University Researchers Aim to Increase Awareness, Federal Funding of GIS Research

Release Date: April 21, 1998 This content is archived.


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A University at Buffalo professor is leading the effort to increase federal funding of university research in the field of geographic information systems (GIS), applications of which are addressing important social problems ranging from the handling of medical emergencies, to fighting crime, to monitoring agricultural crops.

David Mark, Ph.D., UB professor of geography, said GIS -- the use of technology to study, manage, analyze and apply geographic data -- is a $2 billion industry in the U.S., which leads the world in the field.

The industry that develops GIS software, he adds, is growing at the rate of 20 percent per year.

Yet, the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science (UCGIS), of which Mark is president, maintains that university research in this area is severely underfunded.

To increase awareness of the importance of geographic information science and to make a case for more research funding, Mark and representatives of 10 other universities will meet here with members of Congress at 8 a.m. tomorrow (April 22, 1998) at a breakfast in Room SC5 of the Capitol Building.

The breakfast is being hosted by Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Peter Domenici of New Mexico. Fourteen members of Congress and 46 congressional staffers are expected to attend.

Also attending will be Dale M. Landi, UB vice president for research.

"Geographic information science is a multidisciplinary field that involves the use of digital systems to present and interpret geographic information," said Mark, who directs the National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis at UB, one of three sites of an NSF-funded center that conducts research in geographic information science. The others are at the University of Maine and the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Mark noted that GIS is proving to be such a useful technology that in some cases it has "disappeared" from public view because it is embedded in other systems.

For example, he said, individuals logging onto VISA's Web site don't know they are using GIS when they use the site's Automatic Teller Machine locator to find their nearest ATM.

Customers who have received home deliveries from Sears, Roebuck & Co. probably aren't aware that the retail giant uses GIS to route its delivery trucks, a move that the company says has saved it millions of dollars.

GIS also is making possible spatial analyses of important social problems, such as mapping of emergency-management services that would expedite treatment of victims during natural disasters. It is being used to examine spatial aspects of environmental health problems, such as those being studied in the Long Island Breast Cancer Study. And it helps farmers keep track of their crops when they use GIS software in computers installed on their tractors.

Projects by academic researchers that involve GIS also span a broad range of local and national issues.

At UB, a leader in the field, they include the analysis of patterns of crimes in specific neighborhoods, the study of the geography of deer-vehicle collisions to develop deer-management solutions, the examination of problems in caring for the elderly when family members live far away and the development of routes for hazardous-material transport that take weather factors into consideration in real-time.

Through these and similar projects, GIS is beginning to have a major impact on society.

But the gains will be hard to sustain without the level of research support required to lay the groundwork for technological improvements and new applications, Mark added.

GIS researchers across the nation are particularly interested in funding for a major new project proposal dubbed "the digital earth" that was suggested in a recent speech written for Vice President Gore.

A kind of human genome project for the planet, the "digital earth" is envisioned as a powerful technological tool with the potential to map scientific, environmental, historical, political, cultural and other information tied to geographic locations around the globe.

It would integrate information from many sources and display it geographically, with changes being registered in real-time.

"A visualization of the earth's surface with such breadth and depth could be an incredibly valuable tool in medical and scientific research, regional planning, commerce, law, emergency planning and many other fields," said Mark. "It also would be a great resource for students at every level."

More information on GIS research is available at

Media Contact Information

Ellen Goldbaum
News Content Manager
Tel: 716-645-4605