UH Hilo geography students create online GIS map of local veterans cemetery to help visitors find gravesites

UH Hilo geography and environmental science students create and publish a searchable online map of East Hawai‘i Veterans Cemetery No. 1 in Hilo.

A collage of images: aerial shot of cemetery, students collecting data, camera array image, image of the cemetery, image of a gravestone, image of the map portal.
Images of the East Hawai‘i Veterans Cemetery 1 Map project conducted by geography students at UH Hilo. Click on image to go directly to online map portal. (Courtesy images)

By Susan Enright.

Using drone flights, field work, and lots of geographic information system programming, a group of student geographers from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo have mapped a local veteran’s cemetery to help visitors find gravesites.

Ryan Perroy pictured.
Ryan Perroy

The mapping project was conducted under the guidance of Ryan Perroy, a professor of geography and environmental science and director of the UH Hilo Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization Laboratory.

“This has been a multi-year effort and we are now ready to share the mapping project with the public,” says Perroy. “We are honored to give something back to our veterans and their families.”

To see the map, visit the East Hawai‘i Veterans Cemetery 1 Map now available online. Through an overhead view of the entire cemetery, a viewer can click on each gravesite to see a photo of each gravestone. Viewers can also search by name.

The cemetery mapping work was headed by undergraduate geography student Kanoa Lindiwe, along with the help of students from several geography classes over the course of the past year or so. Graduate student TrinaNikki” Henry, currently in the tropical conservation biology and environmental science master’s program, also contributed to the project as an undergraduate at UH Hilo.

The project served as a learning experience for 48 students in three classes over the past three semesters including field methods in geography (GEOG 385), geographic information systems and visualization (GEOG 480), and advanced geo-spatial techniques (GEOG 481). The work involved differential global positioning systems (GPS), geographic information systems (GIS), photogrammetry, fieldwork, unmanned aerial systems (UAS) or drones, and web mapping.

The project was done in partnership with the County of Hawai‘i Department of Parks and Recreation. Staff from the UH Hilo Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization Lab also contributed to the project.

Two students stand next to their poster presentation, conference attendees in background.
Kanoa Lindiwe and Trina Henry stand with their mapping poster presentation, East Hawai‘i Veterans Cemetery 1 Map, at the 2023 Pacific Rim Geospatial Conference. (Geography Dept/UH Hilo)

The project

Geographic information systems or GIS is the hallmark activity of the SDAV lab. The work includes using integrated computer hardware and software that stores, manages, and allows the scientists to analyze and visualize geographic data, in other words, in this application, create maps. Perroy says this project required a lot of GIS “back end programming,” primarily undertaken by Lindiwe to produce the searchable map and pop-up gravesite photos.

The problem that inspired Perroy and his students to create the map is that Hawai‘i Island lacks accurate and accessible maps of its cemeteries, something noted by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. The group chose East Hawai‘i Veterans Cemetery No. 1, located in Hilo, the resting place for over 1,500 fallen soldiers and family members, for their mapping project, with support from the county Department of Parks and Recreation. There are veterans buried here from World War I, World War II, Vietnam, and Afghanistan, among others.

Cemetery with sign in front "Section 1). Some graves have flowers.
East Hawai’i Veterans Cemetery No. 1, Hilo, Hawai‘i. (Photo by KEFleming)

“In this project, we created an online Leaflet map to provide plot information to the public, including name, date of death, and headstone photos,” explains Lindiwe and Henry in the abstract of an upcoming presentation the students will deliver about the project at the 2024 American Association of Geographers conference to be held April 16-20 in Honolulu. Leaflet is an open source JavaScript library used to build web mapping applications.

“The online map aids access to the cemetery, especially by focusing on web design choices to create an intuitive user interface, including searchability, ease of use, accurate plot information, map navigation, and accessibility,” the abstract explains.

The students hope their work creating a “pipeline from geographic data to an online web application using Leaflet can be used to map other cemeteries or similar sites.”

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Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.

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