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What is spatial analysis and how does it work?

By Academy Xi

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What is spatial analysis

The study of relationships, patterns and trends in data that has a geographical component is the basis of spatial analysis. Read on to discover about this critical tool for solving real-world problems affected by geography and the various methods of information collection and application.

What is spatial analysis and why is it important?

The process of spatial analysis involves the collection, analysis and interpretation of data to understand patterns and relationships that exist in the world. Whether it’s used for mapping, spatial statistics and algorithms, spatial analysis provides valuable insights into complex issues and can inform effective and impactful decision-making. 

With the increasing availability of geographic data and advances in technology, spatial analysis is becoming an important field and will continue to play a crucial role in solving the challenges facing our world. 

Data analysis results can be used to represent a wide range of information, such as the location of natural resources, the spread of diseases, or the distribution of poverty. Spatial analysis allows wide exploration to occur and considers the location, patterns and spatial relationships of data, which provides a more complete picture than traditional data analysis. 

Spatial data collection methods

There are several approaches to collecting information for spatial analysis. We’ve rounded up the top 10:

  • GPS surveying

Using satellite signals, GPS (global positioning system) surveying can determine the precise location of points on the earth’s surface. The process involves using the GPS receivers to collect data at specific locations and then use this data to pinpoint the exact position (latitude, longitude, and elevation) of those points. The information is used to create maps, analyse patterns and relationships in the data and support decision-making in various fields such as surveying, engineering, agriculture and geology.

  • Hand-held GPS surveying

A GPS receiver collects data at a range of locations on the ground, generally by walking or driving with the device, then processing the information to determine the exact position of those points. Hand-held GPS surveying is a fast, efficient and cost-effective method for obtaining information about the earth’s surface and is useful in remote or hard-to-reach areas where other methods of surveying may not be practical. 

  • Aerial photogrammetry 

Photogrammetry involves the use of trigonometry and image analysis algorithms to create high resolution maps and 3D models of the earth’s surface, providing valuable data for various applications and industries. Information is obtained about the Earth’s surface using aerial photography. Photos are taken from an aircraft, typically a drone or plane, and using specialised software to analyse the images, details are extracted about the terrain, objects and features visible in the images. The information gathered can be used for a wide range of purposes, including mapping, land use planning, environmental monitoring, and disaster response. 

  • Ground based photogrammetry

Similarly to its aerial counterpart, ground based photogrammetry is photography used to obtain information about the Earth’s terrain, but this time from, you guessed it, ground level, from multiple positions and angles. 

  • Satellite remote sensing 

Using satellites, information is gathered about the earth’s surface and atmosphere. Sensors on the satellites collect data in the form of images and radar and lidar data. This Information is processed and analysed to extract information about the features of the earth’s surface, such as vegetation, water bodies and typography. The high spatial resolution and coverage provided by this approach of data gathering makes it a valuable tool for understanding and managing our planet and its resources. 

  • LiDAR Surveying 

Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) surveying uses laser technology to gather data about the earth’s surface. The LiDAR system is typically mounted on an aircraft, or ground-based platform and emits laser pulses that bounce off objects on the Earth’s surface and return to the LiDAR sensor. The time it takes for the laser pulses to return to the sensor is used to calculate the distance to objects and this data is processed to generate a 3D map of the terrain and other features. This form of surveying is a highly accurate and efficient method for mapping and can provide high-resolution data on the elevation, shape and location of various features. 

  • Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR)

GPR uses electromagnetic radiation to gather information about the subsurface of the Earth. The process involves emitting electromagnetic waves into the ground and measuring the reflection of those waves from subsurface features such as rocks, soil and buried structures. The data is then processed to generate a 2D or 3D image of the subsurface, providing information about the depth and composition of features. The technology can be used to locate structures such as buried pipelines and cables, investigate rock formations and detect subsurface contaminants. GPR is especially useful in urban areas where other methods of investigation might not be practical. 

  • Total station surveying

This surveying approach combines traditional angular measurement using a theodolite with electronic distance measurement using a laser or infrared ranging device. Capable of measuring both horizontal and vertical angles and distances, data can be used to produce maps, 3D models and other representations of the surveyed area. The total station surveying tool is used in fields such as engineering, construction and archeology. 

  • Magnetic surveying

Magnetic surveying involves the measurement of the Earth’s magnetic field to gather data about the subsurface of the planet. Specialised instruments, including proton magnetometers or gradiometers, to measure the magnetic field at various locations on the surface of the earth. This approach is a non-invasive and non-destructive method for data gathering and is useful in areas with significant electrical interference. 

  • Sonar surveying 

Sound waves are used to gather data about underwater environments and the Earth’s subsurface with sonar surveying. The waves are emitted and reflections measured to generate a 2D or 3D image of the subsurface. This approach is often used to map underwater environments and features and like magnetic surveying, is also handy in areas of high electrical charge.

Examples of spatial analysis

Spatial analysis can be applied across many industries, including urban planning and development, public health management and agriculture and farming. We’ve outlined how this approach can assist in these industries.

Urban planning and development 

  • Identify patterns and trends in land use, population density, and demographic information
  • Assess the impact of proposed development projects on surrounding communities and the environment
  • Optimise the placement and design of new development projects, such as transportation systems and buildings
  • Evaluate the availability and accessibility of resources, such as water, energy, and infrastructure
  • Support decision making by providing visual representations of data, such as maps and 3D models
  • Facilitate collaboration among stakeholders by providing a common framework for understanding and discussing complex urban systems and issues.

Public health management

  • Identify disease hotspots and evaluate risk factors
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of public health interventions
  • Plan and allocate resources such as medical facilities and personnel
  • Track disease outbreaks and predict future spread
  • Improve surveillance and monitoring systems.

Agriculture and farming 

  • Mapping and analysing land use patterns
  • Assessing soil and crop productivity
  • Identifying optimal locations for agriculture activities
  • Evaluating impact of environmental factors on crop growth
  • Precision agriculture and precision farming through the use of geospatial technologies such as GPS and remote sensing.
  • Forecasting crop yields and food supply
  • Monitoring and controlling pests and diseases.

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