GEOG 160
Mapping Our Changing World



Geographic data are being generated in ever-increasing volumes from a rapidly increasing array of devices. But the process of collecting, cleaning, validating, integrating, and maintaining those data can be very expensive and time consuming. Data often account for a major portion of the cost of building and running geographic information systems. The expense of GIS is justifiable when it gives people the information they need to make wise decisions in the face of complex problems. In this chapter, we will consider an example where this cost is justifiable: the search for suitable and acceptable sites for low level radioactive waste (LLRW) disposal facilities. Two case studies will demonstrate that GIS is very useful for assimilating the many site suitability criteria that must be taken into account, provided that the necessary data can be assembled in a single, integrated system. The case studies will also allow us to compare vector and raster approaches as applied to site selection problems.

The ability to integrate diverse geographic data is a hallmark of mature GIS software. The know-how required to accomplish data integration is also the mark of a truly knowledgeable GIS user. What knowledgeable users also recognize, however, is that while GIS technology is well suited to answering certain well defined questions, it often cannot help resolve crucial conflicts between private and public interests. The objective of this final chapter is to consider the challenges involved in using GIS to address a complex problem that has both environmental and social dimensions.


Chapter 9 should help prepare you to:

  1. recognize the characteristics of geographic data that must be taken into account to overlay multiple data layers;
  2. compare and contrast vector and raster approaches to site suitability studies;
  3. have realistic expectations about what geographic data analysis can achieve.

Table of Contents

  • Context
  • Low Level Radioactive Waste
  • Siting LLRW Storage Facilities
  • Map Overlay Concept
  • Pennsylvania Case Study
  • PA Case Study: A Vector Approach
  • Stage One: Statewide Screening
  • Stage Two: Regional Screening
  • Stage Three: Local Disqualification
  • Buffering
  • New York: A Raster Case Study
  • Outcomes
  • Conclusion
  • Glossary
  • Biblography

Chapter lead author: Raechel Bianchetti
Portions of this chapter were drawn directly from the following text: 

Joshua Stevens, Jennifer M. Smith, and Raechel A. Bianchetti (2012), Mapping Our Changing World, Editors: Alan M. MacEachren and Donna J. Peuquet, University Park, PA: Department of Geography, The Pennsylvania State University.