GIS for Environmental Journalism

Vegard J. Løwe

Co-Founder & COO

GIS for Environmental Journalism

Environmental journalism is about telling stories of our planet.

It's about revealing the hidden impacts of human activity on nature. It's about showing the effects of climate change, deforestation, pollution, and more.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are powerful tools for this job. They help journalists uncover, analyze, and present complex environmental data.

What is GIS?

GIS stands for Geographic Information System. It's a technology that captures, stores, manipulates, and displays geographic data. This data is often layered on maps to show patterns and relationships.

Think of it as a digital map that can be filled with layers of different information. For example, a map might show the location of factories and another layer might show air quality data. Together, these layers can show how factories affect air quality.

How GIS Helps Environmental Journalists

GIS offers several benefits for environmental journalism.

Data Collection and Visualization

One of the main advantages is data collection and visualization. GIS allows journalists to collect data from various sources and visualize it on a map. This makes it easier to see patterns and trends.

For example, a journalist investigating deforestation can use satellite imagery to see how forests have changed over time. They can then overlay this with data on logging permits to see if legal or illegal activities are responsible.

Storytelling with Maps

Maps are powerful storytelling tools. They can show changes over time and space in a way that words alone cannot. GIS helps create these maps.

For instance, a journalist writing about rising sea levels can create a map showing which areas will be underwater in the future. This visual impact can make the story more compelling.

Data Integration

GIS can integrate various types of data. Environmental stories often involve complex data from different sources. GIS can bring all this data together in one place.

A journalist might combine data on pollution, health statistics, and socioeconomic factors to show how pollution disproportionately affects poorer communities.

Real-World Examples

GIS has been used in many impactful environmental stories.

Tracking Climate Change

Climate change is a major environmental issue. GIS helps track its impact. For example, journalists have used GIS to show how rising temperatures affect wildlife migration patterns. They can map where species are moving and how this impacts ecosystems.

Investigating Pollution

Pollution is another area where GIS is invaluable. Journalists have used GIS to map pollution hotspots. They can show which areas are most affected by air or water pollution and who lives in these areas.

For example, a story might map out factories and overlay this with asthma rates in nearby communities. This can reveal a clear link between industrial activity and health problems.


Deforestation is a global issue. GIS helps track it. Journalists can use satellite images to see where forests are being cut down. They can also use GIS to track the impact on wildlife and local communities.

Using Atlas for Environmental Journalism

Atlas is a browser-based GIS platform. It is designed to be user-friendly and accessible, making it an excellent tool for environmental journalists.

Here’s how you can use Atlas in your work:

Easy Data Import

Atlas allows you to import data from various sources effortlessly. Whether it's satellite imagery, geo files, or data from other GIS platforms, you can bring all your information into Atlas. This feature is especially useful for journalists who often work with data from multiple sources.

For example, if you're working on a story about water pollution, you can import water quality data, demographic data, and locations of industrial facilities into Atlas. This makes it easier to visualize and analyze the connections between these datasets.

Creating Custom Maps

One of the strengths of Atlas is its ability to create custom maps. You can add layers of information to your map to illustrate different aspects of your story.

For instance, if you’re writing about deforestation, you can create a map with layers showing current forest cover, historical forest cover, and areas of illegal logging activity. These visual elements can make your story more engaging and easier to understand.

Data Analysis Tools

Atlas comes with built-in data analysis tools. These tools can help you uncover patterns and trends in your data. For example, you can use Atlas to analyze the correlation between industrial activities and air quality in a specific region.

If you’re investigating the impact of climate change on coastal communities, you can use Atlas to analyze sea level rise projections and identify the areas most at risk. These insights can add depth to your reporting.

Collaboration Features

Environmental journalism often involves collaboration with other journalists, scientists, and organizations. Atlas offers collaboration features that make it easy to share your maps and data with others.

You can create and share interactive maps that your collaborators can view and edit. This can be particularly useful for large investigative projects where multiple team members need to access and update the data.

The Future of GIS in Environmental Journalism

The use of GIS in environmental journalism is growing. As technology advances, GIS tools are becoming more powerful and accessible. This opens up new possibilities for storytelling.

For example, real-time data integration is becoming more common. Journalists can use GIS to show real-time data on air quality, weather patterns, and more. This makes their stories more timely and relevant.

Drones and other remote sensing technologies are also advancing. They can provide high-resolution data that can be integrated with GIS. This allows for more detailed and accurate mapping.

GIS is a powerful tool for environmental journalism. It helps journalists collect, analyze, and present complex data. It makes stories more compelling and easier to understand. As technology advances, the possibilities for using GIS in journalism will only grow.

Journalists who learn to use GIS will be better equipped to tell important environmental stories. They will be able to show the impact of human activity on our planet in new and powerful ways.

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