Travel Tuesdays - Oliver

Welcome to “Travel Tuesdays,” a resource for those whose plans have been deferred and a distraction for people who enjoy armchair travel.  Each week we’ll suggest a virtual destination for you to visit.

All of these ideas are curated and brought to you by Lorraine Rubinacci!

To read Lorraine's archived posts, visit this page.


Travel Tuesdays, March 30, 2021 - "Oliver"

While this blog, out of necessity, recommends virtual travel, I strongly believe in exploring the world in person -- on foot or, heaven forbid, in a car, boat, or other vehicle.  If you are paying attention, any firsthand experience should be more vivid than a written or filmed representation.  But there is also room for, and merit in, research and preparation.  Why not benefit from what your predecessors have learned?  This takes us back to the traveler's friend:  maps.  This week I encourage you to utilize the wonderful resources available through GIS. 

Oh, no!  She’s using acronyms and getting technical.  Before you glaze over, realize that you have already been using this technology . . . when you check the weather,


. . . look at voting patterns,


. . . reserve a lodging,


. . . or watch the spread of the coronavirus.


So what is GIS? Here’s my profoundly non-technical explanation:  a melding of geography and computer science that yields an easy-to-understand visual.  Esri, a supplier of GIS software, defines it this way:  “A geographic information system (GIS) is a framework for gathering, managing, and analyzing data . . . It analyzes spatial location and organizes layers of information into visualizations using maps and 3D scenes.”  According to the US Geological Survey, GIS “uses data that is attached to a unique location.”  This visual format can be easier to analyze than a spreadsheet, and it has the potential to reveal patterns and relationships in the data.

Pioneered in the 1960s, GIS is now used by planners in many sectors of society including transportation, real estate, natural resources, education and healthcare.  If you’d like to learn more about its origins, here’s a concise history.  According to Wikipedia, GIS has proliferated with better data collection tools including GPS units, satellites, and drones.  Originally used exclusively by government agencies and universities, GIS software is now available to businesses, individuals, and diverse organizations. 

Let’s take a closer look at those “layers of information.”  The US Geological Survey included this clear graphic to demonstrate how the layers of data create a more complete picture.

Credit: Sexton, Pamela Ann. Public domain.

Here’s a simple demonstration.  Below is a GIS map from Alaska’s Department of Natural resources.


I select the layers symbol  on the left.  This offers “available layers.”  I click on the arrow to open a drop-down menu, then choose “physical features”, then “volcanoes.”  My map now looks like this.  The entire Aleutian chain is dotted with red volcano symbols.


Similarly, at Weather Underground, I can change the layers on my map from “radar” to “temperature/wind.”


If you live in Easton, you may have used the town’s Property Viewer.  It has layers for zoning, voting precincts, a medical marijuana district, and many more.  You can also change the basemap or the map view, and, like all these maps, you can pan and zoom.  Here’s the “Town Property and Open Space” layer.


Navigating these GIS maps gets easier with practice.  Don’t be afraid to jump in and try all the tools they offer.  If you’re not sure where to start, read “Maps Online Top 10” which explains layers and mouse tools and more.

Massachusetts has its own GIS online mapping tool which is called “Oliver.”  It is more complex than some of our previous maps but very rich in features.  In order to see all the available layers, it’s necessary to click on each “+” sign.  Click on the layer that interests you; uncheck those in the list that aren’t needed.  Lastly, most features will not be visible on a statewide basis.  It’s necessary to zoom in.

I want to show you two examples of how using this mapping tool connects to real-life travel.  First, I’ll share my search for “certified vernal pools” in Pembroke.  These temporary “spring pools” are required breeding grounds for some frogs, salamanders, and invertebrates.  “Oliver’s” vernal pool layer shows several possibilities (marked by blue stars) at nearby Willow Brook Farm. 


When I compare this map to the Wildlands Trust’s trail map, I see that two pools are on the north side of Pudding Brook, not far from the boardwalk.


Here’s what I found at that location:

Vernal Pool, Willow Brook Farm, Pembroke

On another day, I visited an Atlantic white cedar swamp in Halifax.  Here is a map of the Burrage Pond Wildlife Management Area and Stump Brook Wildlife Sanctuary. 


The layer for “Acidic Peatland Community Systems” displays Atlantic white cedar swamps in red.  The pink spotted areas are former cranberry bogs.  I walked south around the bog, took a right turn, and followed a path through these cedars.

Atlantic White Cedars, Halifax

Natural history is my passion, but it may not be yours.  Not to worry:  GIS can be used to research a huge number of topics; anything that has a geospatial component.  Geology, aerial photos, ferry routes, historic sites, boating access, and census data can all be mapped using GIS. 

The Maine GeoLibrary Data Catalog lists hundreds of layers including one on lighthouses.

A search yields 63 lighthouses along the coast including one that I visited at the far eastern shore:  West Quoddy Head.


Below the map is the data:  a list of the lighthouses with links to images of each.

West Quoddy Head Light, Lubec, Maine

Michael Trindade Deramo, Public domain

If you prefer to take spontaneous walks, GIS may not be your cup of tea.  If, however, you enjoy the process of research/firsthand experience/more research, GIS offers endless ways to explore and understand the world around us.


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