GIS eBook: GIS, Environmental Modeling and Engineering

Working with GIS and environmental simulation models is not just a case of buying some hardware, some software, gathering some data, putting it all together and solving problems with the wisdom of a sage. While technology has simplified many things, there still remain many pitfalls, and users need to be able to think critically about what they are doing and the results that they get from the technology. Thus, the overall aim of this book is to provide a structured, coherent text that not only introduces the subject matter, but also guides the reader through a number of specific issues necessary for critical usage. 

This book is aimed at final-year undergraduates, postgraduates, and professional practitioners in a range of disciplines from the natural sciences, social sciences to engineering, at whatever stage in their lifelong learning or career they need or would like to start working with GIS and environmental models. The focus is on the use of these two areas of technology in tandem and the issues that arise in so doing. This book is less concerned with the practicalities of software development and the writing of code.  Nor does it consider in detail data collection technologies, such as remote sensing, GPS, data loggers, and so on, as there are numerous texts that already cover this ground.

All decisions (including the decision not to make a decision) should be adequately evidenced using appropriate sources of information. This is perhaps stating the obvious, but how often, in fact, is there insufficient information, a hunch, or a gut feeling? GIS, environmental modeling, and engineering are an approach to generating robust information upon which to make decisions about complex spatial issues. The subject matter is laid out in three sections. Section I concentrates uniquely on GIS: what they are, how data are structured, what are the most common types of functionality. GIS will be viewed from the perspective of
a technology, the evolution of its scientific basis, and, latterly, its synergies with other technologies within a geocomputational paradigm. This is not intended to be an exhaustive introduction as there are now many textbooks that do this as well as edited handbooks. 

Rather, its purpose is to lay a sufficient foundation of GIS for an understanding of the substantive issues raised in Section III. Section II similarly focuses on modeling both from a neutral scientific perspective of its role in simulating and understanding phenomena and from a more specific perspective of environmental science and engineering. Section III is by far the largest. It looks at how GIS and simulation modeling are brought together, each adding strength to the other. There are examples of case studies and chapters covering specific issues, such as interoperability,data quality, model validity, space-time dynamics, and decision-support systems. Those readers who already have a substantial knowledge of GIS or have completed undergraduate studies in GIS may wish to skip much of Section I and move quickly to Sections II and III. Those readers from a simulation modeling background in environmental science or engineering should read Section I, skim through Section II, and proceed to Section III. 

In a book such as this, it is always possible to write more about any one topic; there are always additional topics that a reader might consider should be added. There are, for example, as many environmental models as there are aspects of the environment. GIS, environmental modeling, and engineering are quite endless and are themselves evolving. Also, I have tried not to focus on any one application of simulation modeling. Given its popularity, there is a temptation to focus on GIS and hydrology, but that would detract from the overall purpose of this book, which is to focus on generic issues of using GIS an external simulation models to solve real problems. Presented in the following chapters is what I consider to be a necessary understanding for critical thinking in the usage of such systems and their analytical outputs.

Author: Allan Brimicombe.  Published: 2010.
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