Smart Cities

For the first time in human history, over half of the world’s population lives in urbanizing regions, and this number is expected to only grow. Ongoing population growth and accelerating development have transformed urban and rural landscapes worldwide and stressed channels of production and delivery of food, clean water, and energy. The attraction of cities necessitates innovation and provides opportunities to build human and environmental capital. We examine the patterns, processes and consequences of urban growth using scenario-driven spatial modeling and visualization, as well as develop technologies that leverage big data to engage stakeholders in designing “smart and connected” communities. With these tools, we can inform decision makers as to emerging development challenges and identify alternative futures leading to more sustainable and resilient cities.

Visit our Smart Cities updates page for the latest.

Pests & Pathogens

Sudden Oak Death landscape

We investigate the origins, transmission, and spatial pathways of infectious diseases in plants and animals and develop novel ways to map, track, and predict disease spread. Using these tools, we can identify and better manage the threats posed by pests and pathogens to plant and animal health, ecosystems, and livelihoods. Historically, our group has focused on modeling the spread of Sudden Oak Death, a devastating tree infection invading West Coast forests with significant ecological, cultural, and economic consequences. Our attention has also turned to modeling a wider variety of pests and pathogens in a simulation framework (called PoPPS, the Pest or Pathogen Spread Simulation) that can help stakeholders easily examine potential management options. 

Visit our Pests & Pathogens updates page for the latest.

A Landscape Ecology Legacy

Ross Meentemeyer describes his research

Last week at the 2018 meeting of the U.S. International Association of Landscape Ecology (US-IALE), Center for Geospatial Analytics director Ross Meentemeyer passed the association’s ceremonial gavel of presidency after a two-year term. Meentemeyer was the driving force for several new initiatives while president of US-IALE, and these initiatives will have lasting impacts on the association for many years to come:

Broadening diversity and inclusion across all of North America

Since its inception in 1986, US-IALE has included members primarily from the United States, as evident by its name. As president, Meentemeyer pushed for a change to broaden membership to all of North America. “Greater inclusiveness with our neighbors will allow us to reach underrepresented scientists, practitioners and students in North America, and increase the diversity of our membership,” Meentemeyer says. At the 2018 meeting, the membership voted in favor of the initiative with a 98% majority. The US-IALE Executive Committee will work over the coming year to incorporate this change into a new charter, which will include multi-national officers and meeting locations. The first meeting for IALE North America will be held in Toronto, Canada in 2020.

Enhanced communication

Meentemeyer’s goals while US-IALE president also included enhancing the way members interact through new communication channels. Working with a newly created Communications Committee, Meentemeyer advanced the idea of a website redesign that has streamlined registration and membership renewals and now better integrates with the conference website. “Numerous members have reached out to me about how great it looks and functions,” Meentemeyer says. “It is mobile-ready, efficiently syncs meeting registration and membership renewal and enhances our science communication efforts through social media and news highlights.” Hand-in-hand with creating the new web presence was the transformation of the membership newsletter from a static PDF to an interactive HTML email. “It was all about making things easier for the membership,” he says.

Looking back over his years as president, Meentemeyer reflects, “I’ve also really enjoyed watching my own students become part of landscape ecology. There were more current members and alumni of the Center for Geospatial Analytics at this year’s meeting than ever before, and we’re all excited about the bright future of the IALE-NA and the opportunities it will bring for even more collaboration.”

New Research Shows Water Use Impacted by the Shape of Our Cities

aerial view of suburban homes

For Center for Geospatial Analytics doctoral student Georgina Sanchez (Dept. of Forestry and Environmental Resources), studying urban water use is both a personal and professional passion. “From availability to use––I’ve always been interested in water,” she says. For her dissertation at NC State, she is exploring water demand in the Southeast, and how to “create useful tools that facilitate decision making.” Her latest analyses, published in Water Resources Research, show that the shape of urban development at small scales influences water use more than the non-structural variables, like education and precipitation, commonly used in past studies. Essentially, her research finds, “Developed landscapes that promote simple, cohesive spatial patterns show potential for more efficient use of water.”

Why, you may ask, is shape so influential?

“We need to understand one simple connection,” Georgina says. “People make de facto water use decisions as they make land use decisions.” Compact, simply shaped patches of development represent landscapes in which people make different resource-use decisions than in sprawling, irregularly shaped patches. “We have to think about the whole picture,” Georgina says: “Behavior, process, and pattern.”

In simply shaped urban areas, for example, there are fewer lawns, amenities tend to be closer together, and the land footprint per person is smaller. Conversely, in more complicated-shaped patches of development, such as suburban housing, residents tend to use more water (e.g., for their lawns and gardens, backyard pools, etc.), as well as more energy and gas for their cars. “Shape, in relation to the way we design urban spaces, affects not only how we use water, but also it has been shown to influence energy consumption, carbon footprint and physical activity,” Georgina says.

suburban housing vs. urban grid of buildings
Water use depends in part on the spatial pattern of developments, due to human decision-making. Developments with more complicated shapes (left) have higher water demand, due to the choices of people who live there. Developments with more compact, simple shapes (right) exhibit lower water demand.

For her study, Georgina examined several thousand census tracts in more than 100 counties across North and South Carolina and built statistical models to predict their water use using landscape, socio-economic and environmental variables. The best performing model included all three categories of variable, but a metric called Shape Index proved to be most important. Shape Index measures the complexity of developed land patches on a landscape; patches with the most simple shapes have low values and patches with more complicated shapes have higher values. “Overall,” Georgina and her co-authors say, “increases in the geometric complexity of spatial patterns of development (measured by the Shape Index) was associated with higher water use of both domestic water use and total water use.”

Her study is the first to show this across a large geographic region. What, then, are the implications of these findings?

“This paper serves as proof of concept of a method,” Georgina says. “Our results indicate that water consumption rates in developed areas across the Carolinas are sensitive to patterns of urbanization. Now, can we use this information to guide how future development choices might play a role in local and regional water demand?” Her ongoing work now “couples water use modeling, land change modeling and advanced geospatial analytics” to forecast urban growth and the associated total water use nearly fifty years into the future. “This is quite novel,” she says, “projecting water demand based on spatial patterns of urbanization and anticipated changes in climate.” A status quo simulation she is running projects urban development based on observed growth trends over the past 20 years, while a “WaterSmart” simulation optimizes water efficiency, including through incentives that promote “infill” near existing development rather than sprawl. Her presentation of a poster based on this research won third place at the 2018 College of Natural Resources Graduate Research Symposium.

For Georgina, the accolades are secondary to making a difference with her research. “All of my work is behind the computer, modeling, but I try as much as I can to connect with our partners and stakeholders in this project––municipalities, water-suppliers, state regulatory agencies, to name some of them,” she says. Her collaborators include researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey’s South Atlantic Water Science Center, Department of the Interior Southeast Climate Science Center and U.S. Forest Service. Georgina is also using only publicly available datasets and open source software for this research, ensuring that it is replicable and scalable to the entire nation. “At the end of the day,” she says, “we want to create a product that people will use.”


Georgina is co-advised by Ross Meentemeyer, director of the Center for Geospatial Analytics, and Jordan Smith, director of the Institute of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism at Utah State University.

Global Change Fellow Spotlight: Devon Gaydos

Devon Gaydos

Every year the Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center funds a multi-disciplinary cohort of Global Change Fellows representing colleges across NC State University. Catch up with Spring 2018 Fellow and Ph.D. student Devon Gaydos and learn more about her applied research in forest health.

Read the full Q&A here:

Center Scholars Win Three of Four Prizes in Research Poster Competition

Observing a 3D image on a poster

On Friday, February 2, the College of Natural Resources hosted its first annual Graduate Research Symposium, showcasing and celebrating the outstanding research and scholarship of graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and faculty advisors affiliated with the college. The event included a research poster competition, with prizes awarded to support travel to conferences and other research meetings. Three of the top four awards were presented to scholars from the Center for Geospatial Analytics.


Krishna SinghKunwar (Krishna) Singh, a postdoctoral researcher working with center faculty fellow Josh Gray (Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources), won the grand prize with his research examining water use and agricultural production in California. Krishna uses in his work the Soil and Water Assessment Tool, or SWAT, a model about which he will lead a special two-day Geospatial Studio in March.


Georgina SanchezThird place went to Georgina Sanchez, a doctoral student in Forestry and Environmental Resources advised by center director Ross Meentemeyer. Georgina is also treasurer of the Geospatial Graduate Student Organization, which supports students across NC State in their study of geospatial science and analytics. Georgina’s research focuses on water demand in urban areas and leverages FUTURES, an urban growth model developed by center researchers.


Nick KruskampHonorable Mention was awarded to Nicholas Kruskamp, a doctoral student in Geospatial Analytics co-advised by Ross Meentemeyer and Josh Gray, for his work combining remote sensing and machine learning to improve maps of tree species distributions. Nick is president of the Geospatial Graduate Student Organization and is one of the first students accepted into the center’s new cutting-edge doctoral program in Geospatial Analytics.


Congratulations to all our successful geospatial scholars!

Ph.D. Student Devon Gaydos Named a Global Change Fellow

Devon Gaydos

Center doctoral student Devon Gaydos (Dept. of Forestry and Environmental Resources) has been awarded a Global Change Fellowship for Spring 2018 by the Southeast Climate Science Center. The award recognizes Devon’s cutting-edge work in forest disease management and will support her professional development in interdisciplinary research. The fellowship program provides a stipend and tuition support, as well as science communication training and opportunities to engage with other fellows across NC State University. As a fellow, Devon will help organize seminars as part of the Southeast Climate Science Center’s Global Change Seminar Series and attend workshops and working group meetings.

Devon also recently won the Best Student Presentation Award at the 2017 Southern Forestry and Natural Resource Management GIS Conference in Athens, GA. She is advised by Ross Meentemeyer, director of the Center for Geospatial Analytics and professor in the College of Natural Resources.

Congratulations, Devon, on your success!

Justyna Jeziorska Certified as UAS Mapping Scientist

Justyna Jeziorska

Justyna Jeziorska, research associate at the Center for Geospatial Analytics, was recently certified as a UAS Mapping Scientist by ASPRS, the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing. UAS, or Unmanned Aerial Systems, are revolutionizing data collection in the geospatial sciences, and this credential underscores Justyna’s expertise and significant contributions to the center’s expanding UAS research and teaching programs.

Certification requires at least three years of professional experience in UAS science, four references and successful completion of a written exam. Justyna is a geographer, cartographer and Geospatial Information Science specialist who has been performing research with UAS-obtained imagery for over five years. At the center, she works with faculty fellow Joshua Gray, assistant professor in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, on a UAS data project for the North Carolina Department of Transportation. She also co-teaches a graduate course, UAS Mapping for 3D Modeling, with professor Helena Mitasova, associate director for geovisualization at the center and faculty in the Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

In partnership with staff from NC State’s NextGen Air Transportation, Justyna also leads a public UAS Operations and Analytics workshop at the center, for professionals and non-student researchers. The workshop provides hands-on training for drone flights as well as step-by-step guidance for processing drone-obtained imagery. The next offering will be March 6 – 8, 2018.

Congratulations, Justyna, on your accomplishments!

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