June 25, 2013

Reflecting on the Central Oregon Coast Geospatial Statistics Symposium

Recently my CBI colleague Rebecca Degagne and I attended the 2013 Central Oregon Coast Geospatial Statistics Symposium, in Newport, Oregon.  This event is graciously hosted each year by the Central Coast GIS Users Group, with the express purpose of bringing together GIS professionals from the area to exchange ideas, network, eat cookies, and receive education and training on a specific topic. This year’s topic, as you may have gleaned, was geospatial statistics; last year’s was web mapping.

Just for a bit of background, geostatistics (or spatial statistics) is a discipline that involves the application of statistical techniques to spatial data. It occupies the ever increasing area of overlap between GIS and statistics -- and like both, its potential applications run the gamut from anthropology to zoology.  One of the primary goals of the symposium was to delve into that gray area of overlap and demonstrate to a group of predominantly GIS analysts (including ourselves), how to leverage the tools and methods of spatial statistics in our work. 

As GIS analysts, we have a fundamental appreciation of the importance of space and place. And while answering questions about where things are, what things are, and where things are in relationship to each other forms the backbone of the work we do, our toolboxes become much more powerful when we can throw in additional tools developed specifically for assessing probability, uncertainty, and accuracy--if there’s one thing I learned from the symposium, it’s that I need to learn R.

The symposium was held at the Oregon Coast Community College. There were around 75 people in the audience and around ten speakers. Topics ranged from “Spatial interpolation techniques using R” to “Predicting Change in Eelgrass Distribution Due to Sea Level Rise.”  All of the presenters were engaging, articulate, and knowledgeable in their field. This was especially true of Jim Graham, a GIS professor from Oregon State University. He gave a highly insightful presentation on “Managing Uncertainty in Habitat Suitability Models” (his proclamation that error and uncertainty should be documented at every phase of an analysis was so crazy it just might work). Subsequent to his presentation, in a truly uncanny “it’s a small-world” moment, my wife and I discovered that Jim was going to be taking over our old jobs teaching GIS at Humboldt State University in Arcata, CA.

We introduced ourselves to Jim (who was equally surprised upon hearing of the eerie synchronicity) and then met up with him that evening at the final social gathering at the Rogue Ale Brewery. We spent a few hours recounting everything he’d need to know to survive at Humboldt State, and then continued to talk shop-and-beyond with everyone over noshers and IPAs. After a few Data Basin demos on various mobile devices, we headed back to our campsite on the beach and fell asleep to the sound of crashing waves and a raccoon eating our dog’s food.

The symposium was definitely a worthwhile experience. This was the first year we attended, and schedules permitting, the plan is most certainly to return again in 2014. We met a lot of truly exceptional people doing a lot of really interesting and meaningful work, and learned a thing or two in the process.

Note that if you’re not able to make the annual pilgrimage to the coast, the Central Coast GIS Users Group (CCGISUG) also meets bimonthly on the second Wednesday from 12:15 to 1:45.

For more information, or to join the Central Coast GIS Users Group (CCGISUG) listserv, please contact Sandy Gruber at sandyg@lincolncity.org

About the author:
Mike Gough, B.S.
GIS Analyst, Data Manager
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