After two decades of studying information systems, I am still amazed by GIS—both its eagerness to make the most of and play with the latest technological advances, and the pervasiveness with which it subtly takes root in new arenas. 

One of the most captivating presentations at the 2012 ESRI International User Conference was “The Ocean GIS Initiative” delivered by ESRI’s Chief Scientist Dawn Wright. Almost three-quarters of the earth is covered by water, and the importance of this resource to our planet goes without saying. A commitment to and focus on understanding the complexity and dynamism of our oceans is a necessary step in protection and conservation.

The GIS Institute’s booth was located in the blue-themed Environmental Showcase and gave me the opportunity to meet with some great people, such as Jim Costopulos CEO of Global Oceans, a nonprofit organization providing research support for ocean science.

Just across from me was Professor Patrick Halpin (Nicholas School of the Environment - Duke). Halpin showed me how they tagged whales in Antarctica and used GPS locations to track their behavior and learn how the whales fed underneath the ice. The team had on display a pretty cool simulation generated from the results.

Recently, I gave a brief overview of how to integrate ArcGIS Online into your workflow and how to embed a map from ArcGIS Online into your website. However the uses for this cloud-based GIS tool go far beyond my introductory tutorials. Esri has developed the first ocean-themed planning portal, mounting a gateway to oceanic collaboration.

As we seek to learn more about our natural resources, GIS supports these exploratory efforts. The fundamental tools inherent in Esri’s ArcGIS System will not only aid in understanding, managing and developing our world but will become a catalyst in shaping our future.