SI Research

In general, Spatial Institute research can be broken down into two categories: (1) web mapping projects and (2) more traditional, non-web research and cartographic projects. Increasingly, our research work includes both. As such some of our projects are listed both on this page and on the Spatial Institute Web Maps page. Some of our more recent projects and working papers are detailed below.

Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) Toxic Trends Mapper


Dots on a map of Salt Lake City, Utah, showing Toxic Air Release Explorer program.

Dots on a map of Salt Lake City, Utah, showing Toxic Air Release Explorer program.

Cartography by Jacob Lesser. Project design by Dr. Troy Abel, Jacob Lesser and Ben Kane, 2013


This application combines data from the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory and the Risk Screening Environmental Indicators program to display air pollution levels for individual facilities on a map of the United States along with their risk-related score, by pollution source. It is designed to provide ordinary citizens with access to toxic pollution data regarding environmental releases from medium to large pollution sources like local refineries and aluminum smelters. The project grew out of research included in Dr. Abel's co-authored book, ‘Coming Clean,’ and the analysis of one of the oldest environmental information disclosure programs, the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory. This project was designed to provide more data than the EPA releases as well as making the information readily available on any smart phone or web browser.

Assistance on the development of the application was made through a grant of $11,344 from the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS). “The Toxic Trends application is an invaluable public tool that allows users to access important industrial chemical information from any internet connected device,” said Bryan Shipley, project manager for ECOS. “We feel the map’s unique visual mapping layout provides an easier method for the public to learn about toxic chemical information and the associated risks within their community.”

Puget Sound Coastal Resilience Tool

Map of Puget sound with sections highlighted in blue, green, and red Coastal Resilience is a web-based decision-support tool that combines spatial data on coastal habitat and human communities, allowing users to evaluate vulnerabilities to various scenarios such as sea level rise and coastal storms.  The tool provides analyses of impacts from various sea level rise scenarios, such as miles of roads inundated, and includes vulnerability assessments such as mapping low areas in dike systems that may be at risk from overtopping.


Macaw Cam: Exploratory Camera Trap Techniques for Monitoring and Conservation of Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) Nests

A red macaw flies over foliage

Working Paper 2011-01. In this study, we explored new, low-cost camera trap techniques to monitor Scarlet Macaws in one of their last two self-sustaining habitats in Costa Rica. Camera trap monitors have begun to produce new insights in avian research and we use them not only because Macaws are threatened, but their imagery can be used to enhance the public’s understanding of the connections between science and conservation efforts. We mounted camera units on two trees with nesting Macaws in Costa Rica’s Carara National Park and monitored one nest remotely for seven consecutive months.

The camera recorded digital video and still images effectively in a harsh tropical environment. New observations of defensive behaviors and nocturnal activity were captured including the more common occurrence of nest poaching by iguanas and the uncommon predation by kinkajous, a mammal typically characterized as an herbivore. The camera traps have illuminated the role of natural poaching and inform the design of conservation strategies to enhance Macaw nesting success. Moreover, the archival footage enhances scientific understanding as well as providing information to educate park visitors and local communities about the impacts of natural predation and human poaching on the Scarlet Macaw lifecycle. The methods utilized in this study simultaneously contribute to conservation science, inform policy, and provide a foundation for education through participatory ecological monitoring.


Skewed Riskscape Dynamics and Social Vulnerability in the American Urban System

Map of Seattle divided into blocks of various colors

This ongoing research program offers an expansive investigation of urban riskscapes that includes both natural and social hazards to test the hypothesis that the social and natural hazard burdens are unequal and unevenly dispersed across the U.S. urban system. Census block group data is evaluated for clusters based on increasing social stratification with the multivariate statistical methods of factorial social ecology. The results are explored to test the hypothesis that the most socially vulnerable populations in the U.S. urban system increasingly bear more of the burden of proximity to social and natural hazards. This research will provide insight into the broad theoretical debate about the world’s risk society. The temporal analyses of the American urban riskscape provides an empirical view of the direction of a risk society that is either broadly distributed, or more concentrated among the most socially vulnerable.

Related: see Skewed Riskscapes and Gentrified Inequities: Environmental Exposure Disparities in Seattle, Washington (Am. Journal of Public Health, Dec. 2011); see also Is Seattle Creating Ghettos of Poverty and Pollution? (Seattle PI, Sept. 20, 2011).

Ecotopia's Prism: Political Biogeography and Costa Rica's Ecology, Economy, and Equity


Digitalized representation of landscape with symbols correlating to symbols in dialog.

Digitalized representation of landscape with symbols correlating to symbols in dialog.

Over the past five years Dr. Troy Abel has collaborated with Western students, faculty, and Costa Rican’s conserving tropical rainforests. The Rainforest Immersion & Conservation Action Program (RICA) studies ecological citizenship and political biogeography via immersion in some of the most biologically intense places on the planet.  The overriding philosophy of Dr. Abel's work has been that while Costa Rica’s world renowned system of protected areas and national parks is where the nation’s conservation of biodiversity began, it will be finished, for the good or the bad, outside of them.  In the latest season of field work, Dr. Abel and Graduate Teaching Assistant Ben Kane presented a prototype interactive web map to document flora and fauna research and results in Carara National Park. To read more about Dr. Abel's experiences in Costa Rica, see Five Seasons in Ecotopia, available through our local, independent bookseller Village Books.


Salish Sea Naming Project (Map)

Map of Salish Sea along Western Washington coast

The name 'Salish Sea' was first proposed by Huxley College faculty Bert Webber in the 1980's to describe and unite the combined inland marine waters of Washington, USA and British Columbia, Canada. Originally rejected as a new geographic name, the suggestion was reintroduced in 2008 and eventually adopted by the governments of Washington, British Columbia, USA and Canada in 2009. As part of the naming process, SI staff produced a map of the Salish Sea & Surrounding Basin that was used for education and distribution.