Introduction to GIS/Remote Sensing in Forest Science Research Network

Getting Started

To use the Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing (RS) software in the Forest Sciences Research Network, you will first need to get an account, which can either be a Novell(PC) or a UNIX account (or both). For more information on accounts, refer to the Forestry Computing Helpdesk. If you will be creating or processing large GIS coverages or digital images, you may want a UNIX account, especially if you are familiar with the UNIX operating environment. There have been many advances made to the PC GIS and Remote Sensing computing environment and software is available for both that works on a high-end PC. Both of these computing environments operate the essential GIS and RS software, however, the process of starting the software is slightly different.

Getting going in the UNIX environment

To login to a UNIX machine in the FSRN network, simply enter your user-ID and password at the prompt, and then personalize your Common Desktop Environment. The GIS and RS software is initiated by entering specific commands. Other routines can be entered at a command prompt.

Getting going in the PC environment

To login to a PC machine, you must set the server and tree settings, then login using your user-ID.context and password. Once in the PC desktop, you will find the GIS and RS programs under Programs/GIS or under Programs/ArcGIS.

Xwin to access the UNIX environment and either manipulate your data or run GIS and RS software.


The primary GIS software package is ARCGIS with its many modules. ARCGIS is licensed by the Environmental Systems Research Institute in Redlands, California. We are currently running version 8.2 of ARCGIS on the PC side and version 8.01 of ARC/INFO on the UNIX side, and version 3.2 of ArcView (available on both UNIX and PC).

ARC/INFO on the UNIX machines

To start ARC/INFO on the UNIX machines, type "arc80" at a command prompt in a terminal window. That terminal then becomes your ARC/INFO interface. To run ArcView, type "av32" in a terminal window, and the ArcView screen will appear on the same workspace. If you type "av32 &", the ArcView session will run in the background and you will still be able to use that terminal for other processes.

ArcGIS on PC Machines

You have the option to run Arc/INFO workstation on the PC or run modules of ArcGIS. ARC/INFO workstation works just like the UNIX version of ARC/INFO except that you have the DOS operating system. You access this program, from Start, you click on programs>arcgis>workstation arc info. A small black rectangle will appear on your screen with an arc prompt. You then execute arc commands.

ArcGIS is a new product by ESRI that provides several user friendly modules to facilitate ease of use. Several modules are available, depending on how the install was performed on the machine: ArcCatalog, ArcMap, ArcToolbox, ArcScene, ArcReader, and ArcObjects Developer Help. The three primary modules that are used are ArcCatalog, ArcMap, and ArcToolbox.

ArcCatalog works similar to windows explorer, although you can look at GIS data, review the geography and tables, create new data layers, add items to tables, copy and paste data from one directory to another, and create, edit, view, and query metadata files.

ArcMap is where you create maps, edit data, and perform analysis within the geodatabase structure. This program works similar to ArcView, although there are some nice additional functionality. As a side note, it is important that you DO NOT EDIT COVERAGES IN ARCMAP. There are several problems with this functionality. Editing of coverages should be done in the ArcEdit module of ARC/INFO.

ArcToolbox is where you perform many of the ARC/INFO functions through wizards and interfaces. You can use programs in here to project data, copy, change format, import and export, and do analysis.

In addition, you may wish to download these QSG workshop documents (in Microsoft Word 97 format) which detail exercises in Avenue script generation and the Spatial Analyst extension in ArcView:

Remote Sensing

The primary remote sensing tool we use is Imagine 8.4, produced by ERDAS, Inc. To start Imagine, type "imagine84" at a command prompt in a terminal window, and the Imagine toolbar and a Viewer will appear on your screen. Imagine always runs in the background, so that you can continue using the terminal you used to start it. You may not be able to start Imagine if you already have an ArcView session running.

Finding Geospatial Data

Depending on your project, you may require a substantial amount of geospatial data from a variety of sources. Spatial data can exist in many different forms. You should always expect to receive metadata (information about spatial data) when you obtain a spatial data set. Some of the more important concerns regarding spatial data are: To find data, you may need to establish contacts with various agencies, or you might simply be able to download data sets from a web page. A good place to start might be OSU's Valley Library, where Shirley Scott helps maintain geospatial data resources. Please see the Spatial Data Links Page prepared by the Spatial Data Management Group for a list of web sites that can help you in your search.

Image Processing

You have many options for processing your digital images, depending on the type of work you need to do. In the UNIX environment, two important programs are xv and alchemy. For NT machines, there are a wide variety of graphics packages such as Adobe Photoshop, (click here for some tips), Paint Shop Pro, and LView Pro. For more information on the NT software, please consult the Forestry Network Help page.

xv, which is solely for personal use, allows you to view a variety of images and convert between different image formats. You can launch xv by typing "xv" at the UNIX prompt in a terminal. Click the right mouse button in the startup screen to get the control menu. There isn't any help, but if you play around with it enough, you'll be able to figure out quite a bit.

Image Alchemy is a powerful image conversion program crafted by Handmade Software, Inc, out of Fremont, California. Alchemy is a command line program, which means that it works like a UNIX command with lots of options. There is a manual available here, which can be read by Adobe Acrobat, but you might want to start by viewing some of these conversion examples.

Mapping Software

Most people choose ArcMap, ARC/Info Arcplot, ArcView, or Imagine to make their maps. Depending on which platform you choose and which software you're using, you should be able to print directly to one of the color printers or plotters. In some cases, you will need to print your map composition to a postscript file and use the arcpress command in ARC/Info or image Alchemy to convert the postscript file into a plotter file. For more information, please contact the Helpdesk with your specifics.

Poster Display

For posters, many people have had good luck using Microsoft Powerpoint in the NT environment. One advantage here is that most NT applications can print directly to one of the color printers or plotters in the complex. See the tutorial produced by the Tree Genetic Engineering Research Cooperative for more information. If you are designing a large or complicated poster, however, you may choose to purchase a copy of more advanced graphics software, such as Adobe's Framemaker or InDesign. We do not recommend using mapping software to make posters, as the text display is generally difficult to edit or reposition.


There are several statistical analysis packages available in the Forest Science Research Network. On the NT side, we use the Statistical Analysis System (SAS) and S-PLUS. On the UNIX side, S-PLUS is the main tool. To launch S-PLUS, type "Splus" (note capital-S) in a terminal window. To quit, type "q()" at the > prompt. There are manuals for Splus in FSL 345, and Manuela Huso has prepared this useful Word document for command line S-Plus.


The first place to find help is within the software package itself. In UNIX, you can find out more about a particular command by typing "man command", or using the manual page tool in CDE. In ARC/INFO, type "help" at the arc: prompt for the on-line help manual. In ArcView and Imagine, start the help menu from the graphical interface on the upper right of the screen.

You should also become familiar with the Forestry Network web page for GIS and remote sensing help.

Next you will want to peruse the GIS/RS Help Notebook, kept on the shelf between Picea and Populus in FSL Rm 345 (GIS Lab). Inside this notebook, you will find several years worth of training sheets, tips, and personal experiences.

On the same shelf you will also find user manuals for UNIX, ARC/INFO, ArcView, Imagine, Alchemy, and SPLUS. If you intend to become self-reliant, you should become familiar with these aids. The UNIX for Dummies guide is especially useful for learning UNIX commands. The ARC/INFO manuals tend to duplicate the on-line help, however the Imagine Tour Guides and ERDAS Field Guide are than what is available within the software, and both sources should be familiarized.

During certain times, you can consult the GIS/RS Help Desk Schedule to ask questions of experienced staff and students in the building. These volunteers have a variety of skills and if they cannot help you directly, they may be able to point you in the right direction. In addition, the CFSL Spatial Data Managment Group meets once a month and may be a good place to learn more.

There are several electronic mailing lists to which you may post your questions as an email message. The recipients of your message depend upon which list you select:

In addition, there are a tremendous number of sites on the World-Wide Web where you can learn more about GIS and RS. For a start you might look at these:

  • GIS and GIScience at Oregon State University
  • GIS Frequently Asked Questions
  • ESRI Online Support Center
  • ESRI Virtual Campus
  • Arc/INFO Knowledge Base
  • ArcView Knowledge Base
  • GIS Discussion - Directions Magazine
  • Great GIS Net Sites!
  • National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis
  • GIS and the Geographer's Craft
  • Spatial News
  • Yahoo search for GIS

  • USGS EROS Data Center
  • SPOT Image
  • ASPRS Home Page
  • Jing Huang's Face of the Earth
  • U of Minnesota GIS/RS Information
  • Goddard Space Flight Center's Remote Sensing Tutorial
  • The World-Wide Web Virtual Library: Remote Sensing
  • Yahoo search for Remote Sensing
  • If you feel you must direct a question to ESRI regarding one of their products, you must go through one of our campus representatives who will forward your question to the ESRI technical staff. Please send an email to Matt Gregory with the following information:

    Note: Explore other options first. Questions submitted to ESRI take a day or two to be answered.

    Finally, as your knowledge increases and your interest grows, you may wish to invest in one of several GIS or RS training workshops or classes. Many software industries, government agencies, and educational institutions offer training courses. For example, see these web links:

  • Forestry Computing Workshops
  • GIS/GISci Education at Oregon State
  • ESRI's Virtual Campus: Free Modules
  • Trimble Product Training (Global Positioning Systems)
  • USFWS National Conservation Training Center

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