Incorporating Advancements in Science, Technology, and User Demands into State-of-the-Art Earth-Systems Modeling to Empower Novel-GIS Users in Natural Resource Decision Making: A Geographic Information Systems Perspective
Minkowski, Martin William
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The scientific and technological world we live in is constantly changing; as our methods evolve, the discoveries we make brings new advancements each day. This can be seen in the changes to Geographic Information Systems (GIS), computer hardware and software data gathering techniques, technology, and data formats as well as the people who use them. While many of these changes are of a positive nature, they do have one major drawback; change does not occur at a set pace nor does it occur at the same time. As one domain advances, others may be stagnant. As new advancements are introduced into the world, currently used procedures, technologies, and approaches may become obsolete. This change forces the other domains to adjust and adapt; this "catching up" phase can be disruptive. The role of the GIScientist has also changed over time. They have grown beyond the GIS domain; they also assist with the advancement and integration of other domains as well. They assist in the development of environmental models, help to establish new data gathering techniques, and provide insight and consultation to those involved in the decision making process. They also work to bridge the gap between the advancements made in one or more domains with the currently used and accepted practice, mythologies, technologies, and models in others. The concepts presented in this dissertation, along with examples of their implementation, demonstrate how GIScientists can incorporate advancements in technology into preexisting spatial and temporal models and allow non- and novel-GIS users to take advantage of their capabilities by providing them with simplified tools and interfaces. GIScientists focus on three aspects that, when coupled together, create a strong and stable bridge between the "new" and the "old": education, integration, and interfacing. By building a bridge between the newest technology and the currently used models, GIScientists provide a buffer that allows for older techniques to be updated to the newer methodologies. There are two approaches a GIScientist can take in regards to education; the first looks at introducing the concepts of GIS to those outside of the GIS domain. This is done by equating a particular concept with one more familiar to the "student" and making it easier to understand. The other approach is to integrate GIS concepts, practices, and techniques into the program or model training; by including these at key points during the training, non- or novel-GIS users can gain a better understanding of GIS. There are several approaches the GIScientist can use to integrate new algorithms, data formats, and scientific advancements into state-of-the-art models. The first method involves creating a preprocessing procedure that converts the new data format or observations into the current models input parameter format. Incorporating new algorithms into an existing model's and/or program's execution pathway is another method. By inserting a pause in the normal pathway, new algorithms can be executed to perform a number of tasks; once they are completed and their outputs are in a format expected by the next stage in the normal pathway, the model or program can continue to completion. The development of a graphical user interface (GUI) allows non-GIS users to take advantage of the spatial and temporal capabilities of GIS and GIS-based models. The key to developing useful GUIs is to focus keeping the interface as simple as possible; this can be accomplished in number of ways. When upgrading to a new version, GIScientists should attempt to retain as much of the original interface as possible; this will reduce the learning curve for users who are familiar with the previous version. Finally, by design interfaces that help guide users through various tasks, non- and novel-GIS users will be able to accomplish complex GIS procedures. These interfaces, and the automations behind them, focus on asking the user to provide only the necessary piece of information required. By providing such benefits to researchers, domain scientists can utilize GIS in their own research without expending time or resources to educate themselves or their fellow researchers in GIS practices. Public and private sectors will also benefit from these advances as well. Tools and automations allow non-GIS users to accomplish complex GIS tasks easier and simpler. By removing or reducing the reliance of users on GIS-specialists, time sensitive tasks will be accomplished at a faster pace.