Location Matters: The Power of GIS and Maps in Decision-Making

Written by Henry Wu, Teen Leader


On November 10, the VTeen 4-H Science Pathways Café welcomed Dr. Jen Santoro, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Vermont Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, to speak about geographic information systems (GIS) and maps. Santoro is currently working in the Silviculture & Applied Forest Ecology Lab and studying the regional impacts of climate change, invasive species, and disturbance of northern New England forests. We were lucky to see how she uses maps in her research and how useful they can be in our everyday lives. We began with a discussion of the kinds of maps we use on a regular basis, including weather radar, GPS systems, and building floor plans. Then, we each drew a map of a place we love and compared them in small groups. This was a great way to get to know each other and interact at the café. Next, Jen spoke about the use of maps as effective tools of communication. For example, reading a list of Vermont counties and their populations isn’t as easy to understand as a map of Vermont counties color-coded by population. The map offers faster analysis and a visualization of geographic relationships, which the list is more precise but also more cumbersome. Jen then talked about her own work, using maps to monitor the damage from forest fires and the spread of the emerald ash borer, an invasive insect, in New England.

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