Environmental Science, Policy & Engineering Program

Winter 2024



Professor Dr. Ashraf Ghaly, P.E.
Department Engineering
Office Olin 102D
Tel., email 518-388-6515, ghalya@union.edu

Lectures: TTH 10:55AM-12:40PM, Wold-028. Labs: choose one on either T or TH 1:55PM-4:45PM, Wold-028.

Office hours: immediately after class or request an appointment.


An introduction to Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology and its practical uses. A full range of fundamental topics will be covered including the history of GIS, technology overview, geographic data types, primary data structures, system design, map coordinate systems, data sources, metadata, census data, geographic coding and address matching, digitizing, remote sensing imagery, measures of data quality, and needs assessment. An emphasis will be on hands-on instruction using GIS software (ArcGIS). Students will work with ArcGIS throughout the term to complete assignments and a class project. Focus areas include archaeology, electric and gas utilities, surveying, health and human services, insurance, law enforcement and criminal justice, media and telecommunications, transportation, water and wastewater, and natural resources. The ultimate goal is to use the spatial component of data in conducting analysis and making decisions. Two class hours and two lab hours weekly. Prerequisites: A good background in the use of modern computer software.


90+ = A 85+ = A- 80+ = B+ 75+ = B 70+ = B- 65+ = C+ 60+ = C 55+ = C- 50+ = D




  1. Gain an understanding of GIS principles.
  2. Gain an introductory knowledge of popular GIS software tools.
  3. Understand how to obtain spatial data from various sources.
  4. Gain an introductory knowledge of GIS data analysis and modeling.
  5. Use GIS tools in developing solutions to real world problems.
  6. Practice spatial communication skills and use these skills in practical applications.



What Is a GIS?

A Brief History of GIS

Geographically Referenced Data

GIS Operations

Organization of This Book

Concepts and Practice

Coordinate Systems

Geographic Coordinate System

Map Projections

Commonly Used Map Projections

Projected Coordinate Systems

Working with Coordinate Systems in GIS

Vector Data

Georelational data model

Representation of Simple Features


Nontopological Vector Data

Data Models for Composite Features

Object-based Data Model

The Geodatabase Data Model


Topology Rules

Advantages of the Geodatabase Data Model

Raster Data Model

Elements of the Raster Data Model

Types of Raster Data

Raster Data Structure

Image Compression

Data Conversion

Integration of Raster and Vector Data

Data Input

Existing GIS Data


Conversion of Existing Data

Creating New Data

Geometric Transformations

Geometric Transformation

Root Mean Square (RMS) Error

Interpretation of RMS Errors on Digitized Maps

Resampling of Pixel Values

Spatial Data Editing

Location Errors

Spatial Data Accuracy Standards

Topological Errors

Topological Editing

Nontopological Editing

8.6 Other Editing Operations

Attribute Data Input and Management

Attribute Data in GIS

The Relational Model

Attribute Data Entry

Manipulation of Fields and Attribute Data

Data Display and Cartography

Cartographic Symbolization

Types of Maps


Map Design

Map Production

Data Exploration

Data Exploration

Attribute Data Query

Spatial Data Query

Raster Data Query

Geographic Visualization

Vector Data Analysis



Distance Measurement

Pattern Analysis

Map Manipulation

Raster Data Analysis

Data Analysis Environment

Local Operations

Neighborhood Operations

Zonal Operations

Distance Measure Operations

Other Raster Data Operations

Comparison of Vector- and Raster-based Data Analysis

Terrain Mapping and Analysis

Data for Terrain Mapping and Analysis

Terrain Mapping

Slope and Aspect

Surface Curvature

Raster versus TIN

Viewsheds and Watersheds

Viewshed Analysis

Parameters of Viewshed Analysis

Applications of Viewshed Analysis

Watershed Analysis

Factors Influencing Watershed Analysis

Applications of Watershed Analysis

Spatial Interpolation

Elements of Spatial Interpolation

Global Methods

Local Methods


Comparison of Spatial Interpolation Methods

Geocoding and Dynamic Segmentation


Applications of Geocoding

Dynamic Segmentation

Applications of Dynamic Segmentation

Path Analysis and Network Applications

Path Analysis

Applications of Path Analysis


Putting Together a Network

Network Applications

GIS Models and Modeling

Basic Elements of GIS Modeling

Binary Models

Index Models

Regression Models

Process Models


Assignment (1): Introduction & Coordinate Systems

Assignment (2): Georelational & Object-Based Vector Data Models

Assignment (3): Raster Data Model & Data Input

Assignment (4): Geometric Transformation & Spatial Data Editing

Assignment (5): Attribute Data Input and Management & Data Display and Cartography

Assignment (6): Data Exploration & Vector Data Analysis

Assignment (7): Raster Data Analysis & Terrain Mapping and Analysis

Assignment (8): Viewsheds and Watersheds & Spatial Interpolation

Assignment (9): Geocoding and Dynamic Segmentation, Path Analysis and Network Applications & GIS Models and Modeling


Project GIST is an exciting GIS-based project that gives the students the opportunity to put into practice the knowledge gained in this course. The project entails critical thinking of a problem with spatial nature in order to identify a solution that is based on a rationale involving convincing reasoning. Students are to work in teams of two partners. Team partners will receive the same grade in the project. It is left to the students to team up with partners with common areas of interest and who share ultimate terminal goals.

Project Subject:

Each team of two partners is given total freedom in selecting the project subject they like to investigate and the problem they like to address. Students in this course come from various departments. Teams may wish to address in their project a problem that is closely related to their major since GIS is a tool which can be applicable to all sorts of problems. Students may also wish to explore a new field of interest or use a theme of a subject that has intrigued them. Students must realize, however, that finding the data required to work on their selected projects could be a problem. The data students are looking for may or may not exist, or it may be available in a format that makes the accomplishment of the task too difficult or non-feasible. Data availability could be a real hindrance and the scope of the selected project should be achievable with data that is possible to obtain. Students may also wish to make their own data using the techniques learned in class (creating a database, scanning, digitizing, or reduction/expansion of existing data).

Progress Report:

In the sixth week of the term, each team is required to submit a progress report. This should include the names of the partners, title of the project, a statement describing the subject, methodology to be used in the analysis, flow chart showing the steps to be used in implementing the solution, and anticipated final outcome. The instructor will provide feedback and approve the project subject if it involves the expected level of rigor.


On the Saturday before the 10th week the term, each team is expected to submit the following:

1. A report disseminating all the information related to the project including the problem it attempted to address, data used, data source(s), analytical approach, results of analysis, and conclusions. The report should be a Word document or PDF.

2. The report should contain any and all relevant information including illustrations, tables, graphs, charts, maps, and models used in the analysis.

Class Presentation:

In the tenth week of the term, each team will be required to make an oral presentation of their project. Teams are expected to show fully functional projects including ArcGIS demonstration. Each presentation will be followed by questions and answers period.

Grading Criteria:

The grading criteria will place equal weight on the following components:

1. Level of sophistication in addressing the project subject.

2. Methodology used in the analysis.

3. Accuracy and validity of analytical approach.

4. Critical thinking used in identifying a solution and reaching conclusions.

5. Oral presentation as described above.


1. The instructor will sponsor the top three projects for presentation at Union College's Steinmetz Symposium and other local, regional, or national venues.

2. The instructor will sponsor the top-rated project for presentation at local, regional, or national conferences.

3. The instructor will nominate the top-rated project for the Ashraf M. Ghaly Geo Research Prize which is awarded annually and includes a cash prize.

Professor Ghaly Homepage Union College Homepage