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Various Departments and Research Centers at UCSB are using GIS to address a variety of problems. Some geologists, for example, are studying the movement of crustal plates. Biologists are working with geographers to study environmental issues. A sociologist has used GIS to map inequality in the Los Angeles garment industry. A sampling of the research centers and departments are listed here, with links to a description of some of the research:

Multidisciplinary Research Centers

Departments and Schools

Multidisciplinary Research Centers - The Details

Alexandria Digital Library (ADL) and the Alexandria Digital Earth Prototype (ADEPT)

ADL, under its first four years of funding, has constructed an operational digital library, which provides users with internet access to growing collections of geographic information.

ADEPT is a comprehensive follow-on to ADL. ADEPT aims to use the digital earth metaphor for organizing, using, and presenting information at all levels of spatial and temporal resolution.


James Frew, Ph.D. (Geography, ICESS, ESM, and ADEPT) uses GIS as a display/analysis environment to evaluate the effectiveness of data management and digital library strategies and services.


Biogeography Lab

The Biogeography Lab was established for basic and applied research on the ecology, distribution and conservation status of species and ecosystems with the aid of geographic information systems and remote sensing.


Chris Pyke, with advisor Frank Davis, Ph.D., uses GIS in the development and implementation of GIS data models for ecological research.

Co-Directors Frank Davis, Ph.D., and David Stoms, Ph.D., use GIS in conservation planning, fire history analysis, vegetation mapping and analysis of vegetation-environment relationships.


Center for Spatially Integrated Social Science (CSISS)

The CSISS mission recognizes the growing significance of space, spatiality, location, and place in social science research. It seeks to develop unrestricted access to tools, techniques and perspectives that will advance the spatial analytic capabilities of researchers throughout the social sciences.


Coal Oil Point Natural Reserve (COPNR)

COPNR consists of 117 acres located on the West Campus of UCSB. The reserve was established in 1970 to protect a vulnerable and valuable section of coastal dunes. Because of its close proximity to the main campus, the Coal Oil Point Natural Reserve provides a unique and accessible research and teaching resource for faculty and students from UCSB and other institutions.


Christina Sandoval, Ph.D., Director of COPNR, Wayne Ferren, Ph.D. and Dave Court use GIS to map the resources at the Coal Oil Point Natural Reserve. GIS is also used in field trips to the Reserve.


Institute for Computational Earth Systems Science (ICESS)

ICESS provides an environment in which Earth and computer science are strongly coupled. Our focus is on research and graduate education in Earth sciences, with emphasis on processes governing the environmental optics of the Earth.


Institute for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Research (ISBER)

For more than two decades, ISBER has sponsored research in the social sciences and humanities. It not only administers a diverse and growing number of contracts and grants, but actively provides support for developing new research efforts. One of ISBER's principal objectives is to promote research which is focused on global issues.


Richard Appelbaum, Ph.D., Director of ISBER, has used GIS to map garment factory locations, by ethnicity of owner, in Los Angeles; and to map trade flows.


Map and Imagery Laboratory (MIL)

The Map and Imagery Laboratory, located in the UCSB Library, is an interdisciplinary information facility. Among MIL's more notable holdings are:

  • Multispectral Landsat I and II original transparencies
  • NASA/Ames U-2 Earth resource data, both digital and film from 1960's to present
  • Teledyne-Fairchild film library of original aerial negatives from 1927 to 1984
  • World coverage of topographic and science mapping from 1900 to present
  • Digital elevation models and vector databases
  • Hundreds of CD and tape datasets of Earth and planetary bodies.

Marine Science Institute (MSI)

MSI is the focus for marine, coastal zone, and freshwater research; marine policy studies; and educational outreach in marine science. Research at MSI spans 14 disciplines.

See SNARL for sample research.



MesoAmerican Research Center (MARC)

The MesoAmerican Research Center, funded through ISBER, represents an interdisciplinary group of social science researchers who work in the greater Mesoamerican arena, primarily Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. The strongest research commitment is to focus on interdisciplinary and collaborative research in the region.


Anabel Ford, Ph.D., Director of MARC, and Keith Clarke, Ph.D. of the Geography Department, use GIS for data collection in the field, integration of the data at other scales, and managing and analyzing spatial temporal data from the El Pilar Maya site.


National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS)

NCEAS provides a technologically advanced environment in which visiting and resident researchers will carry out collaborative projects on major fundamental and applied problems in ecology. Much of the work at the Center will revolve around large and diverse data sets using state-of-the-art computing and electronic information facilities which will build on the University's existing strength in GIS.


Dave Roberts, Ph.D. is at NCEAS on sabbatical from Utah State University. Dr. Roberts, and Dr. Niklaus Zimmermann, WSL/Switzerland, use GIS in two areas: (1) spatially explicit simulation modelling. They use GIS to prepare the input data, constrain the spatial processes, and to portray the simulation outputs, generally using Arc/Info and PV-Wave, and (2) statistical modelling of the distribution of species on landscapes, using primarily S-Plus and Arc/Grid.


National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis (NCGIA)

NCGIA is a consortium comprised of the University of California at Santa Barbara, the State University of New York at Buffalo, and the University of Maine with funding from the National Science Foundation. Researchers affiliated with the NCGIA conduct basic research in geographic analysis using GIS. Completed and current research initiatives include:

  • accuracy of spatial databases
  • languages of spatial relations
  • multiple representations
  • use and value of geographic information
  • large spatial databases
  • spatial decision support systems
  • visualization of spatial data quality
  • formalizing cartographic knowledge
  • institutions sharing geographic information
  • spatio-temporal reasoning in GIS
  • integration of remote sensing and GIS
  • user interfaces for GIS
  • GIS and spatial analysis
  • multiple roles for GIS in US global change research
  • law, information policy and spatial databases
  • collaborative spatial decision-making.

Thomas Cova, Ph.D. (now at the University of Utah) and Richard Church, Ph.D. used GIS in the Spatial Evacuation Analysis Project, to develop a systematic geographic approach to mapping neighborhood evacuation egress. This issue is particulary relevant in residential neighborhoods subject to fast-onset hazards of uncertain spatial impact (e.g. firestorms and toxic spills on highways).

Jorge Sifuentes, with advisor Michael Goodchild, Ph.D., is using GIS to study the settlement hierarchy in the ancient Maya forest.

National Consortium on Remote Sensing in Transportation (NCRST)
Vehicle Intelligence & Transportation Analysis Laboratory (VITAL)
Other Affiliated and Collaborative Projects

The Center also has completed several major GIS education projects, including The NCGIA Core Curriculum in GIS and the New NCGIA Core Curriculum in GIS.


Research Unit on Spatial Cognition and Choice (RUSCC)

RUSCC's purpose is to encourage multi-disciplinary research on spatial behavior. It includes programs such as the Remote Infrared Auditory Signage and Navigation Without Sight.


Sarah Battersby, with advisor Reg Golledge, Ph.D., is examining what, if any, spatial abilities are necessary for successful use of GIS operations, specifically overlay operations.


Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Lab (SNARL)

SNARL is a component of the Valentine Eastern Sierra Reserve. The site has a unique series of natural and manmade experimental stream channels for fishery and hydrologic studies. The reserve is a center for research on the high Sierra Nevada, Mono Lake, and the Upper Owens Valley.


Roland A. Knapp, Ph.D. uses GIS in his ecological research for data visualization and habitat modeling.


Departments and Schools - The Details

Anthropology and Archaeology


Examples of GIS research in the Anthropology Department:

Nathan Craig, with Napoleon Chagnon, Ph.D. uses GIS in concert with space borne remotely sensed data to study Yanomamo settlement patterns in southern Venezuela.

Nathan Craig, with Mark Aldenderfer, Ph.D. is also using GIS to construct and maintain a database of excavations at an Archaic archaeological site named Jiskairumoko located in the southern Titicaca Basin of Peru.

Elizabeth Klarich and Nathan Craig use GIS to organize surface mapping and geophysical survey at the Formative archaeological site of Pukara in southern Peru.

Michael Jochim, Ph.D., Susan Harris, and Harry Starr (with Lynn Fisher, Ph.D. of the University of Illinois, Springfield) use GIS to record, integrate, and analyze environmental and archaeological information for a study region in SW Germany. The goal is to study changing land use and settlement during a period of major environmental changes from the Palaeolithic to the Neolithic.

Anthropologists Barbara Herr Harthorn, Ph.D. and Susan Stonich, Ph.D., with geographers Oliver Chadwick, Ph.D. and Mike Goodchild, Ph.D., are constructing a GIS of health and illness in a Santa Barbara County community along the agricultural-urban interface. Project includes a PPGIS component to enhance community participation in a regulatory investigation of environmental health in the community.

Katharina Schreiber, Ph.D. is in the process of entering the data from two regional archaeological surveys undertaken in Peru into GIS data bases. These will then be used to map out changes in settlement locations through time in each region.


Computer Science


Donald Bren School of Environmental Science and Management (ESM)

The Donald Bren School of Environmental Science and Management combines scientific study with instruction in policy management and focuses on the assessment of environmental problems today and in the future.


Trent Biggs, with advisor Tom Dunne, Ph.D., is researching the effect of regional development on stream chemistry in the Amazon Bason -- separating the effects of deforestation, intensive agriculture, and urbanization. This involves integrating several data sources (census, soils, Landsat, and stream network) using GIS.

Mingjie Chen and Arturo Keller, Ph.D. develop models which output dynamic chemical loads as a function of land-use changes in a watershed. The frame is based on a GIS.

Mel Willis and Arturo Keller, Ph.D. are creating a database for regional air dispersion model to assess community risk from exposure to hazardous air contaminants.

James Frew, Ph.D. uses GIS as a display/analysis environment to evaluate the effectiveness of data management and digital library strategies and services.


Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology (EEMB)

Degrees and research through EEMB cross a number of disciplines including aquatic biology, ecology and evolution, physiology, zoology, molecular, cellular, and developmental biology.

See COPNR for sample research.

Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE)

In the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department (ECE), GIS related research is directed toward developing image processing algorithms. In particular, research projects have focused on:

  • non-linear image processing to enhance the quality of images
  • multisensor image registration and fusion
  • the use of wavelets for image data storage, browsing, and content based retrieval.


The Geography Department at UCSB focuses on the measurement, representation and modeling of geographic processes. The three areas of concentration in the department -- earth system science, human-environment relations and modeling, measurement and computation -- all provide fertile areas for the exploration of the GIS tools and theories.


Jiefeng Zhou, with advisor Michael Goodchild, Ph.D., is using GIS for spatial data management, spatial database, and analysis.

Michael Jennings, with advisor Frank Davis, Ph.D., uses GIS to uncover general ecological and biogeographical principles of the occurrence, configuration, composition, and processes of floristically defined dominant vegetation types by using very large data sets of field plot records (~25,000), a 500m grid of daily meteorological data covering two decades, and detailed morphological traits of each plant species (>2,500), over a large region (~70,000,000h). [attach image here]

Melissa Kelly, with advisor Keith Clarke, Ph.D., uses GIS with the Clarke Urban Growth Model. Land use transition probabilities generated from historical aerial photography will be used to project land use changes into the future as urban growth transforms the Santa Barbara South Coast.

Nicholas Matzke and advisor Dar Roberts, Ph.D. are working on assessing the usefulness of low-resolution nighttime fire maps of Madagascar made with the DMSP-OLS sensor, using multidate high-resolution Landsat 7 Enhanced Thematic Mapper images. ArcView is used to display and query raster images. [attach image here]

Doug Fischer and advisor Richard Church, Ph.D. are using GIS in biodiversity reserve site selection.

Anthropologists Barbara Herr Harthorn, Ph.D. and Susan Stonich, Ph.D., with geographers Oliver Chadwick, Ph.D. and Mike Goodchild, Ph.D., are constructing a GIS of health and illness in a Santa Barbara County community along the agricultural-urban interface. Project includes a PPGIS component to enhance community participation in a regulatory investigation of environmental health in the community.

See other work described under Biogeography Lab, ICESS, RUSCC, and NCGIA.



Examples of GIS research in the Geology Department:

Nate Onderdonk, Art Sylvester, Ph.D., and Bruce Luyendyk, Ph.D., use GIS to synthesize and analyze structural, paleomagnetic, topographic, seismological, and stratigraphic data in my investigation of boundaries of rotated crustal blocks in southern California.

Timothy Tierney, Ed Keller, Ph.D., Tanya Atwater, Ph.D., and Art Sylvester, Ph.D. use GIS to correlate bedrock geology to landscape features.



See ISBER and MARC for sample research.