GsAL Student Attends ESRI User Conference

Esri User Conference (2016)

By Jacquie Moss – MSEM Candidate at the University of San Francisco

I attended the Esri User Conference in San Diego from June 27-July 1, 2016 as a representative of the University of San Francisco. I also attended the Esri Imaging and Mapping Forum the weekend prior (June 25-26).

I was unprepared for the scale of this conference. Every minute of the conference offered a dozen or more options for participating. There were an estimated 16,000 people from a wide range of industries — government, architecture, real estate, conservation, agriculture, technology, criminal justice, defense/intelligence, health and human services, transportation, telecommunications, public utilities, and more.

Over this week of hands-on learning, technical workshops, real-world examples, and product demonstrations, I noticed a handful of pervasive topics:

  • UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), e.g. drones
  • 3D
  • Real-time data + IoT (Internet of Things)
  • Story Maps
  • ArcGIS Pro

This summary is written for the benefit of my colleagues in the MSEM program at USF, especially those seeking GIS certification.

UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles ), e.g. drones

The Imaging & Mapping Forum could have more appropriately been called the “Drone Forum.” Most sessions covered some form of aerial capture — mostly lidar or drones (and sonar used for deep waters). Featured wasDrone2Map, a software tool created by Esri to make it simpler to create maps and perform analysis in ArcGIS from drone-captured still imagery.

Point cloud data that is captured by aerial vehicles provides new possibilities for 3D analysis and imagery. Real-world examples included forest management, monitoring coastal erosion, vegetation management, and monitoring species habitat.

One interesting tidbit is that Alaska was captured using airborne IFSAR, rather than lidar for a few reasons. Given that Alaska spans more than 1.7 KM2, it was going to be too costly to use lidar. Also, cloud coverage is a big issue with capture in Alaska and IFSAR works better in this situation.

Drones were discussed as a disruption to GIS — exposing more people to geospatial data. To clarify, the real disruption is the data (people don’t even know that they need GIS… they just want to fiddle with drones). Kass Green (“remote sensing rock star”) espoused, “out of chaos comes opportunity.”


With the improved supply of high resolution optical imagery from drones and satellites, 3D imagery is expected to become much more ubiquitous. ArcGIS has native lidar support and integrated 3D display and analysis, which makes it easier than ever to import and manipulate 3D assets.

Of particular interest is a massive project led by USGS. “The National Map” — 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) — is collecting point cloud data for all of the nation’s natural and constructed features. Combined with NOAA’s coastal mapping project, much of the nation has been captured. Coastal mapping project is freely available online.

The significance of 3D is beyond the cool factor. Certainly, it opens the door for more intriguing and accurate representations of a scene, including VR (virtual reality). More importantly, 3D creates opportunity for deeper analysis. With the inclusion of elevation data, other factors become relevant, such as: depth, volume, massing, slope, sun exposure, etc… One example that was shared was that of using 3D analysis to investigate the effects of sea-level rise on a built environment to the scale of which floors in which buildings will be affected.

In ArcGIS Pro, users can compare a 2D view to its 3D and perform 3D spatial analysis. This image, from Esri, is showing analysis of airflow between buildings.

Real-time Data

Certainly there was talk about big data (volume, variety, velocity). But the buzz was about real-time data. Technological advances have made it possible to collect data from numerous sources at instantaneous rates. This persistent surveillance system is made possible by the Internet of Things (IoT), comprised of:

  • Smart sensors on electric meters, weather, streams, natural resources, heavy equipment, high-value assets
  • Imagery from satellites, frame cameras, and drones
  • Human activity from social media streams, smartphone activity, web logs, and GPS telemetry

Analysts who are interested in being most agile with this extremely valuable data need skill with Python. It is the glue language of data analysis. One expert recommends the following tools:

  • Pandas: Python library for data manipulation and data analysis
  • Geopandas: Power of Pandas applied to spatial data


Story Maps

Esri now offers web-based tools that allow users to create an interactive experience that combines text, video, live maps, imagery, and 3D scenes. This set of tools are called Story Maps, and they can be authored in several different formats — as stand-alone website, embedded within an existing website, or as an app. The layout templates are elegant and designed to make content shine. Super easy to use, Story Maps are being used by map makers to prototype, collaborate, and communicate with audiences.

Features of Story Maps that I found most compelling:

  • Web maps used in Esri Story Maps and the data they present are hosted in the ArcGIS Online cloud
  • Responsive design (works across devices, i.e. desktop, tablet, and smartphone)
  • Tools are all web-based and do not require user to download any software; access using ArcGIS online credentials
  • There are different types of story maps that users can create. With each the layout and set of features vary. The types are: Journal, Tour, Series, Swipe and Spyglass. In addition, Esri has a couple of new types in beta: Cascade and Crowdsource.
  • If someone didn’t want to use one of the templates, Story Maps can also be created from scratch using the developer APIs and tools
  • Build hosted or apps

Here are some good examples:

Esri created this Story Map for the National Park Service to demonstrate its Cascade style.

ArcGIS Pro

And ultimately, the star of the week was the fully redesigned product by Esri, ArcGIS Pro. ArcGIS Pro combines Esri’s suite of tools into one integrated product, and it is the future of the company. The interface is a big improvement over ArcMap, and it’s highly customizable to the project and set of tasks that the user is performing. ArcGIS Pro is a fully 64-bit, multithreaded application that runs on Windows — that means it’s faster and can perform more than one task at a time.

ArcGIS Pro has a highly customizable interface that adapts to the task at-hand.

Below is an overview of just some of the features of ArcPro.

  • Create and publish both 2D and 3D maps.
  • Share what you create in ArcGIS Pro with others using ArcGIS Online or Portal for ArcGIS.
  • Application knows when you’re in edit mode and gives you real-time feedback as you make edits (eliminated the need to start and stop edits).
  • It has a whole new drawing engine that includes true transparency and anti-aliasing. As a designer, I am very excited about this improvement.
  • It supports many layouts, rather than having to create a new file for each layout.

Esri offers a lot of training for ArcGIS Pro on its website.

Favorite Bits

In addition to these five themes that I noticed at the conference, I also want to share three of my favorite slices of the conference.

U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit

Developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other Federal agencies, theClimate Resilience Toolkit is designed to enable municipalities to evaluate their vulnerabilities and inform action planning. It provides county-scale climate projections, aggregates state and municipal climate-vulnerability assessments, and allows users to visualize different variables from past to future.

It is useful to reference the climate change indicators that the U.S. Global Change Research Program has developed. Described as a preliminary set, the indicators include Greenhouse Gas Index, Arctic Sea Ice Extent, Forest Cover, Ocean Chlorophyll Concentrations, and Vibrio Infections.

Part of the Toolkit, the Climate Explorer visualizes a variable (in this example, Mean Daily Maximum Temperature) from past, present to future.

Living Atlas of the World

The Living Atlas of the World is Esri’s endeavor to bring content together to make the GIS of the world. GIS specialists can submit their maps, apps, scenes, story maps, and even data to be included. This community also provides a place to retrieve helpful basemaps, historical maps, data layers, tools, services for your own work.

Alexander von Humboldt

And now, the most enjoyable for last… in her Keynote, Andrea Wulf shared glorious maps and engaging stories about German naturalist, explorer, and cartographer Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859). Wulf has just written a non-fiction book about his accomplishments, called “The Invention of Nature.” In his time, Humboldt inspired Charles Darwin and Thomas Jefferson, among others.

In addition, he produced some of the most complex, detailed, and gorgeous information graphics and maps that I have ever seen, such as the one below. If you have 45-minutes to watch this highly entertaining and informative video, Esri has made Wulf’s keynote publicly available.

Humboldt produced this cross-section of Chimborazo (in Ecuador). It shows the plants he found at each altitude. The side tables show corresponding measured values of gravity, humidity, temperature and other properties.