GIS: Mapping the way forward

Featured Image Source: COVID-19 Countries Response

In the futuristic world that we live in, we take for granted a range of technology from smartphones to Augmented Reality apps or 3D maps, without realizing that their applications go far beyond solely serving our personal needs.

In the futuristic world that we live in, we take for granted a range of technology from smartphones to Augmented Reality apps or 3D maps, without realizing that their applications go far beyond solely serving our personal needs. The global context of this technology often underpins large swathes of society or, like in the case of 3D maps, are built to organize extensive data layers using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) or geospatial software.

Since its inception originated from geographic sееcience in the late 70s, geospatial information has become an integral part of the governmental sphere as well as commercial sector contributing to making effective decisions. Put simply, geospatial software is a network that can be assigned to a variety of tasks connected to the seizure, retention, analysis and exhibition of data. This data includes social and physical geography, aspects of local and/or global terrain, industrialized areas and national or international infrastructure. In addition to data collection, GIS is able to collate the information and visualize it, reflecting various patterns and relations.

According to Geographic Information System (GIS) Software Market: Global Opportunity Analysis and Industry Forecast, 2018–2025, GIS software is predicted to be worth $7.86 billion in 2025. 

FACILITATING DECISIONS DURING PANDEMICS

Fulfilling the main aim of bringing order and clarity to huge unstructured data sets, geospatial companies are especially vital in times of uncertainty, like today.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought disruptions to the global economic status quo and GIS software became one of the effective tools for wrestling back control from the invisible threat of the virus and keeping global society instantly and regularly informed. GIS models allow organizations to process and share Big data obtained from a variety of sources and create clear visualizations of ever-changing scenarios, confirmed cases, mortality rates, etc.

GIS models have proven to be highly effective during virus outbreaks, fulfilling such tasks as: analysis of risks and threats, tracking the disease spread, effective distribution of medical resources, presentation of travel restrictions by country, money pledged by world governments’ GDP/millions of U.S dollars. Moreover, GIS systems can give useful insights into people’s mobility during the quarantine, by identifying patterns of behaviour and trends, like in the research done by Aspectum on Paris.

Organizations, as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have utilized GIS software to develop data structures for battling against COVID-19. By generating ‘epidemic map displays’, ‘fever clinic queries’ and ‘passenger information queries’, GIS models made information available faster, developing reliable groundings for defining strategies, controlling and preventing the spread of the virus.

In these ways, organizations have amalgamated health departments via the Internet as well as created a multi-source network of epidemic-related Big data. Additionally, geospatial companies used a three-level cloud-based architecture for storing and processing data, optimizing COVID-19 assessment and foresight. Furthermore, the visualization technology has enabled people to see details on macro and micro levels of social geography. Thus, GIS has developed a fluid source of information that presents solid data in real-time. However, room for improvement is still there, addressing the problems of accuracy and requiring a measured approach. 

LEADING THE WAY OUT OF THE OIL CRISIS

GIS offers the world potential ways out of the current global predicament, therefore, it may be beneficial for crisis-affected industries. From the point in time when lockdowns and travel restrictions came into effect, the oil industry has been hit hard. At one point in mid-April 2020 one barrel of oil had a market value of minus $40. As of May 2020, the oil industry, in tandem with other markets, has been showing gradual signs of improvement, but it will be a long road to recovery. 

OPEC estimates Q2/20 demand to be down by 3 million barrels per day. IEA said that we won’t see pre-virus prices for at least another year. “It is all about the demand now, how quickly it will come back and whether we will see a second wave of COVID”, said Oleg Girko, senior oil broker at R.J. O’Brien in London. “Production shutdowns are doing their part, however the full recovery is still miles away”, he added.

As with COVID-19, the oil industry is unsurprisingly well-acquainted with geospatial solutions so much like GIS itself, it is bound to geography. The cornerstones of the fossil fuel trade, such as the laying of pipes and exploration for further resources, rely on GIS software. This relationship expands while the software’s versatility proves itself of use in further areas of the oil industry, for instance, in the event of mishaps, like spills geospatial displays have shown to be an asset in the analysis of damaged areas and creation of appropriate plans based on the ability of GIS systems to combine the requisite geographical and geological data with oil slick signatures and exact locations of the source of the spillage. These features ultimately allow oil and gas companies to move more quickly and to deal with the inherent problems and complicated situations. 

So, how can the oil industry actually benefit from using geospatial software? The main aspects of its applications are:

Asset management

GIS companies create opportunities for better storage, collection and management of the physical locations associated with the oil industry. Pipelines, rigs, wells and tank terminals would be represented in detail via a geodatabase. Alongside this information would be less physically tangible data, e.g. installation dates, lease start and finish dates and so on. The presentation of both sets of information enables a more accurate decision-making at executive and management level via the visualization that geospatial companies offer.

 Assessment of terrain suitability

The suitability of terrain for fossil fuel companies in terms of its stability can save a great deal of money. In this regard, satellite technology (InSAR) works with GIS technology to determine whether or not staff should be sent out on location. Also, it helps to maintain safety of existing sites in relation to potential or existing geo hazards.

Mapping and deploying with better efficacy

Through GIS, data-driven, and therefore more accurate, maps can be generated and so in turn transport routes, workforce needs and other logistical areas critical to efficient oil mining. All these can be done with speed and authority through the technology. Similarly, the actions can be carried out for multiple locations which clearly boosts efficiency, saves time and costs. These attributes are especially crucial in the post-crisis era.

THE SKY’S THE LIMIT?

The versatility and widespread use of geospatial data is not a phenomenon that prevails unimpeded. In fact, there has been an upsurge in the use of GIS models which looks likely to continue as cities are becoming more and more ‘smart-centric’, while GIS interfaces synchronise with existing advanced technologies, such as Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and the Internet of Things (IoT), creating further opportunities. Nevertheless, current applications of geospatial software reveal the challenges which have to be overcome – maintaining the veracity of the data and finding ways to integrate it seamlessly, not to mention the high cost and limited accessibility of the software. Mitigating these issues will facilitate more coherent data-driven strategies built upon a closer cooperation between governments, businesses and academic establishments. 

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