Welcome To Otter Geospatial

This website came about because a number of things that I care about have an information-sharing component. I 'm a notoriously bad communicator and I've decided to see if the Internet can help me out. One of my passions is working with students of geospatial technology (geographic information systems, GPS mapping, computerized cartography, remote sensing, etc). I believe this to be a very important field, primarily because it teaches us a lot about how the Earth and its occupants are tied to one another: but also because it offers significant career opportunities. There are job opportunities in the geospatial technology field itself, and equally important are those areas of endeavor that apply the technology in pursuit of academic, governance or business goals.

So here's my basic premise. "In the field of geospatial technology the learnining process doesn't really take off until one is engaged in a real project on a topic of real interest". But the complexity of the subject matter and its dependence on prerequisite knowledge are barriers to diving right in on real work. The purpose of this site is to be there with helpful information when students are pushing ahead and hit obstacles they aren't prepared for - Mike Stiefvater

Geospatial Technology
Geospatial Technology is described by Wikipedia as "… the discipline of gathering, storing, processing, and delivering … spatially referenced information."* The field is huge. It includes remote sensing, geographic information systems (GIS) and global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) to name just a few.

It's Pretty Techy
Most students encounter geospatial technology for the first time in an introductory class in geographic information systems. They are often shocked by how techy it is. But they shouldn't be. After all it's a branch of engineering

It Sounds Like Rocket Science
The terms "spatial" and "geospatial" don't imply a connection to rocketry and space travel. It's true that spacecraft are employed in some branches of geospatial technology, but in all cases the instruments they carry are observing and/or measuring what's happening on earth.
"geo" = earth              "spatial" = relating to size, shape and position

It's About Coordinate Pairs
Spatial referencing is the basis of Geospatial Technology. It's important to understand how coordinate pairs are used to tie pieces of information to their locations on the earth surface.

GIS Software Is Database Software
GIS software is a unique combination of several software categories that students may already be familiar with. It has some elements found in graphics packages, spreadsheets and presentation programs. However it is primarily database software and that comes as a shock to many beginners. True databases are foreign territory for many and the spatial databases used in geographic information systems work are foreign territory for almost everyone.

* 13-aug-2014 - Click here for the complete article

"Geomatics (also known as geospatial technology or geomatics engineering) is the discipline of gathering, storing, processing, and delivering geographic information, or spatially referenced information."

Wikipedia, accessed 30-dec-2012, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geomatics

Geospatial Technology Is Not Rocket Science

A person hearing the term "geospatial technology' for the first time might think that it has to do with space exploration and black holes. In fact, geospatial technology is about the earth surface - what's going on there and where it's occurring:
"geo" = "earth" and "spatial" = "relating to size, shape and position".

Some of the confusion arises from the fact that work in geospatial technology often involves interaction with satellite systems. But we need to remember that space-based tools such as the Global Positioning System (GPS) and LANDSAT exist to locate and quantify what's occurring on Earth. The only reason that we sometimes have to deal with "up there" space is that it's a great vantage point for observing things down here.

Spatial Databases - Combining "What Is" And "Where Is"

Over time, humans have devised tools to document their observations and experiences. We are strongly motivated to recall things accurately for our own benefit and to pass them on to others. Our ancestors developed wonderful tools for recording "what is" information. Oral and written descriptions were often supplemented with "paper" maps, but traditional methods of integrating language and maps always seem to fall short. Does it work best to embed a bunch of descriptive text in a paper map or does the other way around work better. And no matter what the scale of a paper map, it's always too small for for some lines of inquiry and too detailed for others.

Beginning in the 1960's, the development of geographic information system (GIS) concepts brought the power of computers to bear on those age-old problems. GIS is based on classic DBMS (database management systems) principles, but data storage structures and data processing capabilty are expanded to include recognition of absolute location. The specialized data structures that underlie the various branches of geospatial technology have a multitude of application-specific names. The closest thing to an all-encompassing generic name is "spatial database" and we intend to use that term throughout these pages. All spatial databases share a couple of defining properties.

  • "What is" and "where is" information are fully integrated in the same digital file structure.
  • "Where is" information is georeferenced, ie stored on a full-scale model of the earth's surface.

Spatial Databases - When Location Matters

When the spatial database/GIS approach was in its infancy, advocates used the slogan "Location Matters" to target opportunities for the new technology. Today, we've concluded that location matters in almost everything we do and spatial databases are widely used for storing and publishing data. This allows much of the work in geospatial technology to be built on easily-obtained data published in ready-to-use formats. Not everyone is aware of the wide availability of spatial databases. The fact that various disciplines have their own terms for their spatially referenced data is somewhat to blame - think "LANDSAT scene", "digital line graph", "gis layer", digital elevation model", etc.

Assistance to Masters Candidates

  • Turner, Morgan Elizabeth. Greener resource management contracting: a case study at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (2014)

Mike Stiefvater Fac/Staff Website
In my role as the Biodiversity Center's GIS/Mapping Specialist, I serve as a resource to students and faculty wishing to incorporate Geospatial Technology into their coursework and research projects. My principal responsibility is assisting with natural sciences-related spatial analyses by identifying appropriate software tools and furnishing coaching in their use. I also maintain the Biodiversity Center's geospatial data library and Geospatial Technology website.

Other responsibilities include consulting and classroom instruction. In 2007 I worked with Dr. Kevin Fermanich to develop a new course in the Environmental Science curriculum, Remote Sensing and GIS. I served as lab instructor for the eight years that the class was offered.

I obtained a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Marquette University in 1969 and worked as a process engineer for many years. Along the way I qualified for a Professional Engineer's license from the State of Wisconsin and worked on numerous plant design and construction projects. I was looking to change direction when I enrolled in UWGB's masters program in Environmental Science and Policy. Gary Fewless' Field Botany class turned me on to the natural world and the Introduction to GIS course taught by Dr. Bill Niedzwiedz revealed what my brain is wired for. When I'm not glued to a computer, I can often be found building stuff, fixing stuff, walking in the woods or on the road to a concert or folk festival. Once in a while I get to tag along on a really cool field expedition.