USC Dornsife Spatial Sciences Institute

Hot or Cold: How GIS Changes Our Perceptions of Climate Change

Developments in geographic information science (GIS) have transformed how researchers in a variety of fields gather and analyze information about the world around us. Scientists gain valuable insights in areas such as geology and meteorology by gathering remote sensed data and implementing geospatial tools. The perspective offered by GIS technology and methods can be particularly important in studying global climate change.

According to NASA, the Earth’s average surface temperature has increased by approximately 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century. Scientists attribute problems like extreme weather events, rising sea levels and diminished ice sheets and glaciers to the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The Fourth National Climate Assessment, released by the U.S. Global Change Research Program in November 2018, predicted long-term consequences such as:
gis and climate change

  • Worsening air quality
  • A decline in crop production
  • Greater incidence of food and waterborne diseases
  • An increase in heat-related deaths in the U.S.
  • Diminished populations of underwater creatures due to ocean acidification

Using GIS techniques and software, experts can closely monitor these dangers. Robust geospatial data and detailed visualizations offer guidance for organizations and government agencies as they plan for the challenges ahead. By bringing together GIS and climate change studies, spatial problem-solvers can seize opportunities to make a difference in the lives of future generations.

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How GIS is Used in Climate Change Research

Climate scientists gather vast amounts of data to track environmental problems and investigate the causes. Spatial reasoning is crucial for analyzing and synthesizing findings from sources such as remote sensors and satellite imagery. Researchers draw on geographic information to reveal how the planet has changed through the years, predict the transformations that are yet to come, and communicate what they learn to policymakers and the public.

Continuing advances in GIS technology have established mapping as a crucial means of identifying connections between the state of the climate and other areas of concern. Open-source databases allow for unprecedented collections of spatial information, and high-speed data processing reveals changing conditions in real time.

Some of the ways that researchers are using GIS for information on climate change include: