Tag Archives: QGIS

QGIS 2.8.1 Released

Today the next stable version of QGIS was released. It is being called QGIS version 2.8 ‘Wien‘. Wien is German for ‘Vienna‘ which was the host city for the QGIS developer meetings in 2009 and 2014.


QGIS 2.8 Splash Page

Recently a new version of QGIS has been released every four months. This rapid pace of development has its pros and cons. On the plus side, the software is rapidly growing and improving. On the con side it has made it difficult to maintain documentation. It has also been an issue for people working on large projects. They have had to deal with the software changing every four months.

QGIS 2.8 is a special release because it is the first in a series of long-term releases (LTR’s). The idea is that one release per year will be an LTR. This means that the LTR release will be supported and available for download for one year. This way people needing stability can use this until the next LTR is released a year from now.

Some of the highlights are:

  • Numerous bug fixes and stability improvements
  • QGIS Browser is more responsive
  • Ability to select the units in the Measure tool
  • Improvements to editing: better control of snapping and a new suite of Advanced Digitizing tools
  • Improvements to the Map Composer such as better control over coordinate graticules and map rotation.
  • Symbology improvements such as filling polygons with raster images, ability to have multiple styles per layer.

The detailed list of new features can be found here: http://www2.qgis.org/en/site/forusers/visualchangelog28/index.html

Visit the download page and take the new version for a spin. Remember you can install it on Windows, Mac and Linux!


Community Health Maps Conducts a Training in the South Carolina Lowcountry

Recently Kurt Menke headed to Charleston, South Carolina to train several groups how to map their communities. This region is also known as the ‘lowcountry’ due to the flat, low elevation geography. The training was hosted by the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and included people from Communities in Schools – Charleston (CISC) and the MUSC College of Nursing.

MUSC Community Health Mapping Training Session

MUSC Community Health Mapping Training at the School of Nursing

First everyone learned how collect GPS field data with iPads. For this we used a new app named iForm. This app was used in lieu of EPI Collect, which no longer supported on iOS. (The next blog post will cover iForm in more detail.) iForm is an app very similar to the Android app ODK Collect, allowing a custom data collection form to be developed. To practice we collected bike rack locations  and seating areas around the MUSC campus. The afternoon was spent working with everyone’s  data. GPS data points were brought into QGIS and shown against some local Charleston GIS data layers.

MUSC Data Points in QGIS

MUSC Data Points in QGIS

The points were also uploaded to CartoDB. CartoDB is another new component of the Community Health Mapping workflow. It has become more intuitive than GIS Cloud and worked really well. (Note: There will be a post on using CartoDB soon too.)

The following day I visited CISC’s Derek Toth and three of his students at St. John’s High School on John’s Island, SC. Over a working lunch Mr. Toth showed students how easy it is to collect GPS points with their iPhones. We collecting several points while walking around the campus.


Mapping the St. Johns Campus

Afterwards we went back inside and showed them how to upload the points into CartoDB and make a map. The figure below shows the results of 45 minutes worth of work! Click on the map to open the live version.

St Johns High School Map

St Johns High School Data Points in CartoDB

This spring these three juniors will be leading the charge to map their island!  They will be presenting their work to the National Library of Medicine later this spring. I look forward to seeing their work!

St. Johns High School Mapping Team

The St. Johns High School Mapping Team from left to right: Jocelyn Basturto, Khatana Simmons, Candace Moorer (MUSC), Corrieonna Roper & Derek Toth (CISC)

Noise Pollution and Health in the Urban Environment: A Pilot Project

In October 2013, the Seattle Indian Health Board’s (SIHB’s) Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI) completed a noise pollution pilot study. The goals of this project were: 1) to evaluate the feasibility of community data collection and analysis via a low cost GPS/GIS workflow, and 2) to offer recommendations on the feasibility and next steps for scalability to the larger Urban Indian Health Organization (UIHO) network. The collected data could additionally illustrate community health needs when merged with health or other contextual data for analysis, but these analyses were not the primary focus of this pilot. We chose to look at noise pollution because it is an environmental health concern that has been linked to a variety of health conditions in both occupational and community studies and it is easy to measure with portable devices.

For field data collection, we used an iPad Mini with the GISPro and Decibel 10th apps. For mapping and spatial analysis, we used the open source desktop GIS software QGIS (www.qgis.org). While GISPro is a paid iPad app, the other programs are free. Data collection participants were staff recruited from the SIHB’s administrative, clinical and UIHI departments. We selected participants from this pool because they are representative of the staff at UIHOs who likely have limited experience with data collection and GIS. UIHI project staff trained seven participants in the iPad workflow and data collection process. This workflow consisted of five steps: 1) collect noise data with Decibel 10th, 2) export noise data via email, 3) take a site picture, 4) collect GIS data with GISPro and 5) export that GIS data.

Select pictures of data collection sites, taken by study participants using an iPad Mini; Seattle, WA

Select pictures of data collection sites, taken by study participants using an iPad Mini; Seattle, WA

When the volunteer participants were finished with data collection, project staff compiled and analyzed the data using QGIS and Stata. Data were merged with socioeconomic indicators from the American Community Survey by zip code. Participating staff were asked for their feedback about their experience and the usability of the tools.

Average decibel reading at the 17 data collection sites and per capita income of zip codes, location of the Seattle Indian Health Board indicated by yellow star; Seattle, WA; October 2013

Average decibel reading at the 17 data collection sites and per capita income of zip codes, location of the Seattle Indian Health Board indicated by yellow star; Seattle, WA; October 2013

That feedback, combined with the experience of project staff, suggested that the GIS software tools were user-friendly and highly effective. Thus, they are likely to be attractive to organizations with limited technology budgets. However, some of the other resources necessary for this project (i.e. the GISPro mapping app, the iPad and general GIS software expertise) are expensive and may be limitations for many UIHOs. In the future, the UIHI would like to use these tools to better understand the health of the community, as well as assist UIHOs in conducting similar projects in their service area.

For more information about this project, view the project brief at http://www.uihi.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/GIS-Project-Brief_20140604.pdf.

The UIHI is a division of the SIHB and is one of 12 Indian Health Service tribal epidemiology centers (TECs). Unlike the other TECs that focus on geography-specific tribal populations, the UIHI is national in scope, focusing on American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/ANs) living in urban areas. The UIHI supports the efforts of Urban Indian Health Organizations (UIHOs) nationally, as they serve the health and social support needs of their urban AI/AN communities.

The Center for Public Service Communications and the National Library of Medicine provided funding for the UIHI to complete this project.

Map and Analyze Field Data with QGIS

After community field data collection, the next step typically involves bringing the data into a desktop GIS. This is the middle step in the workflow outlined in the Introduction. Here the data can be viewed against basemaps such as Google or OpenStreetMap, and combined with other organizational data. This is where analyses can be conducted. Presentation quality maps can also be generated in this step.

The software we found to be the best fit is QGIS. This is an open source desktop GIS software. It has many strengths:

  • It can consume many kinds of data, including all the data that would come out of the field data collection apps.
  • It is both intuitive and robust.
  • It has a large suite of geoprocessing tools for analyzing data.
  • It will run on Windows, Mac, or Linux.
  • It is free to download and install.
  • It is well documented.
  • There is a large user community.
  • New functionality is being continuously added. New stable versions are being released every 4 months!

 QGIS Browser:

QGIS has two main applications: QGIS Browser and QGIS Desktop. Browser allows you to preview your GIS data. It is similar to Windows Explorer, or Mac Finder, but is designed to work with GIS data. It has a File Tree, a main Display Window, Database Connections and Display Tabs (See figure below). It allows you to view basic information about a GIS layer and preview both the spatial features and the attributes. Data can be dragged and dropped from QGIS Browser to QGIS Desktop.

QGIS Browser

QGIS Browser

QGIS Desktop:

Desktop is the program for conducting analyses and making maps. It comes with tools for editing and manipulating GIS data. The main interface is similar to well known proprietary GIS packages with a Table of Contents along the left side. This shows your data layers and the symbol applied to them. The majority of the space is taken up with the Map Window (See figure below). Buttons along the left side allow you to add data to a map. Buttons along the top allow you to pan and zoom into the map. There are additional editing and data analysis tools available from menus.

QGIS Desktop

QGIS Desktop

With QGIS Desktop you can perform analyses such as calculating distances to resources, characterizing communities with socioeconomic data from the U.S. Census (NOTE: you will need to obtain data from the U.S. Census to do this), or generate new data like density surfaces.  The sky is the limit.

QGIS Desktop also comes with a Print Composer (See figure below). This opens in a separate window and allows you to craft a publication quality map. Common map elements such as a title, legend, scale bar, north arrow, logos, and text can be added. The final map can be exported in a variety of common image formats such as: jpg, png or tif. Maps can also be exported as pdf’s. If you want to do additional design work in a program like InkScape or Adobe Illustrator the maps can also be exported as svg files.

QGIS Print Composer

QGIS Print Composer


While fairly intuitive, GIS work can still be rather complicated and full of jargon. There is a learning curve involved. To help with this we have resources that explain how to install QGIS and bring in data from the three recommended field data collection apps.

For more complete GIS training with QGIS there is the newly created FOSS4G Academy. This is a five course curriculum teaching GIS principles via QGIS. The material is available for free here: http://foss4geo.org/. The courses include:

  • GST 101 – Introduction to Geospatial Technology
  • GST 102 – Spatial Analysis
  • GST 103 – Data Acquisition and Management
  • GST 104 – Cartography
  • GST 105 – Remote Sensing

QGIS also comes with thorough documentation.

Download it today and try it out!

FOSS4G Academy Launched

For the first time there is a complete GIS curriculum based on free and open source (FOSS4G) software! Better yet the material are freely available to everyone. The curriculum consists of five courses:

  • GST 101 – Introduction to Geospatial Technology
  • GST 102 – Spatial Analysis
  • GST 103 – Data Acquisition and Management
  • GST 104 – Cartography
  • GST 105 – Remote Sensing
Examples of FOSS4G Academy QGIS Labs

Examples of FOSS4G Academy QGIS Labs

The courses were developed via the National Information Security and Geospatial Technologies Consortium (NISGTC), under the leadership of Phil Davis (Del Mar College). Kurt Menke (Bird’s Eye View), and Dr. Richard Smith (Texas A & M – Corpus Christi), authored the material which includes: theory, lecture, labs, data and task oriented video tutorials for each lab exercise.

The courses are aligned with the Department of Labors Geospatial Technology Competency Model (GTCM). The GTCM  was published in 2010 and will be revised in 2015. It describes the complete set of knowledge, skills, and abilities required by GIS professionals. It is designed around a hierarchical tiered model of knowledge and promotes use of open source technology.


Geospatial Technology Competency Model

QGIS is the featured software for all courses. When appropriate other FOSS software’s are also included such as GRASS and InkScape.

The vast majority of US based colleges and universities use a single vendor’s proprietary GIS software, making this series of courses very unique. In fact it is the first national attempt at a completely open source GIS curriculum. By their very nature of open source software, there is no marketing engine promoting them. This has slowed the adoption and overall use of open source GIS. One hope is that this material will entice people to learn about the same low cost mapping workflows that the Community Health Maps program is promoting.

The targeted audience is broad and includes:

  • Secondary school educators and students
  • Two and four year college educators and students
  • Students in need of GIS skills
  • Workers seeking to broaden technology skills
  • Anyone desiring QGIS and open source knowledge and skills

The courses are available online at the FOSS4G Academy. Over 2,500 students have already enrolled for these courses demonstrating how in demand these materials are. Visit the FOSS4G Academy now and explore the material!

FOSS4G Academy

FOSS4G Academy