Skip to Navigation | Skip to Content

Research: Geographic Information System (GIS) Database

Dates Conducted: 2008 - 2009
Lead Researchers: Dr. Jason VanHorn, Professor of Geography, and Dr. Randy Van Dragt, Professor of Biology & Director of Ecosystem Preserve
Student Researcher: Scott Jonker (major: geography)


Maps are the major tools used to visualize and organize spatial data. By creating a geodatabase for the preserve, the interactive field of data can be used to analyze the relationships between the many research projects conducted on the preserve. Maps are a valuable resource for research and land management.

The Study

Data for this study was primarily collected by Scott Jonker. About 40 percent of the project was spent on the field, collecting points and polygons with a global positioning system (GPS) unit. Trails, water bodies, preserve boundaries, and land cover were manually collected with the GPS, while the trees, box turtles, wildflowers, and soil layers were digitized from data previously collected—this data was mainly collected by preserve stewards. About 60 percent of the project consisted of digitizing, data processing, and layering using ArcMap, a computer mapping program.

GIS is a program designed to manipulate and analyze all forms of geographic data. Layers of data are created to visualize information, stacking data like sheets of glass—each layer relating new data to the previously laid data. Each set of data exists as its own layer. This is a useful tool for relating information, especially in the land cover layer. This layer has five separate maps dated between 1938 and 2008. When layered, one can visually see the progression of forest growth within the preserve over this period of time.

The study is currently active. Jason VanHorn and his GIS analyst, senior Bill SooHoo, are updating the database with recent technology and new data. The database should be active by the end of summer 2014.


There are areas of the preserve, however, that the layers of data do not reach. Several maps, such as the tree grid and the wildflower maps, have information that only encompass the west woodlot, the area open to the public. Data was not available for all areas of the preserve due to time and financial restrictions. However, as new data is collected year after year, new layers can be added. “It is my hope,” said Jonker, “that current and future students have the opportunity to evolve this geodatabase and expose its many potential uses.”

To Access the GIS Database

Click here

Who Is Scott Jonker?

Scott Jonker

In 2009, Scott Jonker graduated from Calvin with a major in Geography. As a student, Scott pursued the study of GIS computer mapping, expanding his knowledge beyond the classroom and into the work field. For two summers, Scott worked hand-in-hand with Geography Professor, Jason VanHorn, to build the preserve’s database where he applied knowledge from his field and gained experience for a career. Today, Scott lives and works in Boulder, Colorado, working as a GIS technician for Microsoft and Bing.