GIS Tutorial for Atmospheric Sciences

Section 1 – Basic GIS Fundamentals

Geographic information systems (GIS) and other geospatial technologies have become increasingly valuable to the atmospheric sciences, such as weather, climate, hydrometeorology, and for societal impact studies. As use and application of GIS continues to expand in the atmospheric sciences sector, the need to introduce GIS to atmospheric science degree-seeking students has become increasingly important. Additionally, meteorologists, climatologists, and other atmospheric science professionals are seeking more access to and training in these spatial technologies.This is a freely available Geographic Information Systems (GIS) course geared towards weather and climate students and practitioners as a way to meet this need.

This course was developed as a joint partnership between the National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center at the University of North Carolina at Asheville and the GIS Program at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). This course is intended to teach basic Geographic Information Systems (GIS) concepts, methods and terminology using weather and climate case studies.  


REQUIRED SOFTWARE : ArcGIS 10.0 or higher

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Exercise 1 - Exploring ArcMap and ArcCatalog   

Use Case - Tornado tracks

  • Opening and Exploring ArcMap
  • Adding Data to ArcMap
  • Working with Attribute Data in ArcMap
  • Navigating and Using ArcCatalog


Exercise 2 - Exploring Spatial Data

Use Case - 2012 drought in Texas

  • Exploring Data Format Types in ArcGIS
  • Working with Vector Data in ArcMap
  • Exploring Raster Datasets
  • Adding Web Services to ArcMap


Exercise 3 - Data Symbology and Classification

Use Case - Hurricane Sandy's official track and impacts

  • Symbolizing Qualitative Data
  • Symbolizing Quantitative Data
  • Working with Layer Packages
  • Rendering Raster Datasets


Exercise 4 - Cartographic Mapping

Use Case - Superstorm (Blizzard) of 1993

  • Preparing the ArcMap Document Data Frame and Layers to Create a Map
  • Using Layout View to Design the Appearance of the Map
  • Adding Elements to the Map
  • Disseminating and Sharing Your Map


Exercise 5 - Coordinate Systems and Map Projections

Use Case -Climate simulations in ArcMap

  • Understanding Basic Coordinate System Information
  • Using ArcToolbox tools to Manually Alter the Coordinate System Information of a Layer


If you have any questions or comments please email us at


Greg Dobson - UNC Asheville's National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center

Jennifer Boehnert - National Center for Atmospheric Research