My work currently centers on three main themes that include health geographics, mobility and novel data sources.

I use GIS to map and model different phenomena in data-rich and data-poor environments across space and time.

To better understand the ecology of health/disease
By integrating biology, behaviour and environment
so that we can respond (target interventions better)
and recover (improve availability and access to treatment).


Social media and micro-blogging is increasingly being used during crisis events to provide live up-to date information as events evolve with information being disseminated using these novel data streams by both citizens and public officials.

Perception of risk during a crisis event: Of particular interest is whether a person’s geographical location and the relevant content of their message can be mined to answer critically important questions about how a person perceives the risk associated with a life-threatening weather event. The data collected may include an individual’s reaction to the threat, their spatial displacement from the threat and their general perception of the level of danger the threat poses. Therefore, how to can we leverage social media as a vehicle through which to stimulate appropriate citizen response to official advisories and warnings associated with natural disasters. As a step towards addressing this question, we have been using social media data, specifically Twitter, to

  • understand people’s reactions leading up to, during and after an event and
  • assessing how effectively information is disseminated during an event by analyzing the public’s response to official NWS messages sent via Twitter (see publications and Fall 2014 Geography Newsletter).

SensePlace2: I am also involved with SensePlace2 which forages place-time-attribute information from the Twitterverse that can support crisis management (see publications).

Symbology: Investigating diversity and standardization of symbols across multiple agencies through the use of a repeatable process for expanding symbol sets to support new needs, and to develop new technology to support symbol sharing and dissemination. Further details can be found at Map Symbology (see publications).


The emergence of new diseases and the re-emergence of old diseases are an increasing challenge. Recent years have seen the swift movement of West Nile virus (WNV) across the continental US; resurgence of dengue in the Americas; outbreaks of malaria in Europe as well as chikungunya in Europe, the Caribbean with local transmission reported in Florida. An integral part of defining how diseases are spread comes from understanding movement. 

Human movement is, of course, multi-faceted occurring across local, regional, national and international scales for many reasons ranging from work and economic well-being, conflict to displacement caused by loss of livelihoods and due to natural hazards (e.g. climate- and weather-related events such as flooding, drought and heat stress) and health/disease. Despite its importance collecting human movement data is inherently difficult. I am exploring the use of novel datasets to better capture human mobility and integrating these data into my current research to better understand disease pathways.

Twitter Data: I use Twitter data to understand human mobility in different regions of the world.
See publications to learn more about this work.

Bike share Data: Bike sharing systems have increased dramatically throughout the world and serve as a proxy for understanding movement patterns within urban areas. I am currently working with students to analyze the spatial and temporal biking patterns to better understand mobility throughout a year in an urban setting.

Student projects

  • Kristina Kwiatkowski (MGIS 2014) GIS analysis of GPS commercial trucking movements: improving the identification of destinations
  • Stephen Perrine (MGIS 2014) International Food Imports: Identification of Vulnerabilities and Risks


Mosquito distributions in Pennsylvania

Working with the DEP PA to investigate the spatial and temporal distribution of important mosquito vectors of disease. These include vectors related to the transmission of West Nile Virus (WNV); dengue and chikungunya and malaria.

West Nile Virus (WNV)

  • Investigate the spatial and temporal patterns of host-pathogen-environmental interactions across Pennsylvania and what this means in terms of disease dynamics.
  • Explore new ways of visualizing this large dataset and examine how environmental factors such as temperature and rainfall affects changes in transmission of the virus.
  • An interactive map showing WNV in Pennsylvania during 2003 Pennsylvania WNV visualize
  • Mark Brady (MGIS in progress) has been identifying spatially dynamic variables affecting the distribution of West Nile Virus in Pennsylvania.

Aedes albopictus, an invasive species that is a highly competent vector of dengue, chikungunya, WNV and La Crosse virus is prevalent throughout PA.

  • Eric Taber (Master Student - graduated 2015) is analyzing the spatial and temporal distribution of Ae. albopictus throughout Pennsylvania and the implications for disease risk. (see publications)

Malaria in Africa

During 2013, an estimated 198 million cases of malaria were reported worldwide with 90% of all deaths occurring in Africa (World Health, 2014). Working with the Thomas Lab looking at how malaria will be affected with changes in temperature. In particular, I am modeling transmission potential of malaria using different climate resolutions to understand what temporal scale is necessary to model vector-borne diseases both currently and in the future using down scaled data. See publications to learn more about this work.

Student Projects

  • Jay Tompkins (MGIS 2014) Social and spatial clustering of personal relationships: Understanding the impact of behavioural risks on sexually transmitted disease transmission (in collaboration with Ann Jolly (U of Ottawa))
  • Susan Swinson-Williams (MGIS 2014) Lyme disease in Texas? Enhancing prevention through the identification of areas of risk
  • Teri Vlasak (MGIS 2015) Spatial and temporal analysis of rabid wild terrestrial animals along the Colorado Front Range
  • Ryan Warne (MGIS 2015) Spatial analysis of pertussis outbreaks and herd immunity in the USA


Tracking Turtles in Colombia
Working with CIMAD analyzing spatial movement of turtles and improving conservation in Colombia.

Student projects

  • Rosemary Alles (MGIS 2015) Exploring Open Source Geospatial technologies in the context of monitoring and analyzing the behavior of highly vulnerable migratory species: Boundless Geo and African elephants as a case study
  • Kimberly Struthers (MGIS 2015) Assessment of climate, land use, and projected population changes to sky island species within Saguaro National Park, Arizona

(human/animal-environment interactions and how places are connected)