Baylor to Open Geographic Research Center

June 1, 1998

WACO, Texas -- Baylor University has established a new research institute to operate its highly successful Geographic Information System (GIS) - the world's fifth largest -- used by NASA and other government agencies to map the earth and provide data for tornado and flood watches.

Although several commercially developed Geographic Information Systems currently exist, Dr. Thomas T. Goforth, chair of geology and acting director of the new Center for Applied Geographic and Spatial Research, said Baylor is among the country's first institutions to develop such a system for academic purposes.

"We hope this will put Baylor in the forefront of universities using Geographic Information Systems," Goforth said. "The center will provide a structure to develop collaborative research. This technology has given us a new definition of geography."

The primary function of the center will be the operation of the internationally recognized GIS called Geographic Resource Analysis Support System (GRASS). GRASS is a leading source of spatial data for many of the world's top science and research institutions including NASA, which uses the system for planetary mapping studies, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), which uses the system to map weather patterns to support the National Weather Service in issuing tornado and flood watches. The United States Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency also use GRASS technology.

Japanese governmental agencies use GRASS for environmental and agricultural planning, and the Hydrologic Unit Model for the United States (HUMUS) uses the technology to track the availability of the nation's water resources. GRASS provides numerous space-related research applications including land use planning, marketing demographics, terrain analyses, subdivision development and science and natural resource studies.

Additional purposes of the research center will include continued development of GRASS technology, collaboration with other institutions on research projects using GRASS, pursuing research grants and initiating industry research contracts. The geographic research center also will sponsor conferences to teach industry and academic representatives how to use GRASS, commercialize GRASS-related applications, and add GRASS to Baylor's existing science curriculum.

In 1997, two Baylor geology doctoral candidates took over the development of GRASS for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The GRASS website has received more than 1,000 hits daily since Baylor assumed control of the system and has risen to more than 1,500 hits per day since the system was featured in a leading GIS trade journal in February.

The center will have interdisciplinary uses and will host in-house seminars this summer for Baylor's Hankamer School of Business, the School of Engineering and Computer Science, and the College of Arts and Sciences. Bruce Byars and Steve Clamons, the Baylor doctoral students who took the initial leadership of the GRASS project, will serve as research associates for the center and Clay Cockrell will serve as business development associate. The Baylor faculty will support the core staff on special projects.

In the fall of 1997, Byars and Clamons developed GRASS version 4.2 and will release version 5.0 this summer. They also have developed a new GRASS documentation manual.

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