Geographic Information Systems in the Sciences (2016)

Group Independent Study Advisor: Peter Fox
Meeting times: bi-weekly or by arrangement
Office Hours: By appointment
Class Listing: ERTH 496x

Table of Contents


Introduction to relational analysis and interpretation of spatial data and their presentation on static and interactive maps using PostGIS, qGIS, Leaflet.js and Geoserver. Geographic spatial data concepts covered are map projections, vectors & geoprocessing, raster analsysis, interpolation, collaborative mapping, GIS on the cloud and web mapping. Database concepts of building and manipulating a spatial database, SQL, spatial queries, and integration of graphic and tabular data are also covered. During each class we will discuss topics and do examples. Related take-home exercises will be assigned. Depending on class size, students may be asked to present assignments to the rest of the class. Each student will do a semester-long project on some topic of particular interest to them, but also of relevance to the class. These projects will be presented to the class during the last week. 4 credit hours.

Each Topic requires 3-4 hours per week of effort, comprising 1.5 hours of reviewing materials and approximately 2 hours of lab work.

Syllabus/ Calendar (Tentative)


Weeks 1-3

Introduction to Geographic Information Systems: Week 1 Slides [Download]

GIS I: Projections & vector data: Week 2 Slides [Download]



  • Install QGIS on your laptop

Lab: Viewing and analyzing vector data with QGIS Exercise Data [Download]



  • NAIP link:
  • Install QGIS on your laptop!!!


GIS II: Raster Analysis Week 3 Slides [Download]

Homework: Finish modules from Lab:


Lab: Viewing and analyzing raster data with QGIS

Homework: Terrain Analysis [Download]: Will not be graded but complete before discussion session in week 3.


Weeks 4-7

GeoData I: Scrounging 101, tracking down geodata Week 4 Slides [Download]


  • Work with the group to make a list of what kinds of data you'd like to acquire for your portion of the class mapping project.
  • Make a list of data you'd like to acquire for personal project.


Lab: GeoData Scrounging 101


  • Group work to find and download at least 5 datasets for the group project.
  • Find and download at least 5 datasets for your personal project.

Self-Assessment: Complete by ~ mid - October:


Lecture: GeoData II: Mobile data collection:


Lab: Mobile data collection with Fulcrum


Lecture: Introduction to Spatial Databases

Readings for Monday:

Lab: Setting up a PostgreSQL/PostGIS Database

DATA:Week 6 Lab Data [Download]

Homework for Thursday:


Lecture: Spatial Queries in PostGIS: Week 7 Monday Slides [Download]

Lab: Spatial Queries in PostGIS
Homework to complete :

  • 1-page proposal for your individual project. Not Graded
  • Complete sections 1-9 in the Boundless Introduction to PostGIS. Exercise data can be downloaded from here.

    You may skip Sections 2 & 3 if you already have a spatial database created.


Weeks 8-10

Week of Oct. 10 - no meeting


Lecture: Literate Programming and the Process of GIS Slides [Download]

Lab: The Process of GIS
Homework to complete:

  • Complete sections 10-13, and 18-19 in the Boundless Introduction to PostGIS. Exercise data can be downloaded here. Please run your queries and save your outputs.

Lecture: Visualizing & Sharing Geodata on the Web I

Self-paced work:

  • Updated map and 1-page status writeup for group project.

Lab: Geoserver, CartoDB
Sign up for a free CartoDB account and complete the following tutorials found on this page:

Assignment 3 GIScience2016SelfAssessment [Download]


Weeks 11-13

ADVANCED: Visualizing & Sharing Geodata on the Web I: Leaflet.js: Leaflet I Slides [Download]

Download Leaflet Template:giscience_leaflet_template [Download]

ADVANCED: Visualizing & Sharing Geodata on the Web II: Leaflet.js Leaflet II Slides [Download]

Download files :giscience_leaflet_files2016 [Download]


ADVANCED: Visualizing & Sharing Geodata on the Web III: Geoserver:
Download Leaflet Template for RPI:giscience_leaflet_template_rpi [Download]

ADVANCED: Webmapping Wrapup & Geoserver reboot:

AdvancedLabGeoserver2.docx [Download]
Download data for [Download]


Web Map Troubleshooting & Multidimensional data II: 3D Visualization Lecture Slides [Download]


Week 14 (end of term)

  • Final project presentations


GIScience Applications: Getting data files and software for THIS CLASS


Goals of the Course

  1. To provide students an opportunity to learn geospatial applications and tools.
  2. To introduce relational analysis and interpretation of spatial data and presentation on maps.
  3. Introduce spatial database concepts and technical aspects of query languages and geographic integration of graphic and tabular data.
  4. To introduce intermediate aspects of geospatial analysis: map projections, reference frames, multivariate analysis, correlation analysis, regression, interpolation, exptrapolation, and kriging.
  5. To gain experience in an end-to-end GIS application via a term project.

Course Learning Objectives

Through class lectures, practical sessions, written and oral presentation assignments and projects, students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate proficiency in using geospatial applications and tools (commercial and open-source).
  • Present verbally relational analysis and interpretation of a variety of spatial data on maps.
  • Demonstrate skill in applying database concepts to build and manipulate a spatial database, SQL, spatial queries, and integration of graphic and tabular data.
  • Demonstrate intermediate knowledge of geospatial analysis methods and their applications.

Assessment Criteria

  • Via written assignments addressing each learning objective with specific percentage of grade allocation provided for each assignment and question
  • Via projects and presentations
  • Via participation (not to exceed 10% of total)
  • Late submission policy: N/A

Academic Integrity

Student-teacher relationships are built on trust. For example, students must trust that teachers have made appropriate decisions about the structure and content of the courses they teach, and teachers must trust that the assignments that students turn in are their own. Acts, which violate this trust, undermine the educational process. The Rensselaer Handbook of Student Rights and Responsibilities defines various forms of Academic Dishonesty and you should make yourself familiar with these. In this class, all assignments that are turned in for a grade must represent the student’s own work. In cases where help was received, or teamwork was allowed, a notation on the assignment should indicate your collaboration. Submission of any assignment that is in violation of this policy will result in a penalty. If found in violation of the academic dishonesty policy, students may be subject to two types of penalties. The instructor administers an academic (grade) penalty, and the student may also enter the Institute judicial process and be subject to such additional sanctions as: warning, probation, suspension, expulsion, and alternative actions as defined in the current Handbook of Student Rights and Responsibilities. First violation results in zero grade for the relevant portion of the work. Second offence results in a fail grade . If you have any question concerning this policy before submitting an assignment, please ask for clarification.

Suggested Prerequisites

  • Knowledge such that gained in geography, cartography.
  • or permission of the instructor

Attendance Policy

Assessed by participation.

Course: GIScience

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