The Role of Geographic Information Systems in Climatology:

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The Role of Geographic Information Systems in Climatology:
Literature Review


Climate change is a problem that is affecting people and the environment in the modern world. The average weather conditions are changing and the intensity of extreme weather events is becoming greater. It remains to be seen if this is a natural progression of the earth over time or if humans are exacerbating it, but it is clear that there is a change occurring in today’s weather patterns. The purpose of this literature review is to look at current studies in climatology and the role that Geographic Information Systems (GIS) plays in helping to visualize the effects weather is having on the Earth.

Climatology and GIS

Climatology and GIS separately are broad fields covering many topics that vary in scope. To receive an overview of climatology and GIS used in conjunction with each other, the article that will be first discussed examines the use of GIS in the field of climatology and meteorology. The study breaks down climatology and meteorology into the subfields of agriculture, ecology, forestry, health and disease, weather forecasting, hydrology, transport, urban environments, and energy (Chapman 2007). The article looks at applied research in spatial climate data. Results of this study provide evidence that the use of GIS is an integral part of the ongoing study of climatology. GIS has evolved into a powerful management tool used for capturing, modeling, analyzing, and displaying spatial data (Chapman 2007). Since climatological phenomena happen in spatial variables, it makes GIS a useful application to manage spatial climate datasets.

Applications of Climatology and GIS

GIS maps have enabled researchers looking at environmental impacts of the variations of climate at a variety of scales, but I will focus on two main aspects of applications within the field of Climatology. The two focuses will be on applications within agriculture and ecology. This section will outline literature that use GIS as a tool to analyze climate datasets.


There is potential for GIS to help in the field of agricultural climatology by helping to predict yields, fertility, and future climate models. An example of this is provided by (McKenney 2000) using thin plate splines to model climate gradients in Canada to determine plant hardiness zones. By using a trivariate position of latitude, longitude, and elevation, maps of temperature, and rainfall enabled the mapping of each variable required for plant hardiness at a 1km resolution (McKenney 2000). The methods that are provided show a repeatable, objective approach to mapping climate and plant hardiness that can be used throughout the world. Spatially reliable estimates of climate provide a better basis for assessing climate impacts, with or without climate change. Elevation is an important part for determining both temperature and precipitation. When overlaying the new map of plant hardiness with the old map of plant hardiness in Canada you can see that changes are more pronounced in western Canada, and are consistent with what is known about climate change. The zones are associated with probabilities of plant survival in relation to average; broad scale conditions (McKenney 2000). Extreme variations, local topography and human interventions can have a significant impact on plant survival in any particular location.

Another example of the use of GIS techniques in agricultural climatology is in McKenney et al. (2007) where they look at traditional plant hardiness zone maps to identify areas that are relatively homogenous with respect to climate conditions that affect plant survival. Using climate envelopes to map the potential range of plant species in North America in wild and cultivated settings they show the predicated climate change impacts can be incorporated into models. The plant hardiness zones are traditionally defined by...
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