Contact Info

Department of Geography
University of British Columbia
1984 West Mall
Vancouver, B.C.
Canada V6T 1Z2

Phone: (604) 822-3534
Fax: (604) 822-6150

Learn about the biodiversity of BC

Three electronic books, including two atlases, have been produced that document the biodiversity of British Columbia. These cover everything from the wildlife species and flora of the province to the ecosystems it supports.

E-Flora BC

E-Fauna BC

Biodiversity of BC

Home Page

Using spatial analysis to explore environment and sustainability



My interests lie in the broad area of geographical information--in spatial analysis and in Geographical Information Science (GIScience)--particularly as applied to  research questions in biogeography and health geography. I have a strong interest in  the social aspects of GIScience and in Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI).  Advances in Geographic Information Science and  the growth of spatial technologies, along with the rise of citizen science in biodiversity work,  have seen the development of VGI as a growing field of study.   


In our lab, we explore both theory and applications in these areas, with a focus on insights to be gained by applying a spatial lens to research questions.


Presently, I have eight graduate studentsSeveral students are currently exploring the social aspects of GIScience, including VGI, while others are focused on health and biogeography. In our work, we use spatial technologies, remote sensing, modelling and data mining.  We also work with predictive mapping, elliptical time-density models, real-time monitoring, habitat modeling, spatial risk assessment, remote sensing and field survey work.  In many areas, our research is transformative and sits at the leading edge of GIScience research. See, for example, Jake Wall's work on the conservation of African elephants and Colleen Hardwick's work on eDemocracy. 


My interest in biogeography, and an associated interest in landforms and landform correlations, is long-standing and follows from early work on the biogeography of the Erie Islands in 1983 and on fractal models of topography in 1988. This has evolved into a strong interest in GIScience and biogeography and includes work on species distributions predictive mapping, status investigations, landscape correlations, and niche modelling. I continue to explore species distributions and landform correlations, and this has morphed over time into an interest in the distribution and prediction of pathogenic species and other health geography interests. 


Example research topics in the Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis:

  • biogeography (endangered species, pathogenic species, spatial risk assessments)
  • health geography
  • fractals and geomorphology, landscape analysis
  • GIS theory (error and accuracy in GIS, uncertainty in GIS, data generation)
  • social aspects of GIScience
  • volunteered geographic information (VGI)


Read more about our research here




My teaching focuses on GIScience (Geographical Information Science), GISystems, and Remote Sensing, and includes advanced issues in GIScience, and research using GIScience (with examples from crime analysis, health geography, conservation biology, and landscape ecology).  It draws on examples from our research and explores applications in geography and other disciplines. 


Read more about my teaching here




Spatial analysis has been defined as a set of techniques for analyzing spatial data that range from simple exploratory techniques to sophisticated confirmatory methods. It is used to gain insight into data relations as well as to test models. The techniques can range from inductive to deductive (finding new theories as well as testing old ones), and can range from very simple and intuitive methods to highly technical, mathematically-rigorous ones.




Geographical Information Science (GIScience) is considered by some as a sub-discipline of geograpy.   It is a relatively young, evolving and dynamic field that is interdisciplinary in nature

and focuses on the theory behind the development, use, and application of geographic technologies such as GIS (Geographical Information Systems), GPS (Global Positioning Systems), and remote sensing.  The term 'geographical information science' was coined by Michael Goodchild in 1992.  GIScience deals with the "theoretical aspects of spatiotemporal representation" and serves "as a fundamental theoretical framework for the field of GIS". (Blaschke and Merschdor 2014 ). Goodchild (1992) further defines it as encompassing several key areas of focus, including:

  • Data collection and measurement
  • Data capture
  • Spatial statistics
  • Data modeling and theories of spatial data
  • Data structures, algorithms and processes
  • Display
  • Analytical tools
  • Institutional, managerial, and ethical issues

The National Centre for Geographic Information Analysis at Buffalo defines GISciences as follows:  "Geographic Information Science (GI Science) may be defined as the basic research field that seeks to redefine geographic concepts and their use in the context of geographic information systems (GIS). GI Science also examines the impacts of GIS on individuals and society, and the influences of society on GIS. GI Science re-examines some of the most fundamental themes in traditional spatially-oriented fields such as geography, cartography, and geodesy, while incorporating more recent developments in cognitive and information science. GI Science also overlaps with and draws from more specialized research fields such as computer science, statistics, mathematics, and psychology, and contributes to progress in those fields. It supports research in political science and anthropology, and draws on those fields in studies of geographic information and society. "


An excellent review of GIScience, its origins, definition, and its place in geography is provided by Thomas Blaschkea and Helen Merschdorfa (2014):  [Blaschkea, Thomas and Helen Merschdorfa. 2014. Geographic information science as a multidisciplinary and multiparadigmatic field .Cartography and Information Science 41:3. 196-213, DOI:




GIS (Geographical Information Systems) is the technology that implements the concepts and theories of GIScience. Goodchild (2001) says "GIS is designed to support a range of different kinds of analysis of geographic information: techniques to examine and explore data from a geographic perspective, to develop and test models, and to present data in ways that lead to greater insight and understanding."




February 2015


Emily Acheson, currently a Master's student at the University of Ottawa, will be joining our lab in September.  For her Ph.D., she will be working in the area of medical geography and GIS.  In her Master's work, Emily is studying spatial modelling of disease vectors: the mosquitoes and tsetse flies that carry the parasites that cause malaria and sleeping sickness. Her research uses GIS methods to approach disease vector distributions from a macroecological perspective.


Brian Klinkenberg is the invited Keynote Speaker at the annual Spatial Knowledge and Information Canada Conference in Banff, Alberta. February 27-March 1.  He will be speaking on Transformative Research in the Geographic Sciences.  He will also be presenting papers on conservation GIS, including GIScience and African elephant conservation and GIScience and conservation of the endangered Salish Sucker. This conference is the annual gathering of GIS researchers from across Canada. 


January 2015:


Ph.D. Student Jake Wall has just successfully defended his thesis, Geosptial Analysis of African Elephant Movement. Using geospatial technology, including GPS collaring of elephants across Africa, Jake explored the dynamics of elephant movement over several seasons in order to gain insights for protection and management. Funded by NSERC and Save the Elephants, Jake's work will have significant conservation implications, and is considered transformative research in GIS. He is presently back in Africa with a Google team collecting Street View images of Samburu National Reserve.  Jake has already published 3 papers from his Ph. D. work, with a 4th in progress.


Holly Buhler, a graduate student in the GIS master's program at Lund University in Sweden (LUMA-GIS) joins the Spatial Data Lab.  Lund University GIS Centre offers a Master´s program in Geographical Information Systems (GIS) that is a fully internet-based distance learning program. Participants require graduate supervision in their country of origin. Based in the Okanagan,  Holly will be focused on public health. Her research topic will be a spatial analysis of high-acuity response in the Interior Health Region of BC. . The Lund University GIS Program is a collaborative program with the E-GIS project of the European Commission´s Leonardo da Vinci program.