New geography course at UH Hilo to focus on spatial data

The new course is an important addition to the Department of Geography and Environmental Science as part of the department’s new area focus in geospatial tools and technology.

By Kara Nelson

Ryan Perroy
Ryan Perroy

Among the new classes to be offered this upcoming spring semester at University of Hawai‘i at Hilo is a geography course, Introduction to Geostatistics. Students will learn basic theory, methods, and techniques that can be used for statistical analysis of spatial data.

“This is a new class that will provide students with the basic tools they’ll need to understand and work with spatial data in a quantitative way, which is a lot less boring than it sounds,” says Ryan Perroy, assistant professor of geography in the Department of Geography and Environmental Science who will teach the course.

Although many students might cringe at the thought of statistics, Perroy allays such fears: “Students that take the class may discover that they like statistics a lot more than they expected when it’s applied in a spatial context. We’ll be using the computers and equipment in the Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization Lab and students will use programs like Google Earth, ArcMap, and MATLAB.”

The Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization Lab at UH Hilo is used for a variety of research projects. For example, the lab has helped with analyzing the imagery collected with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to map albizia tree damage post-Iselle, which will aid in preparing for future storms and eradicating these trees. UH Hilo researchers who are collaborating with Hawai‘i County Civil Defense and the U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory are utilizing the lab to analyze imagery of the Puna lava flow.

Spatial statistics or geostatistics was originally developed for extractive mining applications such as digging a mine or drilling a well hole, which is quite expensive, explains Perroy. To overcome such pricey endeavors, efforts were made to figure out the probabilities instead of blindly digging. However, spatial statistics has become much more prevalent, since, as Perroy says, it “now appears everywhere from data analytics in the NBA for examining shot selection patterns to our recent work on the Pāhoa lava flow estimating inflation rates.”

“Geostatistics allows you to take spatial data and move beyond qualitatively assessing patterns, which our eyes are very good at seeing, whether or not they are actually there, to developing testable hypotheses and making predictions and interpolations with actual confidence intervals to back them up,” he explains.

The new course is an important addition to the Department of Geography and Environmental Science, since Introduction to Geostatistics is part of the department’s new area focus in geospatial tools and technology. Such tools include remote sensing, geographic information systems or GIS, and unmanned aerial vehicles or UAV.

“UAVs can provide the raw data, but it takes tools like geostatistics to turn that data into knowledge,” says Perroy.

The course will have students using these tools to describe, model, and analyze spatial data. In addition, students will apply statistical and mathematical models in a geographic context and assess spatial relationships using multivariate techniques.

The techniques and skills learned in the new course will not only help students career-wise, but also can be applied to benefit the local community.

“Locally, this type of knowledge can help us better understand and address spatial topics relating to non-native species invasions, water quality sampling, predicting differences in ecological impacts of climate change, and much more,” says Perroy.

Perroy received his master of arts in physical geography and his doctor of philosophy in physical geography from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2009. While abroad as a U.S. Student Fulbright Fellow to Albania and a UNESCO-Fulbright fellow in Paris, France, and Tunis, Tunisia, he studied desertification problems and soil contamination.

His areas of research includes invasive species, erosion, and land degradation and recovery processes, using methods such as X-ray fluorescence, hyperspectral remote sensing, and lidar. Before joining the faculty at UH Hilo, Perroy was a faculty member at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse for four years, where he worked on heavy metal contamination and industrial-scale vermiculture (worm composting).

The Course

Introduction to Geostatistics
Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays
11:00-11:50 a.m.
Edith Kanaka‘ole Hall, Room 110
GEOG 280
3 Credits
CRN 12971
Prerequisites: GEOG 102 or GEOG 103 or GEOG 101 or ENSC 100

For more information, contact Assistant Professor of Geography Ryan Perroy.


About the author of this story: Kara Nelson is a senior at UH Hilo double majoring in English and Communication. She is an intern in the Office of the Chancellor.

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