GEOG 487
Environmental Challenges in Spatial Data Science

Lesson 3 Overview and Checklist


Lesson 3 Overview


In Lessons 3 and 4, we will practice completing many of the typical required steps in a GIS workflow:

  1. acquire or create new data;
  2. understand data content and limitations;
  3. customize data for your project;
  4. design & run analysis;
  5. interpret results; and
  6. present results (maps, charts, tables, photos, reports, etc.).

We will explore these ideas in the context of a wetland restoration project in the Great Lakes Region, where we will discuss what wetlands are, why they are important, and common environmental concerns. We will use both publicly available and private data sets, time series, site-level data created as part of a cooperative research project between the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the University of Michigan.


You are part of a research team tasked with creating a restoration plan for a portion of a degraded wetland complex. You need to understand how the vegetation within the wetland has historically responded to changes in water levels. This information will enable you to predict the health of the wetland in future scenarios, including anticipated hydrological changes due to climate change. You begin by searching for publicly available sources of data for your analysis. You find that there isn't a dataset that has sufficient detail about vegetation for your study area. Furthermore, you are unable to find a dataset that shows wetland vegetation at multiple points in time. Your team hires a remote sensing specialist to acquire and interpret historical imagery and digitize polygons representing vegetation over time. Your job is to figure out how to use the vegetation data and GIS software to understand the relationship between fluctuating water levels and changes in vegetation.


At the successful completion of Lesson 3, you will have:

  • loaded online data within ArcGIS;
  • downloaded raw GIS files and customized them for a specific project;
  • explored the pros and cons of publicly available data;
  • viewed and interpreted time-series aerial photos.
SDGs for poverty, clean water/sanitation, sustainable cities, climate action, life below water, 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 to the Lesson 3 Discussion.


This lesson is worth 100 points and is one week in length. 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 in Lesson 3.
    Read the information on the "Background Information," "Required Readings," "Lesson Data," "Step-by-Step Activity," "Advanced Activities," and "Summary and Deliverables" pages.
  2. Download Lesson 3 datasets.
    See the "Lesson Data" page.
  3. Complete the Lesson 3 Step-by-Step Activity.
    See the "Step-by-Step Activity" page for a link to a printable PDF of steps to follow.
  4. Complete the Lesson 3 Advanced Activity.
    See the "Advanced Activity" page.
  5. Complete the Lesson 3 Quiz.
    See the "Summary and Deliverables" page.
  6. Optional - Check out the "Additional Resources" page. This section includes links to several types of resources if you are interested in learning more about the GIS techniques or environmental topics covered in this lesson.

SDG image retrieved from the United Nations