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UNH professor uses GIS mapping to help protect species

By KIMBERLEY HAAS
Union Leader Correspondent

November 12. 2017 9:16PM

This map of the coastal watershed of New Hampshire shows how geographic information systems provides details that can be used by scientists. (COURTESY)

UNH Professor Russell Congalton has recently co-authored a book about turning remotely sensed imagery into geospatial information. (COURTESY)

DURHAM — A University of New Hampshire professor says geographic information systems can help protect endangered species, predict forest fires and monitor the coastal watershed.

Geographic information systems are designed to capture, manipulate, analyze and manage all types of information. Russell Congalton of the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station said analysts layer the data on top of each other to help them solve a specific problem.

For example, in the mid-1990s, Congalton and a team of students set out to see if the small whorled pogonia should be protected by the federal Endangered Species Act.

They created a mapping database using information they discovered about the rare orchid. A vast majority of the known plants are found in New Hampshire and Maine.

“We found out the orchid likes wet soils. We also found the orchid likes to exist at the bottom of slopes. We took all of this data and layered it,” Congalton said. “We went and found the orchid in places where nobody else could find it.”

According to a 1996 paper on the research by Congalton and Molly Sperduto, nine previously undiscovered populations of the orchid were found. The small whorled pogonia is a threatened species, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Congalton has worked on mapping moose, deer, loons and bears. He has mapped forest change and eelgrass. Projects have also included fire and fuels management.

Last week, Congalton was working in Mexico on water quality issues.

Congalton recently co-authored a book about how to turn remotely sensed imagery into geospatial information. It is called “Imagery and GIS: Best Practices for Extracting Information from Imagery.” Congalton said the 418-page book may not be geared for the casual reader, but most of us have benefitted from GIS without even knowing it. Planners use GIS when choosing locations for stores and restaurants. House hunters use mapping tools when purchasing a home. Political teams use technology to decide where to appear while on the campaign trail.

The book is available at most e-book retailers and bookstores worldwide, according to the Esri Press website.


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