Panel discussion: Big Data and GIS

This panel will feature four speakers discussing Big Data and GIS, on topics both broad and project-specific.

Panelists include:

  • Michael Goodchild, Research Professor at UCSB and Affiliate Professor at the University of Washington. Topic:  Big Data is often defined by the three Vs: volume, variety, and velocity. Volume has been with us for a long time in the geospatial world, but we're much less accustomed to variety and velocity. Big Data can be scary because quality is not assured and there typically are no metadata, but we are developing ways to deal with both of those issues.
  • Dan Cory, Program Manager at Tableau Software, emphasizing geographic analysis and data preparation. Topic: Visual analysis is an iterative process that exploits the power of the human visual system to help people work with all kinds of data. When data is big, people must overcome the challenges of wide data, tall data, and data from multiple sources. The key technique is to use multiple coordinated views of data during visual analysis and storytelling with data. Geography is a common view of data and an important way to relate multiple data sets.
  • John Delaney, Professor of Oceanography at the University of Washington. Topic: Driven by solar and internal geothermal energy, the complex processes interacting within the global ocean basins constitute the “flywheel” of our planetary life-support system; it is the massive volume of the ocean that drives long-term weather and short-term climatic variations across the seas and onto the continents. Entirely new approaches to understanding the complexity, power, and vagaries of this “oceanic modulator” are arising from the rapid implementation and use of submarine cabled networks that will provide unprecedented electrical power and bandwidth to thousands of increasingly sophisticated robot-sensor systems distributed throughout full-ocean environments. Partly triggered by the advent of a growing number of these cabled research systems, oceanographers are poised to benefit from a host of emergent technologies largely driven by investment from communities external to ocean sciences. Important developments include: robotics, biotechnology, cloud computing, in situ chemical and genomic sensors, extraction of novel biochemical materials, digital imaging, nanotechnology, serious gaming, new visualization technologies, computational simulations and data assimilation, seismo-acoustic tomography, and universal access to the Internet. Far more powerful than any one of these emerging technologies will be the convergence of the ensemble when applied to understanding the innate complexity of our planetary life support system – the global ocean. As these rapidly evolving capabilities are integrated into sophisticated, remote, interactive operations throughout the ocean basins for decades, a new era of a pervasive human telepresence throughout entire volumes of our once “inaccessible” global ocean will be realized. Such capabilities are required to meet the onset of immense environmental and societal challenges in the coming decades that can only be addressed through optimally informed international collaboration.
  • Joe Eckert, a founder and collaborator of the Social Media (SoMe) Lab at the University of Washington. Topic: The challenges to GI Scientists attempting to use social media data are numerous; issues of generalizability, validity, and geospatial accuracy all come into play when making truth claims.  This talk briefly reviews some of the approaches that I've taken in attempting to make sense of Twitter data that SoMe Lab ( has collected during the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011-2012, including a number of techniques that use a more traditional GIS, and a few that made use of the statistical package, R.  I argue that while these approaches are useful, new "big data" computational methods offer us a way of evaluating geographic information not strictly tied to location.  The ability to computationally treat large swaths of textual data offer us exciting new opportunities to see new media's role in the emergence of place, and open source solutions allow us to tie our analyses together in interesting and complex ways.

Michael Goodchild is Emeritus Professor of Geography at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he also holds the title of Research Professor. He also holds an affiliate appointment in the Department of Geography at the University of Washington. Until his retirement in June 2012 he was Jack and Laura Dangermond Professor of Geography, and Director of UCSB’s Center for Spatial Studies. He received his BA degree from Cambridge University in Physics in 1965 and his PhD in geography from McMaster University in 1969, and has received four honorary doctorates. He was elected member of the National Academy of Sciences and Foreign Member of the Royal Society of Canada in 2002, member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2006, and Foreign Member of the Royal Society and Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy in 2010; and in 2007 he received the Prix Vautrin Lud. He was editor of Geographical Analysis between 1987 and 1990 and editor of the Methods, Models, and Geographic Information Sciences section of the Annals of the Association of American Geographers from 2000 to 2006. He serves on the editorial boards of ten other journals and book series, and has published over 15 books and 500 articles. He was Chair of the National Research Council’s Mapping Science Committee from 1997 to 1999, and of the Advisory Committee on Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences of the National Science Foundation from 2008 to 2010. His research interests center on geographic information science, spatial analysis, and uncertainty in geographic data.

Dan Cory is a Program Manager at Tableau Software, emphasizing geographic analysis and preparing data for Tableau. Before joining Tableau in 2010, he worked on ArcView from esri and MapPoint from Microsoft. When not visualizing data, Dan volunteers with MATHCOUNTS, a national middle school mathematics contest.


John Delaney is Professor of Oceanography and holds the Jerome M. Paros Endowed Chair in Sensor Networks at the University of Washington. Since 1997, he has directed development of the regional cabled ocean observatory in the northeast Pacific Ocean that evolved into the Regional Scale Nodes program within the National Science Foundation's Ocean Observatories Initiative. The construction phase of this observatory began in September 2009 with the announcement of an award to the University of Washington of $126 million over five-and-a-half years. This distributed, remote, sensor-robotic network will convert a sector of the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate and overlying ocean into an internationally accessible, interactive, real-time natural laboratory capable of reaching millions of users via the Internet. Such networks are at the leading edge of ocean and earth science research and education. Delaney, who joined the University of Washington faculty in 1977, has published nearly 100 papers scientific papers and articles, and has served as chief scientist on more than 45 oceanographic research cruises, many of which have included the Deep Submergence Vehicle Alvin and the Remotely Operated Vehicle Jason. In September 2005, he co-led the VISIONS'05 research expedition, which successfully broadcast the first-ever live, high-definition video from the seafloor across the world. Scientists, educators, and the general public, viewed the real-time broadcasts from the underwater volcanoes of the NE Pacific over cable and satellite television and on the web via the ResearchChannel. His research focuses on the deep-sea volcanic activity of the Juan de Fuca Ridge in the northeast Pacific Ocean. In the summer of 1998, Delaney led a joint expedition with the American Museum of Natural History to successfully recover four volcanic sulfide structures now on display in AMNH's Hall of the Planet Earth. This U.S./Canadian effort was the subject of a NOVA/PBS and a BBC documentary entitled Volcanoes of the Deep. Samples collected on this expedition produced the highest temperature microbes ever cultured on earth. Some hypotheses link these deepsea volcanic systems to the origin of life on earth. In 1987, Delaney served as the first Chairman of the RIDGE Program and initial co-chairman of the international InterRIDGE. Both programs were designed to foster intensive studies of the physical, chemical, and biological interactions that characterize the vigorous volcanic and hydrothermal activity along the 70,000-kilometer mid-ocean ridge system. These programs, still active today, have channeled hundreds of millions of dollars into research and education about processes that support exotic life forms sustained through chemosynthesis driven by plate tectonics several kilometers below sea level. Delaney has served on several NASA Committees charged with defining the nature of missions to Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter, suspected to harbor both a liquid ocean and submarine volcanoes.


Joe Eckert is a Ph. D candidate with the Department of Geography at the University of Washington.  He helped found SoMe Lab (, the NSF-funded Social Media Lab at UW, where he helps to advance geographic study of social media data.  His dissertation engages with non-Cartesian geographic information, using a collection of Twitter data collected during the events of Occupy Wall Street.  His research bridges modes of inquiry from the digital humanities with more classic geospatial analyses.

sponsors 2012

UW LibrariesUW Geospatial ClubUW  Center for Studies in Demography and EcologyUW OceanographyUW Capital ProjectsUW Earth & Space ScinecesUW College of Built EnvironmentsUW College of the Environment