A geographic information system (GIS) is a collection of technology, procedures, people and data that support the capture, management, manipulation, analysis, modelling and display of spatially referenced data within the context of organizational or project goals and objectives.
If you have questions about GIS support in the Faculty of Environment, contact Scott MacFarlane.
The main GIS software used in introductory courses is ArcGIS. Support for this software is available from your teaching assistant and resources built into the course materials. You can also check for answers to FAQs about ArcGIS.
Other software such as FME Desktop, ArcGIS Server, Oracle, SQL Server, Idrisi, and open-source alternatives are used in upper-year courses and research projects.
For access to GIS software in our computer labs, see the list of software installed on MAD computer lab machines. In addition, Environment graduate students and students enrolled in certain courses can also try the Remote Access to ArcGIS service (currently in beta).
These two MAD-authored tutorials can get you started with some of the basics of using GIS:
- Introduction to Mapping using ArcMap (PDF)
- Creating spatial data: Heads-up digitizing with ArcMap (PDF)
In addition to these MAD-authored resources, Esri provides many free training resources. Any of these lessons are good places to start: Getting Started with ArcMap, Getting Started with ArcGIS Pro, or Getting Started with ArcGIS Online.
For GIS courses, datasets are packaged and provided within the course management system.
For data needs beyond course assignments, the Geospatial Centre maintains a large collection of geospatial data for academic purposes.
Some other sources for Canadian data include: Geobase, Geogratis, and Geoconnections. Open Data initiatives at many Canadian municipalities such as the Region of Waterloo's Open Data Portal are a great source of data to explore.
If ArcMap cannot find the data file (e.g., shapefile, coverage, feature class, etc.) that a layer is based on it displays a red exclamation mark to the left of the layer name in the table of contents.
To correct this error:
- Right-click the layer and click "Properties".
- Go to the "Source" tab and click the "Set Data Source" button.
- Navigate to the location of the source dataset and click "Add".
- Click "OK" on the layer's "Properties" dialog.
This is a common problem that you may encounter when you acquire data from more than one source. To resolve this problem, you'll need to figure out the coordinate system that has been used for each of your data sources. Hopefully, at the very least, the person or organization that provided you with the data will also be able to provide you with the associated coordinate system information.
You should also figure out what coordinate system you want to use for your ArcMap document. The best choice is usually a projected coordinate system that's appropriate for the area of interest (for example, if you're working on a project in Waterloo Region, a good coordinate system choice would be Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) Zone 17N North American Datum (NAD) 1983).
Once you have all this information, getting your data aligned in ArcMap should be fairly straightforward. Follow these steps:
- Use the "Define Projection" tool (you can find this tool in ArcToolbox > Data Management Tools > Projections and Transformations) to define the projection for each of your datasets. (i.e. According to the information that you've been provided with from the data provider, tell each data set what its coordinate system is. Note: this does not mean tell each dataset what you wish its coordinate system was...).
- Start a new ArcMap document and in the table of contents, right-click the "Layers" dataframe and click "Properties". On the "Properties" dialog, click the "Coordinate System" tab. From the "Predefined" folder, choose the coordinate system that you want to use for your map. ArcMap can project-on-the-fly any dataset that you add to the map (provided that the coordinate system of the incoming layer has been properly defined).
- Add each of your datasets one at a time (start with a layer that you're most certain has the correct coordinate system defined). Click the "Zoom to Full Extent" button after each layer is added to the map to ensure that the layers align properly. If a layer doesn't align properly, then the coordinate system that you defined for that data set is not correct. Remove this layer from the map and try defining a new coordinate system for this layer using the "Define Projection" tool.
One of the first things you'll learn when working with ArcMap is that you have to be very careful about how you manage your data and maps. When you add data to a map document, a layer is created in the map. The layer contains a reference to the data that you just added (i.e. the data itself is not stored in the map document). To successfully use this layer in the map in subsequent ArcMap sessions, ArcMap must be able to find the data that you've just added.
There are many possible strategies for managing your data, but the simplest approach is to follow these rules:
- When you start to work on a project for the first time, create a 'working folder' and always put all your data and map documents in that one folder.
- When you're performing a task in ArcMap that creates new data, make sure that the output data is saved into your 'working folder'.
- To backup your work, start by making sure that ArcMap is not running, then copy and paste your entire 'working folder' to another location.
With the above rules in mind, here are two options for working on course assignments.
Create your working folder on the local computer's D:\ drive. Use your network space (and/or other media) to backup your working folder.
This is the preferred option for a few reasons.
- Local hard drives of the lab computers are large and fast.
- This option ensures that you get in the habit of backing up your work at the end of every work session and as well as retrieving your backup at the beginning of each subsequent session.
Create your working folder on your network folder (N:\ drive). Use alternate storage (e.g. OneDrive, USB, etc.) to backup your working folder.
Regardless of which option you follow, keep in mind that GIS projects can quickly become complex and you never want to be in the position where you don't have a recent backup.
For more information search the ArcGIS Desktop help for 'referencing data in the map'.
If you're still not sure how to proceed ask your teaching assistant or come to the MAD Help Desk for help.
Go to the "Customize" menu and click "Extensions". Make sure that the extension you need is activated. Try running the tool again.
First, set your page size:
- Click the "File" menu and click "Page and Print Setup".
- In the "Printer Setup" section, choose the printer that you will want to print to. (e.g., \\envprint\mad_colour_ricoh) and choose the size of the paper that you want to use (i.e. Letter (8.5" x 11") or Tabloid (11" x 17")).
- In the "Map Page Size" section, uncheck the box that says "Use Printer Page Settings". Set the "Width" and the "Height" of the map that you want to create. For example:
- 21" x 16" tiles to two portrait-oriented tabloid-sized pages
- 24" x 21" tiles to six portrait-oriented letter-sized pages
- Click "OK" on the "Page and Print Setup" dialog.
Then finish your map and when you are ready to print:
- Click the "File" menu and click "Print Preview". Scroll down to check each page that will be printed.
- Click the "Print" button and on the "Print" dialog. Verify that "Tile Map to Printer Paper" option is selected.
- Click "OK".
If you are planning to work with the same map document and data on different computers here are a few tips for making things easier.
You can set your map document to store relative paths instead of absolute paths to the data. In ArcMap this is done by clicking File > Map Document Properties and checking the Store relative pathnames to data sources checkbox and clicking OK. Now as long as the path to the data doesn't change relative to the map document you can move your data and map document together to another folder or computer and continue working.
If you still have trouble when moving data between computers you can always reset the data source of a layer by right-clicking it in the Table of Contents, clicking Properties..., choosing the Source tab, clicking Set Data Source..., and choosing the appropriate dataset.
Datasets and map documents should always be moved using ArcCatalog.
Before arranging your map elements you should ensure that your paper size is set properly. To do this click File > Page and Print Setup…. In the Paper area set the size of the paper to Letter (it should already be set to Letter by default). If you wish to print your map in landscape view you can make that change in the Paper section as well. Under the Map Page Size section make sure the Use Printer Paper Settings box is checked to match the size of your map page to the size of paper you have set. Click OK. You can now go ahead with creating your map.
This is most likely the result of a misconfigured page size. Try the following steps to resolve the problem:
- Go to File > Page and Printer Setup. Make sure you have a printer selected. Under "Paper" set the page size to Letter. If you can't set the "Paper" settings try the next step.
- Try changing the printer from the currently selected one to another one and see if it lets you change the paper settings now. If you still can't change the settings try the next step.
- Under "Map Page Size" uncheck the "Use Printer Paper Settings" box and choose Letter as the paper size there.
At this point you should see the outline of your page in Layout View. If you're having trouble seeing your data follow the steps in the "Why can't I see my data in Layout View?" question.
Try these steps to resolve your problem:
- Ensure that it's not simply a zooming issue. On the Layout Toolbar click the Zoom Whole Page and/or the Zoom to 100% buttons.
- Right-click the data frame ("Layers") in the Table of Contents. Click Properties and go to the Size and Position tab. Adjust the size and position settings.
- If all else fails, add a new data frame (Insert > Data Frame) and add the data to the new data frame.
If ArcMap fails to start, the most common problem is that there is something wrong with the normal.mxt file that is stored in your windows profile (C:\Users\<your_username>\AppData\Roaming\ESRI\Desktop10.x\ArcMap\Templates). Change the name of the 'normal.mxt' file in that folder to 'normal.mxt.bak' and then try to start ArcMap again. If ArcMap still doesn't start, try resetting your ArcGIS Application profile, and/or contact the MAD Help Desk.
Who can use this service:
- Current undergraduate students
- Current graduate students
How to request this service:
- Visit MAD Help Desk