Joseph Kerski- Mapping and Analyzing Our Changing World

Joseph serves as Education Manager for Environmental Systems Research Institute. ESRI is a company dedicated to making and supporting GIS software that people use to teach and learn about geography, and to make wise decisions around the world in business, engineering, academia, government, nonprofits, and beyond.  Joseph confesses that he is a Geography Geek, with three degrees in Geography and having served 21 years as Geographer at the USGS and the US Census Bureau.

For centuries, the study of geography and the maps geographers have created have stirred imaginations and inspired explorations of the unknown.  Nowadays, thousands of new maps are created each week in digital form, making it easier than ever to explore topics and regions of our wonderful and complex world.  These maps can be explored with Web GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and with desktop GIS, in 2-D and 3-D, at an infinite variety of scales.  Let’s investigate some real-world issues with a sample of these resources.
Maps show spatial relationships among climate, vegetation, population, landforms, river systems, land use, soils, natural hazards, and more.  They help us investigate the “whys of where”–the essence of scientific and geographic inquiry.  However, maps aren’t confined to learning about geography.  Imagine an epidemiologist studying the spread of diseases, a scientist studying caribou habitat, or a businessperson siting a new retail establishment.  In each case, maps are critical tools for studying and solving real problems on a daily basis.

About the only “constant” about our planet is that it is dynamic–it
changes.  These changes include those brought about by physical forces
such as erupting volcanoes and meandering rivers, and those brought
about by humans such as urban growth.  Increasingly, changes are a
combination of the two.  Soil erosion, a natural process, can be
exacerbated by human agricultural practices.  Coastal erosion may be
hastened by sea level rise brought about by human impact on the
biosphere.  River flooding may be more widespread due to the
construction of artificial levees.

Let’s face it–nearly every issue in our world and in our community has
a change component. Think of urban sprawl, crime, water quality,
biodiversity loss, and natural hazards, for starters.  Change is at the
heart of every one of them–whether measured over a few seconds, days,
or millennia.  Use GIS tools and inquiry-based methods to investigate
these in geography, Earth Science, environmental studies, history,
mathematics, chemistry, biology, and other disciplines. 
Geotechnologies were identified by the US Department of Labor as one of
three major growth fields for the 21st Century, along with nano- and
bio-technologies.  As mapping services find their way into cell phones,
handheld computers, and vehicles, consider this exciting career path!

With the plethora of computer mapping technologies that exist today, it
may be a challenge deciding which resources and tools are most
valuable.  To start, let’s focus on a few excellent resources and

Use ESRI’s Mapping For Everyone tools to create neighborhood
and regional maps on median age, income, or another variable.  Why does
the county surrounding Laramie, Wyoming have a lower median age than
the surrounding counties?


There is nothing that you can’t map and analyze.  I mapped car washes
and bail bonds in Oklahoma City using the free 3-D mapping tool ArcGIS
.  Why are bail bonds (the
siren symbols) more clustered than car washes (the car symbols)?


Satellite images and aerial photographs are increasingly collected
before, during, and after an Earth-changing event, such as a natural
disaster.  Consider these photographs of Biloxi, Mississippi, before
and after Hurricane Katrina on:    


Use USGS topographic maps and digital aerial photographs on Terraserver
to examine your campus, neighborhood,
where the Mississippi flows into the Gulf of Mexico, the San Andreas
Fault, ancient glacial lakeshores in North Dakota, the imprint of the
Public Land Survey System, and more, to understand glaciation, land
use, population, plate tectonics, and more.  Base imagery is available
in 2-D and 3-D on
Examine the following aerial photographs from Terraserver for two
different years for a school in Colorado.  The school as it appeared in
1995 as two concentric circles.  What time of day were the photographs
flown?  Were students in session on those days?  Was the building in
2002 completely new, or were parts of the old building retained?  Also,
what happened to the trees around the parking lot?

Compare the aerial photographs to a topographic map of the same area. 
Use topographic maps from the Terraserver and ArcGIS Online sites, and
archives of historical topographic exist, such as: and NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey’s
Historical Map and Chart Collection:  
Compare New Albany, Ohio, in 1904 to 1995.  Did change occur because of
forces from nature or from humans?  What will the area look like when
you graduate?  What did the landscape look like when your parents were
students?   Is the area changing more quickly than other parts of your
community?  Why?  How does land use in your neighborhood compare to
land use elsewhere in the country?   What type of dwellings do people
live in around the area?  How do these compare in size and density to
other parts of your city?  How does detail change as the scale or as
the seasons change?
Examine historical satellite images on   For
example, how have issues of irrigation, politics, climate, and internal
drainage impacted the Aral Sea from 1973 to 1999?

Use the National Atlas to create maps on 200
themes, from agriculture, biology, boundaries, climate, environment,
geology, history, people, to transportation.
Use these resources to understand that the Earth is changing and begin
to think scientifically and analytically about why it is changing. 
Discover more on  That’s not the end of
the story, however.  After using these tools, ask value-based
questions.   Should the Earth be changing in these ways?  Is there
anything that I can and should do about it?  Can I make a difference in
this changing world of ours?

4 thoughts on “Joseph Kerski- Mapping and Analyzing Our Changing World

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  3. Thanks, Michael! I’ll be sure to pass on the kind words to Joseph. My hometown is Milwaukee, too! Alright Joseph, we’re waiting for the map! 🙂

  4. Thank you for providing this informative resource. Mr. Kerski is a great educator — and if he produced a map of where he was born, I’m proud to say it would be of hometown — Milwaukee.

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