. Armed with smartphones and the ArcGIS Collector app, the field team pinpointed the location of various types collection containers and inputted data into the nearly 30 fields. The data from Collector is synced to the ArcGIS Online Map. The Waste & Recycling division adopted this platform to utilize and operationalize its campus collection efforts. Managerially, this map provides new insight into communication efforts to support the zero waste mission.

  4. Dimensions of Poverty in Midwestern States

    Andrey V. Zhalnin, Lionel J. Beaulieu, Indraneel Kumar, Benjamin St. Germain, Center for Regional Development, Purdue University Yong J. Kim, Korea Environment Institute

    In our presentation, we demonstrate the GIS application of a collaborative research effort by the Purdue University’s Center for Regional Development and Department of Agricultural Economics, and USDA’s Economic Research Service. The project studied individual, family, and neighborhood characteristics that enabled households to come out of the poverty trap. The research needed temporal data on poverty and socioeconomic characteristics that were spatially harmonized to account for changes in the sub-county geographies since 1970s. The Purdue research team used crosswalks developed by Brown University and filled-in the spatial data for un-tracted rural areas for 1970 and 1980 to develop a consistent GIS database for five decades. This effort resulted in approximately 72,000 spatially harmonized tracts in the U.S., and 17,000 tracts across the 12 states of the North Central Region for the 1970-2016 time period. The “Dimensions of Poverty” interactive website – comprised of charts and maps –serves 12 states that comprise the North Central Region. The story map presents key demographic and economic data including harmonized poverty variables and displays areas of high and persistent poverty in the region. The web-based reports analyze three dimensions of poverty (high poverty, persistent poverty and child poverty) and present data in concise and visually rich way. The Story Map is being explored by various federal, state, and regional agencies in Indiana and beyond to make informed decisions pertaining to economic development.


11:30 - 11:50 EST / 10:30 - 10:50 CST


11:50 - 12:30 EST / 10:50 - 11:30 CST

  1. What is geodesy and why is it important to you?

    Jeff Jalbrzikowski, Ohio State University

    Join the National Geodetic Survey’s (NGS) Appalachian Regional Advisor Jeff Jalbrzikowski, P.S., GISP, CFS, for a lightning talk on geodesy and why utilizing modern datums is important for all geospatial professionals.

  2. Impact of Emerald Ash Borer and Forest Structure on Understory Plant Invasion

    Jessica M. Elliott, Elizabeth LaRue, Songlin Fei, Purdue University; Joey Gallion, Indiana Department of Natural Resources

    As the impact of insect pests, invasive shrubs and habitat fragmentation continues to grow, so too does the need for a comprehensive method of characterizing the health of Indiana forests. My research takes advantage of GIS, remote sensing, and Big Data to address a critical environmental issue. More specifically, I utilize a combination of ArcGIS mapping software, aerial light detection and ranging (LiDAR) and Continuous Forest Inventory (CFI) ground data to assess the potential impacts of Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis) and forest structure on understory plant invasion. ArcGIS allowed for the selection and visualization of forest ash (Fraxinus spp.) plots across Indiana, and along with statewide continuous LiDAR and plot level CFI data, I created a comprehensive image of the forested landscape. My preliminary results illustrated that taller and more heterogeneous canopies are related to lower invasive species richness and potentially show some degree of biotic resistance. Future research will focus on using the spatial capabilities offered by ArcGIS in tandem with the quantitative analyses that can be performed with LiDAR and CFI metrics to detect landscape-level invasive response. Unique structural changes can be measured with the two LiDAR time points with the goal of enhancing our understanding of the way invasion can alter or be altered by the spatial arrangement of a canopy.

  3. Geospatial analysis of light pollution and house vacancy during the COVID-19 outbreak

    Qing Su, Jie Shan, Purdue University

    The outbreak of COVID-19 has caused various socioeconomic changes in the country, especially in metropolitan cities. One effective information source that can reveal such changes is the NASA nighttime light (NTL) data product that has daily update at a spatial resolution of 500 m. This study uses the seasonal-trend-decomposition procedure to analyze the light pollution time series deviations in Chicago. Another utility of NTL data product is the calculation of house vacancy rate (HVR) in combination with land cover data. The estimated HVR is compared with the statistical HVR data from US Census Bureau for validation. Through this study, we found out that the light pollution change since COVID-19 outbreak was successfully modeled by the seasonal-trend-decomposition procedure and the estimated HVR was strongly correlated with the Census statistical data before and after the outbreak. Such results reflect the overall decreased trend of light pollution generated by less human nocturnal activities, due to the stay-at-home order. In Chicago, the light pollution increases during the first two months of 2020 (up to 15.3% in the same month compared with 2019), but sharply decreases in March (12% decrease in the same month compared with 2019), and slightly goes up in the second quarter. Also, the residential real estate market at a metropolitan city level is less energetic due to COVID-19.

  4. Managing GIS student engagement projects: a sustainable approach

    Tara Anthony, Penn State University

    This talk will focus on geospatial project management aspects helpful for working remotely with undergraduate student employees. Aspects of geospatial projects regarding planning, communication, and organization will be highlighted for application to other settings, such as research units, group projects, and/or internship/employment opportunities. Examples are from the Donald W. Hamer Center for Maps and Geospatial Information at Penn State University Libraries.

  5. Using cell phone data to track social distancing during COVID-19 pandemic: the case of Chicago

    Yujia Zhu, Jie Shan, Purdue University

    Since the coronavirus pandemic began spreading across the US, government and public health officials have implemented social distancing guidelines to reduce the rate of infection. As the pandemic rages on, publicly available cell phone data is being used to analyze how practicing social distancing indicates the rise and spread of COVID-19. This research uses SafeGraph publicly available cell phone data to show the trends of social activities in the City of Chicago. By visualizing and spatial analyzing the social distancing trends of different regions in Chicago and the growth of COVID-19 positive cases, the associations between these two are found and discussed.

  6. Building Apps for Equity and Social Justice: Mapping the Black Lives Matter Movement

    Frank Romo, University of Michigan

    Mapping the Black Lives Matter Movment is our team’s attempt to document this historic moment and engage with users on a personal level to advance the conversation of race and policing in this country. This project is one part of a larger engaged research project by RomoGIS entitled Race and Policing in America which examines how people of color and entire communities are affected by over-policing, criminalization and mass incarceration. The goal of this project is to highlight the power of our communities and demonstrate the collective power we have to overcome injustice. Our team hopes to continue developing this product and create new applications in the coming months that will address key issues in our communities and provide activists with additional resources in their fight for justice. The newly released BLM-Map includes data of over 4,000 protests locations, over 100 contested statue locations, and almost 100 new BLM murals around the world making it one of the most comprehensive maps of the Black Lives Matter movement to date. This presentation will discuss how we crowdsourced data and built tools to create a real-time application documenting the various protests and demonstrations across the country.


12:30 – 2:00 EST / 11:30 - 1:00 CST

KEYNOTE: Spatial Data Science: Turning Big Spatial Data to Timely Action.

2:00 - 3:20 pm EST / 1:00 - 2:20 pm CST

Space and time are essential dimensions for a wide spectrum of challenges we face, ranging from redesigning health infrastructure during pandemics to driving precision agriculture under climate change. Modern developments in GIS can integrate vast amounts and types of space-time data, enabling an interconnected nervous system for our planet. The increased quantity and diversity of data sources pose both challenges and opportunities for this connection. Harnessing the power of this nervous system requires connecting it to intelligent systems that can reveal critical patterns and relationships to guide decisions that shape our future. Spatial data science paves the path for multidisciplinary spatial problem solving to transform big spatial data into deep understanding with modern spatial machine learning. Spatial data science is essential for sophisticated to understand “the where” and the “the when” to make decisions about “the how”. ESRI's platform fuses state-of-the-art GIS technologies for mapping and spatial analysis with established open-source technologies. This keynote will showcase components of modern GIS as the central system for understanding our planet. Components of the ESRI ecosystem will be elaborated for ways in which it can be utilized for large scale spatial data science.

Dr. Orhun Aydin, Senior Researcher, Esri

Orhun Aydin is a senior researcher in ESRI's Spatial Statistics team and a Lecturer in the Spatial Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California. His role at ESRI includes conducting applied and theoretical research into space-time explicit machine learning methods, as well as serving as the product engineer for the R integration of ArcGIS, namely the R-ArcGIS Bridge. At USC, Orhun teaches courses on spatial and spatio-temporal statistics. His academic work focuses on quantifying spatio-temporal uncertainty Earth system characterization and numerical optimization for disaster response. He holds a MSc and a PhD from the Stanford School of Earth Sciences.

Invited Presentations

The BTAA Geospatial Data Project & Geoportal

Karen Majewicz, University of Minnesota

Join our Project Manager/Metadata Coordinator for a tour of the BTAA Geoportal. Find out what it is, what you can find in it, and why you should use it!

5 forces 5 trends 5 skills – in GIS

Dr. Joseph Kerski, Education Manager, Esri

Joseph Kerski, geographer, focuses on GIS in education. Joseph gave a TED Talk on “The Whys of Where”. He holds 3 geography degrees and has served in government (NOAA, Census, USGS), academia, industry (Esri Education Manager), and nonprofit (President of the National Council for Geographic Ed, others). He has authored 75 chapters & articles and visits 35 universities annually. He conducts professional development, writes curriculum, and speaks internationally. He created 5,000 videos, 750 lessons, 1,000 blog essays, podcasts, columns (Spatial Reserves), and 8 books, including Interpreting Our World. As a lifelong learner, he actively seeks mentors, partnerships, and collaborators.

Geoawareness, geoenablement, geotechnologies, citizen science, and storytelling are combining to bring the GIS community to a pivotal moment. How can these forces, along with 5 key trends in GIS, transform how our world moves through this decade? What are the 5 skills that are most needed as you plan your own pathway through this decade? Join Geographer Joseph Kerski for a lively discussion and demonstrations as we reflect on the progress the geotechnology community has made and the challenges that remain through 5 forces, 5 trends, and 5 skills.


3:20 – 3:30 pm EST / 2:20 – 2:30 pm CST


3:30 – 4:30 pm EST / 2:30 – 3:30 pm CST

Social Hour: GIS Education Programs in Big Ten

Coordinator Nathan Piekielek, Penn State University

Featured programs: * Online Geospatial Programs, Penn State * Geodesign, Penn State * B.S. GIS, University of Minnesota-Duluth * Master of Geographic Information Science, University of Minnesota * Graduate Certificate in GIS, Purdue * Geodata Science for Professionals, Purdue * Online Spatial Data Science Certificate, Purdue

Social Hour: GIS Career Discussion

Coordinator: Josh Sadvari, Ohio State University

Invited panelists: * Andy King-Scribbins: Strategic advisor, Esri. * Joseph Kerski: Education manager, Esri. * Everett Root: State of Michigan. * Tim Lauxmann: State of Michigan. * Paul Turner-Smith: Indiana Geographic Information Council. * Diana S. Sinton: Executive Director, University Consortium for Geographic Information Science

For more references about GIS career, visit a recent GIS career panel video hosted by Wisconsin Land Information Association (WLIA) .


3:45 – 5:30 pm EST / 2:45 – 4:30 pm CST

Open Humanitarian Street Mapping Mapathon

Celebrate GIS Day by participating in a humanitarian mapping project, no GIS experience needed! Join us in creating map data to aid a humanitarian project. There will be someone on hand to answer questions and help get you started. For more information see the HTOSM main page:

BTAA GIS Conference 2020 Planning Committee

  • Nicole Kong (Chair), Associate Professor, GIS Specialist, Purdue University,
  • Milan Budhathoki, Geospatial Librarian, University of Maryland,
  • Danny Dotson, Mathematical Sciences Librarian & Science Education Specialist, Ohio State University,
  • Caroline Kayko, Map and Geospatial Data Librarian, University of Michigan,
  • Shirley Li, GIS Analyst, Purdue University,
  • Jaime Martindale, Map and Geospatial Data Librarian, University of Wisconsin,
  • Laura Kane McElfresh, Cartographic Metadata Librarian, University of Minnesota,
  • Nathan Piekielek, Geospatial Services Librarian and Associate Professor of Geography, Penn State University,
  • Josh Sadvari, Geospatial Information Librarian, Ohio State University,
  • Nicole Scholtz, Spatial and Numeric Data Librarian, University of Michigan,
  • Cecilia Smith, GIS and maps Librarian, University of Chicago,
  • Amanda Tickner, GIS Specialist, Michigan State University,
  • Wenjie Wang, GIS Specialist, University of Illinois,