School of the Environment-University of Toronto

GEM 402- Geospatial Technologies For Environmental Mapping With GIS


This course outlines the fundamentals of geographic coordinate systems and projections, content and layout topographic maps, map reading, interpretation and measurement, as well as using topographic maps as a base for thematic mapping. Aerial photographs, widely used in many environmental applications, are also discussed in detail. The course introduces different types of images, their specific features and their use for different applications.

COURSE DESCRIPTION Advances in imaging, computing and communication technologies led to acquisition of terabytes of geo-spatial data. Satellite and aerial imaging, global navigation and Web-GIS mapping, along with advanced computing for handling and processing geo-spatial information, are new technologies widely used in environmental studies. Ease of access to the data and user-friendly approach in software packages may lead to delusive conclusion about simplicity of making maps. Quite the contrary, striking advantages of these new technologies sometimes can befog the map-making process. The only solution is to apply complex, systematic approach to data acquisition and processing, based on fundamental geospatial concepts.

The aim of this course is to introduce fundamental concepts of geospatial information and their relationship in the light of GIS mapping for environmental studies. The course starts with and emphasizes on the nature of geospatial data, their acquisition and processing as the holistic process.

Geographic coordinate systems, projections and datum are vitally important for integration of different geospatial data, acquired with GIS, GPS and Remote Sensing technologies. The course introduces fundamentals of the subject and elaborates on details.

Topographic maps are the main source of accurate and detailed information about the Earth surface. These maps are used as the basis for many activities, starting form navigation and measurement until thematic environmental mapping. Content and layout of topographic maps, as well as techniques for reading, interpretation and measurement, are discussed in the course. Using topographic maps for 3-D environmental analysis is introduced in the third module.

Aerial photographs, widely used in many environmental applications, are also examined in detail. The course introduces techniques for acquisition of aerial photographs, their specific features and their use in different applications. The fifth module culminates into theoretical and practical aspects of visual image interpretation, which usually results into making a thematic map.

Collection of data and field measurements is another very common part in many environmental mapping projects. Basic techniques and instruments for planning such activities are introduced in the course in Module 5 with the emphasis on spatial data sampling.

Environmental studies often involves the use of Global Position System (GPS) both for navigational and mapping purposes, thus fundamentals of GPS and mobile mapping technologies are an inherent part of the course and discussed in Modules 6 and 7.

Thematic map making is closely related to another sub-discipline - cartography. The course introduces fundamentals of map design, specifically for thematic maps, which are complimenting any environmental study project. These topics are examined in Modules 8 and 9.

The course culminates on issues of integration of modern Web GIS, mobile technologies, and their impact on field works planning, data acquisition and proceedings for environmental mapping.

Through intensive practical exercises, students will have the opportunity to acquire hands-on experience in analysis and processing of different sources of geospatial information using ArcGIS package, with several specific extensions, popular in environmental applications. Other software for fieldwork planning and mobile mapping with GPS is also used for practical exercises and assignments (Note: no fieldwork is needed to complete this course).

The overall goal of this course is developing student confidence in interoperability of geospatial methods and technologies for assessment, mapping and monitoring of environmental resources.

Upon successful completion of the course material, the student should be able to:

  • Understand fundamental geospatial concepts and their relationship
  • Use topographic maps along or as a basement for thematic mapping in their environmental studies
  • Have the ability to recognize and interpret objects on aerial photographs
  • Design and create artistically aesthetic and technically sound thematic maps, using fundamental cartographic concepts and map design principles
  • Apply different sampling techniques depending on goals of study
  • Understand principles of GPS and mobile mapping and its applicability for environmental studies
  • Have the ability to discuss complicity of issues related to integration of geospatial data, techniques and methods for applied environmental studies


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