GIS at Dickinson College

GIS News, Events and Student Work blog

Category: What We’ve Been Working On

Explorer cartoon e

Check out our collection of You Are Here Cartoons!

Over the years, James Ciarrocca, GIS Specialist of Dickinson College, has been collected “you are here” themed cartoons from local papers. These original clippings have been digitized for your personal enjoyment. Want to know more about the collection? Contact us!


These cartoons are being used for a nonprofit educational purpose and are in no way meant to affect the potential market of the cartoonists. The nature of this collection is to reflect on humans’ spatial literacy or in this case illiteracy. Enjoy! 

Come to the 2014 GIS Poster Symposium!


Dickinson Lithology

One of the distinctive features of Dickinson’s campus is the stone–in buildings, walls, outcrops, and gardens. The primary rock type is limestone, which Dickinson as adopted this into their ceremonies, for example, by phrasing graduation as going “beyond the limestone.” Limestone is the traditional building material, making up even the newest campus buildings. In exploration of the prevalence of limestone and other local rocks on campus, I have adopted the task of mapping and locating decorative rocks and outcrops, as well as the main buildings, at Dickinson (see first image below). This map can be used to aid instruction on outcrops within Dickinson’s Department of Earth Sciences and by campus tour guides for aid in describing the history and prevalence of limestone and other rock materials on campus.

Data was either extracted from the Dickinson GIS server (ESRI, Dickinson) or collected using a handheld Garmin GPS. Dickinson building, walkway, and street shapefiles were uploaded and modified from the server. Rock points were collected using the Garmin, and outcrop polygons were digitized by connecting points taken around the perimeter of each outcrop. All information from the GIS server files, including rock type, construction date, and building name, was retained and modified only for readability purposes (see second image below). Information on rocks and outcrops–rock type, location, and special feature–was interpreted in the field using personal knowledge of rock types and structures (see third image below).

Results and Discussion
It is clear by the map that the majority of Dickinson’s lithology is limestone that occasionally contains calcite veins. Special features are mostly limited to Kaufman’s rock garden to the west of the building–this garden is the main spot on campus used in instruction by Dickinson’s Department of Earth Sciences. Limestone and marble are also present elsewhere in small quantity. Knowing the locations of individual rocks or outcrops and the lithology of rocks, outcrops, and buildings can be used by the Department of Earth Sciences for demonstration of field observations of lithology, and even by tour guides to demonstrate Dickinson’s fidelity to the limestone tradition.


Finished map showing locations of main Dickinson buildings, decorative rocks and erratics, rock outcrops, campus walkways, and local streets.

Popup listing building name, construction year, and building material.

Popup listing building name, construction year, and building material.

Popup listing rock type, location, and preserved feature (if any).  Popup is the same for outcrops.

Popup listing rock type, location, and preserved feature (if any). Popup is the same for outcrops.

Archaeology Students Rebuild Pennsylvania’s Past

 Did you know that located only 16 miles from Carlisle there was once a secret prisoner-of-war (POW) camp operated by the U.S. Army during World War II, which was used as a site for interrogating German and Japanese prisoners?  And did you also know that there are still visible relics and remnants of this camp on the landscape that you can visit and learn about?  The students in Professor Maria Bruno’s Archaeological Field Method and Theory class (ARCH 300) are studying these remnants by using GIS to conduct an archaeological survey of the area known as “Camp Michaux,” which is located in the Michaux State Forest just southwest of Dickinson College.

The forest and mountain areas surrounding the camp have a long history of human occupation possibly dating back to the Native Americans, but the Camp Michaux area traces its origin to the Bunker Hill Farm, which was associated with the Pennsylvania iron industry during the late 1700s, 1800s, and early 1900s.  After the iron industry died out, the site was converted into a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Camp during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and then used as the POW camp in the 1940s during World War II.  Following the war, the site was leased by a group of churches from the Carlisle area for use as a summer camp, an enterprise that continued until 1972 when the main lodge burned to the ground.  After the fire incident, the churches closed the camp, the state auctioned off all the remaining useful buildings, and the site quickly began to revert back to its natural habitat (1).

Today, Professor Bruno’s archaeology students are learning about the rich history of the site by implementing the archaeological methods and theories they learn about in class, such as survey and mapping.  Under a permit from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), and with guidance from the Cumberland County Historical Society and the PennDOT Cultural Resources Program, Professor Bruno and her students spent the SP13 semester completing an initial site survey, which is a necessary first step before in-depth archaeological excavation is possible.  Using GIS to help plan their survey and identify site locations in the field, the students discovered and mapped a variety of historical features at the camp, including paths, foundations, monuments, culverts, and even an old swimming pool!

Professor Bruno plans to begin the second phase of the project at the camp next year with her students, which will continue to survey the research area and possibly select areas for test excavations.  GIS will again play an important role in this phase of the project, as the students will use the technology to maintain an accurate map of the dig site, as well as to record the location of any artifacts they discover.  For more information about the Dickinson College Archaeological Project at Camp Michaux, please contact Professor Bruno at



(1) Information about the history of the Camp Michaux site was obtained from the Camp Michaux Self-Guided Walking Tour, published by David Smith from the Cumberland County Historical Society.

Map and photos courtesy of James Ciarrocca, GIS Specialist and Professor Maria Bruno, Dickinson College.

Benchmark Hunting!

 Like scavenger hunts?  So does the advanced GIS class!  The class, Katherine Heacock ‘13, Katherine McCusker ‘13, and Anna Ramthun ’13, spent a Friday afternoon searching for benchmarks in Michaux State Forest, hoping to find a benchmark near their study site for establishing a survey grid.  Have you ever tried to figure out where you were and gotten different answers from different sources?  Benchmarks are here to help! Benchmarks are recorded co-ordinates taken by various government organizations, like the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the National Geodetic Survey (NGS) and the United States Army Core of Engineers (USACE), that can be used as a correct measurement.   Marked by a brass disk placed into something that won’t be moving any time soon, like a piece of bedrock, benchmarks are like the “You are HERE” on mall signs, but for GIS. 

Unlike the giant “You are HERE” circle that stands out on the mall map, benchmarks are not always as easy to find.  The government provides clues to help surveyors and curious folk find them.  Benchmarks can sometimes be found in your town square, but they can also be more difficult to locate.  As some of the benchmarks have been there since the mid 1900’s, the clues can be slightly off or out-of-date, especially as places like forests grow and change.  Sometimes, the clues can just be downright unhelpful, like this clue that told us to go “30 feet from the center of the road past the oak tree.”  Did I mention that we were in a forest? Or the clue that told us to find a certain telephone pole as the first marker, but the poles had been renumbered since then. 

With expert sleuthing skills, the class was able to discover the location of three benchmarks- one on the corner of a stone cottage!  Unfortunately, none were in a good location to help the class with their work.  If you want to go on an adventure to find benchmarks in your area, the locations and clues can be found by going to the NGS benchmark viewing website!   Happy sleuthing!



-Photos courtesy of GIS Specialist James Ciarrocca

damaged tree

From Tree to Database

 What’s so special about a tree?  Just ask Dickinson College’s Arborist, Mark Scott, who has been heading up an ongoing project to inventory all of the trees on the Dickinson College campus using GPS and GIS.  And there are a lot more trees on our small urban campus than you might think.  Just over a third of the way done, Mark has worked with both students from the GIS program and interns from the GIS Lab to measure the location and record attribute data for over 700 trees.  Mark and the GIS students use a mapping-grade Trimble GPS to plot the location of each tree and then record a variety of characteristics about the tree, such as species, height, diameter, and condition.  The Trimble GPS unit is preconfigured with a set of data forms and pull-down menus that contain selections for all the possible features that Mark would want to record for a tree, so that as the GPS records the location, all of the attribute information is automatically stored in the unit as part of the data record.  This makes the data collection process very efficient and much more accurate than simply writing notes on a piece of paper.

This is an ongoing project and as more data about the campus trees are recorded into the GIS, Mark hopes to eventually make the database accessible to any organization on campus who might find the information useful. 

For example, Facilities Management might use the data to facilitate its landscaping program; Advancement Services could identify trees of significant value that donors might wish to sponsor; or the Climate Action Task Force might find the data useful for computing carbon offsets in support of Dickinson’s Climate Action Plan.  Once completed, Mark also hopes to use the database to certify the Dickinson College campus as an official arboretum for the purposes of research, preservation, and education.  For more information please contact Mark Scott at


-Photo and map courtesy of Dickinson GIS Specialist James Ciarrocca

Mapping Cape Henlopen

This year, Professor Jeff Nemitz took his Oceanography class on a weekend-long field trip to Cape Henlopen to map different features of the area.  This class goes every couple of years to map the changing features of the beach and wildlife.  Amanda, one of the GIS lab interns, designed a data dictionary on the Juno GPS’s to help the class more easily record data in the field.  The class split up into groups and took GPS data and did experiments throughout the weekend.  Different groups mapped and took attribute data of the shoreline, jetties, spit, tidal flats, dune vegetation, dude tansects, and ghost crabs holes.  Their final projects will rely on an analysis of the mapped field data, as well as comparing the data to maps from previous years.

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