Special Spatial Thinking & Analysis

As I’ve taught some Earth/Space/Environmental Science this semester, I’ve made an effort to incorporate some Geographical Information Systems (GIS) technology to add both depth and relevance.

We began by using some investigations designed by Al Bodzin of Lehigh University designed to investigate tectonic activity as related to plate boundaries, earthquake and volcanic activity, and plate motion.

Bodzin and his group designed six investigations that I used (and modified slightly).

Each investigation had both a student guide and investigation sheet that students used to explore the maps.

Here are some images from the investigations:

World Earthquakes (identification of plate boundaries):


Age of Oceanic Crust:


Mid Atlantic Ridge


Relative Plate Motion


North American Plate Motion


San Andreas Fault Zones


Subduction Zone Depth – Aleutian Islands


You may notice in the images that students were able to explore, measure, zoom, scale, and manipulate the data behind the images. This, I found, led to relevant and deep inquiries into tectonics driving forces that shape our planet.

Additionally, I was able to demonstrate real-time data acquisition and inclusion by downloading a USGS csv file for the world’s earthquakes (M2.5 and greater, last seven days):


The data file was then easily overlaid onto an ArcGIS map to create the following map:


The real power behind this technology and my students’ investigations is the highly visual and customizable results that the maps yield.

For next steps my students will compile their own data sets and overlay them onto maps. Their data will cross location (latitude and longitude) with weather, temperature, and environmental data as preliminary steps in larger investigations into Earth patterns and energy distribution.

I appreciate the ease with which I and my students can utilize GIS technology. I think the following image (via @josephkerski) effectively summarizes the power and scope of GIS:


Hopefully I can share some of my students’ work in the creation and overlay of their own data.

Until then, here are some examples of multi-disciplinary uses of GIS.

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