Geospatial analytical tools provide the foundation for comprehensive environmental assessments and add new insights to the problem-solving process. Exponent provides a full range of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and spatial analytical capabilities to assist clients in reaching this increased level of understanding. Whether evaluating the spatial orientation of data, tracking changes in a site through time, or preparing exhibits to further enhance technical opinions, visual data evaluation is critical to the success of environmental assessment. Using GIS and relying on increasingly sophisticated source data such as, digital maps, photographs, high resolution satellite images, GPS field data, site specific data layers and other emerging visual media, Exponent’s GIS analysts work closely with engineers, chemists, geologists, toxicologists and biologists to add spatial context to complex problems.
GIS analysts support the reconstruction of events. Working with outputs from mathematical and statistical models, GIS can assist with trend and forensic analysis, as well as offering insight into problem causation and possible solutions. When paired with advanced transport and fate or wildlife exposure models, GIS offers additional analytical power.
While not the only tool employed by our consultants, GIS is one of most powerful analytical tools for characterizing and studying spatial relationships through layering of data (e.g., soil chemistry, ecological relationships, geology, historical land use, time-series data, trend analysis). Visualization and analysis of the spatial relationships underlying site-specific data sets is often the key to understanding processes and effects at the site. Effective use of GIS involves more than just creating maps. The integration of client data with biological and cultural information, the development and application of spatial information for specific analyses, and the communication of results through clear and compelling visual displays are all important elements of effective application of GIS. The combined use of GIS and tabular data allow us to efficiently solve problems that arise. These analyses and visualizations are often applied in, for example, aerial deposition modeling, aquatic chemical transport and fate modeling, chemical distribution tracing, spatial-based cost allocations, and sedimentary deposition (i.e., mine sites, estuaries, port facilities, residential, and industrial properties). Applications for integration of GIS analyses are numerous. In addition to its analytical capabilities, GIS can be used to communicate information to a broad audience. Most contemporary environmental assessment, problem-solving, and litigation support activities rely on a GIS tool as a platform for analysis and presentation to stakeholders, including regulators, technical audiences, and juries. This enhances the utility of the underlying analyses and information for insurance cases, regulatory proceedings, voluntary environmental programs, and litigation.
As scales shift from small, localized sites, to landscape and regional scales, the tools available for environmental assessment also expand. Spatial analysis using GIS and other tools offers benefits in the conceptual, exposure assessment, analysis, risk characterization, and risk communication phases of environmental assessment. The goal of an environmental assessment is to ‘know where you are’
and to know the factors that influence the condition of an area. GIS allows our scientists to view a site from a multitude of scales, including but not limited to temporal, biological, economic, geological, hydrological, physical, and social. In addition, GIS tools are used to visualize unique characteristics of changes, which might be missed at one scale, but become apparent when evidence is integrated at another scale and even across time. GIS tools are dynamic allowing environmental scientists to interact directly with study areas and explore questions as they arise from the data tools. Ultimately, multiple lines of evidence need to be integrated to reach a risk management conclusion. GIS fosters this integration and produces accessible and highly persuasive risk management summaries.