Though we humans make up only a tiny fraction of the diverse communities of organisms that inhabit this planet, our impact is immense. The need for environmental protection reaches far beyond “reduce, reuse, and recycle;” the very basis of our existence is wrapped in our relationship with the natural world. The only way to take care of our people is to take care of our planet.
Access to clean air and water significantly reduces the costs of healthcare for our most vulnerable populations, those who don’t have the option to move away once their home has been drained of its natural resources. Beyond essential human needs, taking care of the planet also allows us to enjoy the simple things in life: a hike up a mountain, a stroll through the woods, a day of fishing with friends. Luckily, it isn’t too late to take back the environment; with engineering GIS technology, the question isn’t if we can reverse some of our past mistakes, it’s if we’re willing to.
Environmental Engineering: An Overview
So, what exactly is environmental engineering? In short, environmental engineering is a subset of civil and chemical engineering focused on protecting the health of the environment and the organisms, including the people, who inhabit it. Environmental Engineering takes from a wide range of professional skill sets, such as mathematics, chemistry, (micro)biology, ecology, geology, and hydraulics, which they use to rethink how we control things such as pollution and waste.
The Many Uses of Environmental Engineering GIS
Of course, environmental engineering GIS has applications that reach far beyond this one industry; virtually anyone working closely with nature can benefit from the powerful insights GIS technology has to offer.
Agricultural management involves organizing, planning, and making decisions around the production, planting, and harvesting of crops. The goal of an agricultural manager is to maximize either production, profits, sustainability, or a combination of these things.
With engineering GIS technology, those in the agricultural industry have the capability to make decisions with far more insight than otherwise possible; you can use GIS maps to break down each component of farming so you have a better understanding of the land as a whole.
Soil map layers can show the health and chemical/mineral breakdown of the dirt on which you’re working, which can be used to plan crop rotations. Certain crops leach the soil of vital nutrients, so you want to make well-informed decisions on how you rotate those crops, such as alternating between two plants with different nutrient needs every season. GIS layers for topography and water are also vital for a healthy crop. With this information, you can organize your irrigation system so that you use the exact amount of water you need, and you can prevent fertilizer runoff by analyzing the course water takes.
Environmental engineering GIS software is perhaps the most influential innovation in forestry. With this technology, forestry experts can not only get a better idea of the current situation but look at patterns over time. With GIS, you can look at aerial photography of the timberstand and add data such as the total number of trees within a given boundary, the different types of trees grown, and which areas have already been harvested and when. This data can be used to make comparisons over time and pick out important trends, for example, if the number of trees is declining at an increasingly rapid pace.
GIS technology can also be used to look at the health of a forest beyond volume; it can be used to analyze the level of species diversity, density, age and size of the trees, and reforestation efforts. With these insights, forestry experts can plan years in advance how they will go about caring for the land.
Conservation Of Woodlands & Wetlands
Woodlands are often used synonymously with forests, but geographers tend to differentiate the two by their canopies. While forests have closed canopies, meaning the tops of the trees block out much of the sun's rays, woodlands have open canopies, meaning more sunlight can reach the ground below. Woodlands are an essential part of the natural world, as they are often the transition between two or more other ecosystems (such as deserts and grasslands).
To care for these precious lands, environmental engineering GIS tools can be used to track changes over time, exposure to the elements, and data on the flora and fauna. While woodlands are resilient, deforestation can throw the whole system out of balance. Woodlands need the perfect amount of sunlight to shine through, too much and the plants dry out, too little and the plants may suffer a failure to thrive. They also need the right amount of trees to block the wind in order to keep the moisture and heat that circulates within the woodland intact. By keeping a record of changes and patterns over time, we can predict what the ecosystem will need to stay healthy, whether that be tree planting efforts, the reintroduction of certain species, or potentially designating the area as protected land.
Wetlands are a collection of ecosystems defined by both their water coverage and aquatic vegetation. What makes these swamps, marshes, fens, and bogs unique is their plant life. Unlike most plants that rely on oxygen from air pockets in the soil, plants in a wetland rely on special adaptations to get the oxygen they need. In order for these plants to survive, they require a distinct form of soil: anaerobic. This soil doesn’t contain oxygen, resulting in a different texture and color than most other types of dirt.
GIS can be used to record measurements and visualize the water table, the soil’s composition, and the variety of vegetation in the area. When we zoom out, we can also use GIS to detect possible toxic runoff situations before they reach the water by analyzing topography, water pathways, and the location of nearby farms and industrial sites.
Natural Resource Management
Natural resources, such as water, air, minerals, plants, and animals, are vital for the survival of humankind. These resources provide us with the food we eat, the air we breathe, and are the building blocks of many of the products we buy. Environmental engineering GIS helps us both track and maintain the health of these essential resources.
We can use GIS technology to assess the suitability of a site before building on it, preventing unnecessary construction on ultimately unfit lands. We can use GIS to analyze factors in climate change, such as temperatures, water levels, ozone strength, and CO2 emissions. And, we can also use environmental GIS to predict natural disasters before they arise. While we may not be able to prevent things like earthquakes and landslides from occurring, the further in advance we are aware of them, the more we are able to prepare and the more lives we are able to save.
Renewable Energy Management
Environmental engineering GIS is also at the forefront of green energy research, as it is a crucial component in identifying viable lands for harvesting renewable energy and laying down the groundwork for wind and solar farms. When planning solar farms, GIS technology can help experts evaluate the amount, duration, and intensity of sunlight in a given area. For planning wind farms, GIS can help locate areas with adequate sites and help determine how to connect these farms to electrical grid infrastructure. Of course, there’s much more to planning green energy than sun and wind strength, you also need to find areas with adequate transportation and transmission systems - but that’s easy with modern GIS technology.
Land id’s Powerful Environmental Engineering GIS Software
One of the biggest challenges in using GIS is the complexity and high price-point of the software. With Land id™ (formerly MapRight), anyone can make use of this powerful tool - all you need is a smartphone. Our platform offers up-to-date (and exceptionally accurate) parcel data, intuitive map-making capabilities, and a database builder to help you make the smartest decisions possible for the environment. Ready to give it a whirl? Sign up for a 7-day free trial today!