MAYS LANDING — When storms sucked the sand off the beach in Avalon, staff at the Coastal Research Center at Richard Stockton College were able to calculate exactly how much sand was lost and show the effects on an easily understood map.
“You’re basically looking at an Excel spreadsheet, just brought to life,” said Robert Koch, a coastal geomatics specialist at the center, which used a geographic information system, or GIS, to convert lots of numbers into a picture that told the story of Avalon’s beach.
Wednesday was National GIS Day, and Atlantic Cape Community College hosted a celebration to promote its GIS degree program and raise awareness of all its uses and potential jobs.
“GIS is all around us,” said Luis Olivieri, senior manager of the GIS program at Atlantic Cape. “We use it every day without even knowing it.”
From picking locations for shopping malls to tracking crime patterns, GIS is being used by governments and private businesses. Olivieri said a municipality may want to track development patterns, while real estate agencies can track properties for sale and present them in user-friendly forms.
“It’s a science, but it’s also a big business,” said Paul Caris, president of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association, and a GIS specialist for the state Department of Environmental Protection. While the job market has slowed in the recession, the field is still young and has applications in many job markets, he told students and guests, some visiting from area high schools.
He cited Google Earth as a program that uses GIS, and recommended ArcGIS Explorer, a free download, which he said is “like Google Earth with more GIS functions.”
Atlantic Cape offers an associate degree and a certificate in GIS studies, the only community college in the state to do so, President Peter Mora said.
Art Wexler, dean of academic affairs, said the school also plans to offer the introductory course as a general education course so that more students can get an idea of how it might apply in their field.
Scott Dalton, a GIS specialist for the Atlantic County Planning Department, got his bachelor’s degree in geography from Rowan University, then took GIS courses because he saw it as the future of mapping. He said every county department has used GIS. The staff has made maps for the county Prosecutor’s Office to use at trials. They’ve mapped traffic patterns, intersections and bridges for the engineering department. The county Mosquito Commission uses mapping to determine where to spray. The Office of Geographic Information Systems offers information to the public at www.aclink.org/gis/
The Greater Egg Harbor Watershed Association has used GIS to analyze development patterns and track wetlands, forests, rainfall totals and stormwater runoff. The association displayed an analysis of Hammonton Lake from 1957 to the present that shows how the area has been developed.
“It gives a visual image rather than just numbers,” said Lynn Maun, education outreach coordinator.
Among the most popular events with the visiting students was geocaching, a high-tech scavenger hunt played around the world using GPS-equipped devices. Atlantic Cape students developed a geocache, traditionally a container holding a logbook and possibly other items, to be found on campus.
Perry Mortillite of Egg Harbor Township said his 7-year-old loves to geocache.
“You just log on (at www.geocaching.com) then put in your zip code, and it tells you where there are geocaches nearby,” he said.
Gianna Figueroa, a seventh-grader at Hammonton Middle School, said she might try geocaching from home.
“It would be cool to find something,” she said.
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