GEOG 487
Environmental Challenges in Spatial Data Science

Lesson 2 Overview and Checklist


Lesson 2 Overview and Checklist


One of the first steps in any geospatial project is to find relevant datasets that you will use either to create maps, conduct an analysis, or both. For example, many projects in the environmental field require a site assessment with an inventory of natural features and concerns or related opportunities. This information is necessary to create management plans for conservation and recreation areas, environmental impact assessments for development projects, future land use plans, zoning, and parks and recreation plans for city planning, to screen and rank potential sites for various uses, and to plan for field data collection events.

In the U.S., most of this information is readily available on the Internet from various federal and state agencies. For example, the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the U.S. Census Bureau provide geospatial datasets related to elevation, soil types, current and historical land use/land cover, wetland inventories, hydrological features, wildlife inventories, habitat assessments, invasive species, proximity or susceptibility to pollution, climate, energy potential, and risks of fires, drought, flooding, and demographic data. Also, many datasets are available within ArcGIS Online as data services.

GIS and geospatial technology make it very easy to combine this information into one place, analyze it, and create maps to communicate the information to interested parties. Before we can start analyzing data, we need to know where to find it and how to work with it. We are going to explore several providers of environmental data to create a series of natural features maps. We will explore each organization’s website to find which data sets they offer and information about each data set (metadata). We will also explore different methods to view each dataset, including interactive mapping websites and online data services.


Your organization is beginning a new conservation project on the border of Montana and Wyoming. The project management team needs to understand the natural features of the site to plan field data collection efforts. Your job is to locate relevant geospatial datasets, communicate their opportunities and limitations, and share them with the team in a user-friendly format.


At the successful completion of Lesson 2, you will have:

  • located publicly available geospatial datasets for environmental projects;
  • chosen which format(s) are best suited for your project;
  • explored opportunities and limitations of datasets by reviewing metadata;
  • shared data and maps using
SDGs for clean water/sanitation, affordable/clean energy, sustainable cities, climate action, life on land
UN permission/agreement not required as per UN Guidelines


If you have questions now or at any point during this lesson, please feel free to post them in the Lesson 2 Discussion.


This lesson is one week in length and is worth a total of 100 points. Please refer to the Course Calendar for specific time frames and due dates. To finish this lesson, you must complete the activities listed below. You may find it useful to print this page out first so that you can follow along with the directions. Simply click the arrow to navigate through the lesson and complete the activities in the order that they are displayed.

  1. Read all of the pages listed under the Lesson 2 Module.
    Read the information on the "Background Information," "Required Readings," "Lesson Data," "Step-by-Step Activity," "Advanced Activities," and "Summary and Deliverables" pages.
  2. Download and read the required readings.
    See the "Required Readings" page for links to the PDFs.
  3. Download Lesson 2 datasets.
    See the "Lesson Data" page.
  4. Download and complete the Lesson 2 Step-by-Step Activity.
  5. See the "Step-by-Step Activity" page for a link to a printable PDF of steps to follow.
  6. Complete the Lesson 2 Advanced Activity.
    See the "Advanced Activity" page.
  7. Complete the Lesson 2 Quiz.
    See the "Summary and Deliverables" page.
  8. Create and submit Lesson 2 Maps and App.
    Specific instructions are included on the "Summary and Deliverables" page.
  9. Optional - Check out additional resources.
    See the "Additional Resources" page. This section includes links to several types of resources if you are interested in learning more about environmental data covered in this lesson.

SDG image retrieved from the United Nations