Just as statistical concepts are the same, regardless of which software you use to analyze your data, the concepts in the field of geospatial science apply to any software you use. Here are a few resources for learning:


There are many, many tools that perform geospatial analysis. Which tool is the right tool entirely depends on your goals, your needs, and your familiarity or desire to learn any particular tool. Listed here are a few of the tools commonly used on the UC Davis campus. There are many more. GIS Data Curator, Michele Tobias, is happy to discuss which option meets your needs.

Desktop GIS & Remote Sensing

Desktop GIS programs have a graphical user interface and analysis processes are guided with forms that you can fill out with inputs, outputs, and necessary parameters.


Platforms: Mac, Windows, Linux

Cost: Free



ArcGIS & Other ESRI Tools

Platforms: Windows

Cost: Free for the 2019 license year to UC Davis affiliates; costly to purchase on your own

Access: UC Davis IT Service Catalog: ESRI ArcGIS


Note that logging in through the UCD enterprise system, most of the training materials from ESRI should be free to campus affiliates.


GRASS can either be run as a standalone graphical user interface, you can access commands with a graphical user interface through QGIS, or it can be run from the command line. GRASS can be a powerful tool for network analysis, image processing, and other more complex processes.

Platforms: Mac, Windows, Linux

Cost: Free

Download: OSGeo’s GRASS Page


ERDAS Imagine

ERDAS Imagine is software that focuses on methods related to image data (rasters).

Platforms: Windows

Cost: Contact Hexagon Geospatial; cost depends on features needed

Access: Product Profile



ENVI is a software that focuses on methods related to image data (rasters).

Platforms: Mac, Windows

Cost: Contact Chris Derr (Metro IT Cluster)

Access: Chris Derr (Metro IT Cluster) coordinates the campus licences for ENVI



eCognition is a software that focuses on methods related to image data (rasters).

Platforms: Windows

Cost: Contact Trimble

Access: Trimble’s eCognition Site


Spatial Databases

Databases with spatial querying capability can typically run analysis faster than a desktop GIS.


Platforms: Windows, Mac, & Linux

Cost: Free

Download: SpatiaLite Download Page



Platforms: Windows, Mac, & Linux

Cost: Free

Download: PostGIS Homepage



Writing scripts to handle analysis has the benefit of being easy to re-run if you make a mistake in your workflow and the code itself provides documentation of the workflow.

R & R Studio:

Packages like Raster, sp, & sf are the core of geospatial R.

Platforms: Mac, Windows, Linux

Cost: Free

Download: The R Project



Libraries like geopandas are a good place to get started with working with spatial data in Python.

Platforms: Mac, Windows, Linux

Cost: Free

Download: Python Software Foundation


Google Earth Engine

Google Earth Engine is an online remote sensing tool that uses javascript for programming. The platform offers a number of pre-loaded datasets or you can upload your own.

Platforms: Online

Cost: Access is free but an application is required. Usually academic and research usage is accepted.

Access: Google Earth Engine Access Request Page


Commandline Libraries


GDAL (Geospatial Data Abstraction Library) is a software library that translates between file formats. GDAL is the underlying code that allows you to save files in almost all digitial geospatial tools, however, you can also use it directly from the command line to convert files. A note on pronunciation: GDAL is pronounced either “Gee-Doll” or “Goo-Dull”, depending on who you ask.

Platforms: Windows, Mac, & Linux

Cost: Free

Download: GDAL Homepage – If you have already downloaded another geospatial program (desktop GIS, spatial R packages, etc.), you probably already have GDAL installed, so please investigate that before you install another version as you could break your installations of other software.



PDAL (Point Data Abstraction Library) is a software library for tanslating and manipulating point cloud data – most commonly we probably think of Lidar data, but PDAL deals with 3 dimensional point data in general. A note on pronunciation: Because the OSGeo maintains that there are two pronunciations of GDAL (see above), there are also two pronunciations of PDAL – “P-Doll” and “Poodle”. The second pronunciation is mainly used to be humorous.

Platforms: Windows, Mac, & Linux

Cost: Free

Download: PDAL Homepage



See the Desktop GIS section above for more details. GRASS can also be used from the commandline. See the GRASS and Shell page for examples and explanations.

Web Mapping

Displaying data as an interactive online map can be a good option for sharing data and allowing viewers to explore data at multiple scales. Here are some options for creating interactive maps:


Project Homepage

QGIS2Web Plugin for QGIS

A graphical user interface in QGIS that writes html web map code in your choice of OpenLayers or Leaflet, QGIS2Web allows you to add and style layers as you would in QGIS to make a web map with no programming experience necessary.

Project Homepage

Photogrammetry & Photo Mosaic Stitching

Low altitude remote sensing platforms typically require many large scale (in the sense of map scale) images to cover a geographic area. To work with this kind of data, we need to stitch these photos together into one scene. Here are a few software options for doing this work.


Alex Mandel coordinates the EDU licenses of Pix4D. Contact him if you need to purchase a new license.

Platforms: Windows

Cost: Typically licenses are offered on a subscription (yearly or monthly) basis.

Download: Pix4D Homepage


Metashape (formerly PhotoScan)

Alex Mandel also coordinates the Metashape/Photoscan licenses.

Platforms: Windows, Mac, & Linux

Cost: Typically licenses are offered on a subscription (yearly or monthly) basis.

Download: Agisoft Homepage


OpenDroneMap (ODM)

OpenDroneMap (ODM) is an open source photogrammetry tool for low-altitude imagery.

Platforms: Linux (but the docker method of running it on Windows and Mac is fairly well documented.

Cost: Free to run the software yourself with paid options for services run by the ODM team.

Download: ODM Homepage


Campus Resources

Drop-In Hours

Geospatial Drop-In Hours are now a part of the DataLab Drop-In Hours.

You can also schedule one-on-one or group consultations with Michele Tobias, GIS Data Curator.

Geospatial Email List

UC Davis affiliates can sign up for email lists through the UC Davis Information & Educational Technology’s Sympa list serve manager. The Geospatial email list is a widely-used list for UC Davis faculty, students, staff, and local community members who work with any type of geospatial data. The list can be used for announcements or questions.

UC Davis Slack Channels

UC Davis Slack has several channels related to spatial data and tools.

  • spatial: the general channel for spatial discussion
  • earth-engine: discussion around Google Earth Engine programming
  • r: a good place to ask spatial-related R questions
  • arcgis: discussion space for ESRI tools

GIS Workstation & Scanner

The lower level of Shields Library has one GIS workstation that UC Davis students, faculty, researchers, and other staff may to use for a maximum of two hours per day. The workstation room is located near, but outside the Map Room and is open the same hours as the Library. The workstation has the full suite of ArcGIS 10 software (available to campus affiliates) including ArcMap and ArcGIS Pro, as well as QGIS 3 (available to anyone).

An 11″ x 17″ color scanner is available for maps and aerial photography.

Workstation use must comply with UC Davis Computer Use Policies and the Library Computer Use Policy. GIS software and data licensed by the library may not be used for commercial purposes. Save your data and project files to portable media.


Whether you’re just getting started with geospatial technologies or you’re looking for a way to advance your skills, here are some classes to consider at UC Davis. The quarter listed may change. Consult with the schedule of classes or the professor for each class. Please also see the Geography Graduate Group’s list of Methods, Models, & GIS Depth Courses for a broader list of possible courses. The UC Davis Continuing & Professional Education (formerly the Extension) also offers courses in GIS aimed at working professionals. The Center for Spatial Sciences maintains a list of upcoming, current, and past classes, including 198/298 group studies. Join the Geospatial email list to get annoucements about upcoming classes and workshops.

EAE-10: From the Wright Brothers to Drones and Quadcopters (Summer)

ECI 16: Spatial Data Analysis (Spring)

LDA 150 / ABT 150: Introduction to GIS (Typically taught in Fall, Spring, and a summer Study Abroad course in Bhutan)

ABT 181N: Concepts and Methods in Geographic Information Systems (alternating Winter quarters with ABT 182)

ABT 182 / HYD 182: Environmental Analysis using GIS (alternating Winter quarters with ABT 181N)

ERS 185: Aerial Photo Interpretation and Remote Sensing (Fall)

ERS 186: Environmental Remote Sensing (Winter)

EPI 223: Spatial Epidemiology (Spring)

GEO 200CN: Quantitative Geography – Uses R to explore quantitative geographic methods (Spring)

HYD 273: Intro to Geostatistics (Fall)

HYD 286: Advanced Topics in Remote Sensing – Topic for the quarter is chosen by the instructor (Spring)

Selected Data Sources

USGS Earth Explorer
The USGS Earth Explorer is USGS tool for querying and ordering raster geospatial data including satellite images, aerial photographs, and cartographic products. Log in as a guest or as a registered user. Registered users have access to more features than guests do. If you plan on using Earth Explorer frequently, you may wish to register.
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USGS National Map Viewer
The USGS National Map Viewer allows users to explore and download vector geospatial data, mainly for the United States.
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Geographic Names Information System
The Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) is the official repository of the United States of America’s domestic geographic names data. The GNIS contains information about physical and cultural geographic features of all types in the United States, associated areas, and Antarctica, current and historical, but not including roads and highways. The database holds the Federally recognized name of each feature and defines the feature location by state, county, USGS topographic map, and geographic coordinates. Other attributes include names or spellings other than the official name, feature designations, feature classification, historical and descriptive information, and for some categories the geometric boundaries.
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Library of Congress
Library of Congress’ search tool for digital online maps.
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This government site provides free downloads for frequently used datasets of California, including basemaps, elevation, transportation, political boundaries, scanned USGS topographic maps and 2005 and 2009 aerial photography.
Visit Site provides public access to high value, machine readable datasets generated by the Executive Branch of the Federal Government. has descriptions of the Federal datasets (metadata), information about how to access the datasets, and tools that leverage government datasets. The data catalogs will continue to grow as datasets are added. Federal, Executive Branch data are included in the first version of
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Content for this researcher toolkit is written and maintained by DataLab’s Dr. Michele Tobias.