GIS Civil Engineering Applications We Can All Learn From

Infrastructure doesn’t pop up overnight; the cities we live in, the roads we drive on, and the water systems we depend on were all meticulously planned by civil engineers. Although there is a good deal of overlap between architecture and civil engineering, the two are not one and the same; architects focus more on the design, while civil engineers oversee entire projects to ensure they are implemented in a safe, responsible manner. 

Like architecture, civil engineering has existed since the dawn of modern civilization. As ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians traded their nomadic lifestyles for more permanent living situations, the need for buildings and roads became apparent; thus, civil engineering was born. Since its emergence, the field has evolved into a complex science – one that relies on advanced spatial analysis. GIS civil engineering technology allows us to plan, predict, and strategize in ways that were never before possible, and considering the importance of public infrastructure, the world is better off for it. 

Why Do Civil Engineers Need GIS?

Integrating Spatial Data

Any data referencing a specific location qualifies as spatial data; since physical structures are inherently attached to a location (they have to be built somewhere), data tied to that location will be incredibly useful. However, there is a catch. There are infinite quantities of data in existence, and while this abundance of data certainly can come in handy, it isn’t all that useful when it isn’t integrated. 

CAD (computer-aided design) drawings, satellite images, parcel maps, and database information all have a place in civil engineering, but it’s challenging to draw conclusions when you’re working with entirely different types of data. That’s where geographic information systems come into play. GIS civil engineering tools combine seemingly unrelated data into one, layered map, allowing the viewer to make connections not otherwise possible. 

Spatial Database Management

One of the greatest draws to GIS civil engineering software is its ability to store data as points, lines, and polygons. This extraordinarily precise type of data can significantly decrease in quality when converted to other formats, making GIS one of the best, and only, storage options. What’s more, GIS can also store and represent continuous data such as temperature, slope, or emission levels. Every point on a map with continuous data contains a value (z) tied to a specific coordinate (x,y). Depending on what the z value represents, it could be fixed (ex. elevation) or it could change over time (ex. water levels). 

The benefits of developing a database for civil engineering projects are overwhelming. Database management systems can store massive amounts of GIS civil engineering data, allow users to toggle between multiple sources, and as mentioned previously, they can store extremely precise forms of data without jeopardizing quality. Plus, since only authorized users are able to access the information, they are highly secure.

On MapRight, you can build custom databases for any type of data, whether it be equipment, infrastructure, land parceling, resource management, or something else. Users can determine exactly which details they choose to track, allowing them to customize maps to the precise needs of the project.

Situational Representation Tools

Another massive benefit of GIS civil engineering tools are the advanced visualization capabilities they offer. With a GIS mapmaker, engineers can create accurate 2D and 3D representations, integrate CAD drawings and aerial photography, and overlay them all onto one interactive map. With these visual representations at their fingertips, civil engineers can easily identify patterns and trends over time, which will be especially useful when selecting sites and determining the environmental/community impact. What’s more, engineers can share these visualizations with shareholders, clients, or any other relevant stakeholder when seeking funds or project approval.

What are the Applications of GIS Civil Engineering Specifically?  

Site Selection & Assessment

Finding the right site for a project can be a challenging ordeal, as not every piece of land is appropriate for every job. Some requirements are fairly universal; you don’t want to build in a floodplain, you have to follow zoning regulations, and you can’t destroy protected ecosystems. However, there are also many other factors to consider. Every area has its pros and cons, the real challenge is determining which wins out. 

While what one looks for in a piece of land will vary greatly depending on the project, an important consideration across the board is feasibility. For instance, you typically can’t build on an area that is too sloped without grating. Construction requires heavy machinery, and that machinery needs to be able to safely navigate the land – not to mention the fact that any improvements you build need to be structurally sound. By adding a layer for topography and soil bearing capacity to your maps, determining whether a piece of land is appropriate for construction is made far easier. 

The site also has to be accessible, and to make sure that it is, you can add a layer for nearby roads, railroads, and highways. On a similar note, GIS civil engineering technology allows you to add layers for other aspects such as city and county boundaries, publicly-owned lands, and anything else you can create. 

Once an area is deemed viable, the next step is determining if it will be profitable (if applicable). Beyond the costs of the actual construction, profitability could be impacted by local taxes, proximity to other locations, the income levels of those in the area, etc. Quite a few factors come into play when it comes to a site’s profitability, but by harnessing GIS data you can add a layer for each of them.

Environmental Analysis

Planning a civil engineering project requires more than finding a suitable location, it also requires an in-depth analysis of the project’s potential environmental impact. A great place to start is with governmental regulations. One factor to consider is water pollution, which engineers can account for by observing nearby water sources and tracking the course of runoff. Air pollution should also be taken into consideration; this can be assessed by looking at emissions, wind patterns, and even data on air quality. 

Many practices, such as tree removal, may have different rules by state, in which case collecting information on local requirements will be crucial. By adding a GIS layer for every relevant environmental regulation, you can rest assured that the project fully complies. 

However, rules and regulations are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to GIS civil engineering and the environment. Engineers can combine datasets on their maps for migration patterns, soil health, and more to ensure that whatever they construct doesn’t harm the natural ecosystem. 

Infrastructure Design

Perhaps the most impactful insights GIS civil engineering technology has to offer revolve around infrastructure planning. Layered maps allow engineers to better assess how the project will interact with the land and those who inhabit it. The possible applications of GIS for infrastructure planning are endless; engineers could look at sun patterns and topography to determine how a building will cast shadows, look at traffic patterns to assess the impacts of a new development, or even assess the distance between a new solar or wind farm and a substation. 

And of course, another piece of infrastructure design that can’t be overlooked is human impact. The infrastructure of an area has major repercussions on that area’s liveability; bad planning could lead to undrivable cities, unreliable utilities, or unsafe air conditions. A large civil engineering project could even influence noise levels and property values. Luckily, proper planning with the right tools can guarantee that the benefits of a project outweigh the costs for everyone involved.

MapRight’s GIS Civil Engineering Technology

By integrating multiple types of data into one, comprehensive map, civil engineers can gain a more complete understanding of the area they’re working with, make better decisions, and create designs that benefit all parties. In short, the broader context GIS offers allows engineers to draw conclusions not otherwise possible, providing a better way to plan and communicate their vision. 

While this technology is notoriously complex, with MapRight, GIS software is already at your fingertips – and you don’t have to be a professional cartographer to use it. Ready to up your game with a powerful GIS civil engineering tool? Sign up for your 7-day free trial of MapRight today!

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