As GIS becomes an increasingly more ‘user-friendly’ tool, and more people recognize the benefits of the technology in their work environment, inevitably greater use will be made of it for a wide range of applications. The ease with which a GIS can now be used often overshadows the complexity underlying this technology and the potential difficulties that can (and do) arise when this is not fully understood. In practice, there are two routes open to the application of GIS technology for environmental studies. The first is to commission new data for the research. The second is to make use of existing data sets. Data are at the heart of any GIS application. A detailed knowledge about the data sources, the method of collection, capture, scale and sampling strategy, especially if the data are to be used in any analysis, modelling or simulation studies, is fundamental to any application. Unfortunately, information about data (metadata) is seldom available, especially for archival or legacy data sets. Furthermore, although it is now relatively easy to acquire digital data, to input, store, manipulate and display this data, and to output the results of any GIS analysis in the practical sense, little consideration is given to the problems associated with data quality and how this will ultimately affect present and future analyses and use of the output for planning and decision-making. The need to raise awareness about data quality for applications is set in the context of the development of an environmental database for the Moray Firth, Northeast Scotland, and more specifically the use of selected data sets from the database to aid in the proposed siting of an artificial reef. Using this example, this contribution explores the problems associated with the use of both existing analog and digital data sets as the basis for environmental applications, the problems of data acquisition, data quality, data standards, error and how these can affect the operational use of the data in GIS analyses. The solution to such problems appears to lie with improved error assessment and reporting. The outcome of this contribution is an attempt to offer guidance and solutions to researchers and applications specialists undertaking similar studies, by suggesting to what extent studies, such as the artificial reef siting, can safely make use of existing data sets without risking the problems associated with judgements based on inadequate information, and generated or inherent error.
Journal of Coastal Conservation
Vol. 8 • No. 1
Vol. 8 • No. 1
Special Decision Support System