Study On GIS And Polar Regions Computer Science Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Geographic Information System is a very powerful technology used for many applications, such as; producing maps and making really accurate geographic models. Some of the roles of GIS are to; organize the data so that the user can select the topics that are specific to his project. For example, if a user decides to use a thematic map that allows him or her to, add layers of information of a real world location. An example of that can be an analyst who might use a base map of Toronto, Ontario, and download dataset from the Canadian Government, and add layers to show population, people's age and income level. There are many GIS programs out there, but a good program can gather geographic data files from many different sources and combine them into a geographic map. Many nations have a lot of great geographic data that can be analyzed and often companies such as Google Inc. making the GIS models public. There is many ways of obtaining the geographical information, you can download such data files from government agencies, as well going out into the field and collecting the data from surveying the land, or using remote sensing technology. Mostly all of the GIS maps are interactive, analyst can zoom in or out, change the direction of the map, or even change the information that the map is containing. Analyst making a map can also choose weather he or she want the public to see roads, how many roads to see, and how many roads should be shown. There are many purposes that GIS is used for some are designed to perform really difficult tasks such as calculations for tracking storms or predicting changes of the polar ice.

How is GIS used with relation to Polar Research, CIS

Many agencies use GIS in many different ways, one of them is monitoring the changes of the Polar Regions. Agencies such as CIS (Canadian Ice Service), NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and NIWA (National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research), ect, have been monitoring the polar ice regions using sophisticated software as well as instruments, and equipment like satellites, boats, and airplanes. These agencies have been interested as to how exactly monitor the changes of the ice caps until the GIS came into play. Geographic Information System lets them take pictures periodically and compare them with the individually to see any changes in area covered by ice. Recently the Canadian Ice Service started to model the ice sheets using DEM (Digital Evaluation Model) which is designed to work with remote sensing technology to provide user with a three dimensional model of the ice sheets, with regards to the remote sensing some land surveying is also used with it to provide even more accurate computer sketches, maps, and three dimensional models. Some of the software used to map this spatial data is ArcGIS, and ArcGIS 3D. ArcGIS constructs a two dimensional geographic map of the area surveyed, by working with the remote sensing technology and analyst. The work of an analyst is to put all the spatial data together by creating different layers of information, as well as input valuable attributes to the points that might require further monitoring. ArcGIS 3D on the other hand produces three dimensional maps, same as ArcGIS it also works with the remote sensing to produce cleaner and more accurate spatial data. ArcGIS 3D can also convert the two dimensional maps from ArcGIS into 3D maps, but this kind of work requires a very skilled software analyst, since converting maps from 2D to 3D requires a vast knowledge of the software, GIS and maps. Since converting two dimensional maps requires such skills it is very rare done and most often, instead of converting the maps the companies survey the area again using ArcGIS 3D and remote sensing together.


There are many ways of monitoring Polar Regions; one of them is using an aircraft like NASA is doing in an Antarctica, which is the Largest Airborne Polar Ice Survey. The survey is supposed to develop new information about the sea ice, glaciers, and ice sheets covering most of the Antarctica. The remote sensing instruments that are packed in NASA's DC-8 include laser mapping instruments, ice-penetrating radar, and gravity measuring instruments. One of the most important instruments on the aircraft is laser mapping device, it lets the researchers model the Antarctic with high accuracy, and allows them to scan large area of survey faster and less expensively compared to traditional survey methods. Another method of gathering data is Radio glaciology, which lets the researchers study the ice sheets, and glaciers by penetrating the ice with radar that measure its thickness. Also one of the most sophisticated instruments that the aircraft is carrying is the gravity measuring device that measures the shape of the ocean cavity beneath the ice shelves in the Antarctica. Other instruments on the DC-8 provided by various universities consist of, Airborne Topographic Mapper, which makes 3D maps of the ice surface elevations, Multichannel Coherent Radar Depth Sounder, which measures ice thickness as well as the terrain below the ice, and Snow Radar which measures the thickness of the snow above the ice sheets. All of these studies of the Polar Regions will tell the NASA scientists how the Antarctic ice is changing with time, and how Global Warming is affecting the melting ice.

Mapping the bottom of the Ross Sea

Another organization from New Zealand called National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research is conducting research of the Antarctica, as well, but instead of satellites, and aircrafts with remote sensing technology, they rely on the boat surveying. The main purpose of the NIWA is to survey and model the bottom the Antarctic ocean to determine the changes that are associated with Global Warming. The scientists from NIWA went on an expedition to South Pole to do water research in the Ross Sea using a deepwater research vessel Tangaroa. Same as CIS, the NIWA uses ArcGIS but more elaborate versions; they are ArcGIS Desktop, ArcGIS 3D Analyst, and ArcGIS Spatial Analyst. NIWA on the other hand, prior to the voyage had installed an extension packs called ArcScene, that are designed to accommodate with ArcGIS software. ArcScene was installed to help users with no prior knowledge of GIS or ArcGIS software to be able to map the ocean floor regardless of the analyst's background. For the research purposes the NIWA installed a special instrument under the vessel's hull called Simrad EM300, a multibeam echo sounder that sends out series of 30 KHz beams of sound into the seafloor, and measures the time that the sound returns back to the transmitter, and mapping ridges on the bottom of the ocean. The EM300 lets the scientist take accurate aerial photograph of the seafloor with the radius of 4.5km with one pass depending on the depth of the sea surveyed. Like any other GIS data, the data gathered by the EM300 has to get "cleaned", therefore all marks that might have been made by the groups of fish has to be removed by the analyst. If the analyst has no prior experience of GIS, NWIA has designed a special menu called AML (ARC Marco Language) where it lets the user develop GIS maps regardless of their experience. To make a map an operator has to start ArcInfo, and he or she can type simple commands into the command box, just like AutoCAD or AutoCAD Map 3D, user than can simply browse through the different directories. These directories let him adjust many different settings to reproduce whatever view is required, than the user simply type in a "RUN" command and the map is produced. After all the surveying of the sea bottom is done, ArcGIS produces charts with attributes attached to any points of interest. These points of interest help scientists determine the possible locations of any interesting samples that they might collect to help with their research. In addition, ArcGIS Spatial Analyst lets the scientists analyze the ridges, slopes, and other aspects of the sea floor to help them determine the safest way to collect the samples. To help the scientists visualize the topography of the sea bottom ArcGIS with ArcScene was used to reproduce the surveyed area in 3D, so that the researchers can inspect the area from any angle, or direction they desire. Also, to help scientists pin point the location of the vessel, NIWA software developers have came with an application called NIWA Survey. This application works in relation with EM300 where it takes the data gathered, and transforms it into a .tiff image. Than the program overlays the image as a tracking layer, to show a real time position of the vessel Tangaroa. This information than gets projected into all of the laboratories onboard, giving a better chance for the sampling equipment to reach its desired target. Therefore ArcGIS Desktop benefits the researchers in many ways as to planning, observing, and inspecting the maps and models generated by the software, as well as limits the environmental damage.

Mapping the Ayles Ice Shelf

Mapping of the sea floor, or surveying of the ice sheets in Antarctic, is not the only thing that the scientists are using the GIS for. Four years ago Canadian Ice Service scientist, Laurie Weir discovered an ice shelf that broke off in an Arctic, by comparing satellite images of he ice shelves in the North Pole. The ice shelve was than called, Ayles Ice Shelf and measured 66 square kilometers, or 2.6 cubic kilometers. To calculate the accurate calculations, scientists used program called ArcInfo, with this software they created maps that helped them with determining as to how much ice was lost in the Canadian North due to the break up. These maps showed the researchers that the ice island had shrunk up to 20% in volume in just four weeks. To measure the ice island even more accurately, the maps were combined with satellite images taken a Canadian Remote Sensing satellite RADARSAT. These geographic images (GeoTIFF) were than formatted into the ArcInfo, for further determining the cause of the breakup. Scientists than drew vector layers such as contour lines of the coastline, as well traced polygons over the RADARSAT images of the ice shelve before and after the break up. These polygons and vectors can than let scientists switch back and forth between the satellite images while keeping the polygon shapes. ArcInfo lets the scientists see the vectors or polygons underneath the image to determine the changes that have occurred over that time period when the ice island was formed. In addition to mapping the ice shelf scientists used the ArcInfo to map different types of ice located in the area of the Ayles ice island. These studies were done to predict the life of the Ayles Ice Shelf ahead of its time being.


In conclusion, GIS has many applications, polar exploration and research is only a small part of what GIS is being used for today. Canadian researchers like Canadian Ice Service, will always use GIS to help them with unveiling the secrets of the Arctic as well as discovering many more ice shelves that are on the verge of breaking apart from the Canadian Arctic. Like the Ayles Ice Shelf that was discovered by comparing the images taken from the satellite at different times, than modeled using ArcInfo to help scientists better understand the logic behind the break up. Use of sophisticated equipment lets the researchers capture all kinds of data, like pictures captured from the satellite in space or the use of sound waves to map a bottom of the sea. Software also plays a big role in GIS it lets the analyst model, map and display all kinds of graphical information, associated with polar ice research. Software such as: ArcGIS, ArcInfo, and ArcMap 3D ect. all let the user input the information and display their work. An agency such as NASA is also using the GIS to their advantage when it comes to the Antarctic research; they on the other hand use a combination of sophisticated equipment. NASA uses equipment such as; their DC-8 loaded with remote sensing instruments of their own as well as donated from many different universities from the US. Unlike NIWA which surveys and maps the bottom of the Ross Sea using sound waves, NASA is using the DC-8 to survey the ice sheets all around the Antarctic as well as the terrain under the snow. All of these agencies use GIS, but nearly all of them use different methods, different equipment and different software but all use it to research, model the data and map the graphical information.