Up and Running with ArcGIS
Illustration by John Hersey

Up and Running with ArcGIS

with Adam Wilbert

Video: Importing data from online providers

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Watch the Online Video Course Up and Running with ArcGIS
3h 13m Beginner Mar 11, 2014

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Get up and running with ArcGIS, a true geographic information system (GIS) that allows you to dig into highly accurate geospatial data in a way other mapping applications can't compete with. It's great creating maps, analyzing data for land use studies and other reports, and preparing data for use in an application or database. Let Adam Wilbert show you how to display, analyze, and illustrate geospatial data with ArcGIS. He explores how to import data from multiple sources, manage it with the ArcGIS catalog, and then start making maps. Learn how to lay out your data in the ArcMap component; add symbols, scale bars, and legends; and get your maps out of ArcGIS and into the real world, whether it's for printing or export to another application.

Topics include:
  • Understanding vector vs. raster data
  • Modifying metadata
  • Adding data to a map
  • Importing data from online providers
  • Labeling features
  • Joining data
  • Clipping data to a study area
  • Working with map layouts
  • Creating a legend
  • Printing and exporting the map to a file
Business Developer IT
Adam Wilbert

Importing data from online providers

If you are a part of large organization or government agency, then it's likely that you'll have access to a library of GIS data products that are suited for your particular needs. Or you might be gathering your own GIS spatial data through a project or study, or through field work using GPS receivers. If neither of this applied to you, then it's highly likely that you'll need to obtain suitable data from various outside sources. Depending on the part of the world that you're trying to map, this task could be either conducted with a simple Google search, or require much more effort to obtain the data that you'll need.

In some cases, the data might be completely unobtainable, and just not publicly available. Other times, the data might be available for a fee from a commercial data provider. I sometimes feel like the data collection phase of a mapped production takes up 50% of the total time budget so make sure that plan accordingly. That said over time you'll build up a list of data providers that you've found to be reliable and provide quality data that you can trust. In this chapter we're building a map of washington dairy farms and I wanted to quickly run through the process that I use to gather data that we're using here.

And I found that my favorite search engine, Google, can get me to the data that I'm looking for. I usually use the search terms gis data, and in the area that I'm interested in, in this case Washington. And I'll specify state here, so that it separates it from Washington, D.C. And the Google search returns pages from the Department of Ecology Department of Natural Resources, the Washington State Department of Transportation and the University of Washington. And these are all actually really good resources for GIS data. We can also use finer searches. So instead of GIS data Washington State, I might say something like GIS data Seattle.

And this will return Seattle state of portal at data.seattle.gov. This even actually works for small cities, such as my city of Bellingham. If I say GIS data, Bellingham, and press Enter, this will return the maps and GIS data section of my city's homepage. So if I click on that, you can see that it takes me and I can download aerial photos. This is linked to the GIS data center, all provided from the city government. There's a whole bunch of different files that I could, download, that are all about my particular area of the world. Let's go ahead and go back. Now if you don't put through a search engine, you might also just go directly to a departmental webpage such as the Washington State Department of Ecology.

And sometimes you can find links right on their homepage or from their search feature. I can type in GIS data here, and this will link me to the GIS data from the Washington State Department of Ecology. And once again, I can scroll through their available holdings and find all kinds of information on coastal zone, atlases. Here's our dairy farm location. And you can see the metadata. You can view its geography and so on right here from the Department of Ecology website. And I found this to be very typical throughout the United States. So that's one way of obtaining data. Let's go back into ArcMap and I'll show you one additional resource.

I'm going to go ahead and start up a new ArcMap project by going to My Templates, Blank Map, and saying OK here. And one of the coolest features that was added in version 10, was the inclusion of hosted base maps. You can get to them from the add data button, here, but press on the downward portion of the button over here on the righthand side to get a fly out menu and we can chose add base map. These maps are only available to you if you have an active internet connection on your computer. As we host several different styles of maps that can be used to quickly add additional information and context to your own data without having to track down or manage the data files on your own.

You simply connect to the service and add the imagery that you want. I'm going to go ahead and click on this imagery one here, but you see there's a whole bunch of different styles. I can choose from topographic maps or National Geographic maps. Or a light grade base canvas and so on. Let's go ahead and choose imagery and say add. And that'll add the data layer to my map. Now this is going to take a moment to download just because there is a lot of data. It's downloading some very large raster information. I'm going to use the plus magnifier here and zoom into the Western United States, and you'll see that the data updates and gets a little bit more clear.

And we'll zoom into Puget Sound area of Washington state. And again we'll zoom into the Seattle area right in here. And we'll start to see some higher resolution imagery and we can even zoom in down to the city level, and see city blocks, buildings, and cars. And so on. So this is a very high resolution information that you can stream right to your computer. Through the Add Data button, Add Basemap, you have access to a whole host of raster information. We can also get vector files from going to Add Data From ArcGIS Online. ArcGIS Online provides access to lots of different vector file formats and we can scroll through the list And we could do a search for data if we're, might be interested in something specific.

I'm just going to scroll through this list here and I find this USA Earthquake Faults to be pretty interesting. I can explore some details about it, for instance, a description, some properties about this file, and so on. But I'm just going to go ahead and press Add Data, and that'll add a new layer over here into my map of USA Earthquake Faults. Let's go ahead and press full extent to zoom back out. And I'm going to zoom in to the United States right here and we can see the earthquake faults data laid on top of the world imagery base map data. So most government entities in the United States provide public domain data that they generate as part of their mission.

Often this is done through some sort of web portal. So if you can find the portal, you can download and use their data. Another great resource is the geography or environmental studies department of universities in the area. They too will often collect and disseminate data for their students as well as the general public. Now if your study area is outside of the United States, the data collection might be more difficult as some countries treat data as a protected resource. And other countries don't collect much data at all. In those cases making use of the global data sets that provides through their online base maps of data can be an extremely valuable resource.

Just make sure that you check and comply with the terms of use that accompany each data source.

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