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Science and Engineering at The University of Edinburgh

School of GeoSciences

Postgraduate Study

Section Contents

Core Courses

Introduction to Spatial Analysis

This is an introductory course in spatial analysis, covering some of the common methods for analysis of point, line and areal data using geographic information systems and related software. Topics covered include: a background to spatial analysis in Geography; considering what is special about spatial data; spatial autocorrelation; the modifiable areal unit problem; basic geometric frameworks for describing and analysing phenomena; distance metrics; gridded space; overlay analysis; cost surfaces; suitability analysis; Boolean and continuous classifications; network spaces; shortest paths through networks; errors and uncertainty in geographical data. The course is taught by a mixture of lectures and practicals.

Spatial Modelling

This course provides a broad introduction to the methods of representing and storing geospatial information. Lectures explain the theory behind storage models and structures, emphasising vector and raster models, together with 2 and 3-dimensional and temporal structures. The course introduces database methods in the context of GIS, ISO and Open GIS standards. A practical stream provides an introduction to SQL using the Oracle relational database management system, the construction and use of topology and digital terrain modelling.

Distributed GIS

This course introduces students to the concepts, technology and benefits of distributed GIS services, in contrast to monolithic systems. The underlying technology of computer networks and the Internet are explained. Emphasis is places on web-based systems, although consideration is also given to location-based services accessible via mobile devices. The importance of standards is highlighted, and OpenGIS and other key standards are explained. Practicals will examine open-source and commercial solutions to serving geographical data.


The course explores theoretical and practical aspects of visual cognition, examining mechanisms by which we represent and understand the world around us. These ideas underpin models of cartographic communication. The course also explores ideas in human computer interaction as a prerequisite to the understanding of how technology has been utilised in the automation of the art and science of cartography. Ideas of scientific visualisation are extended, exploring greater levels of immersion afforded through visualisation of high dimensional geographic space. These ideas lead naturally to ideas of virtual reality. When combined with mobile technologies we can further explore ideas of augmented reality and begin to understand the constraints in the design and utilisation of intelligent spatial technologies. The practical element will explore the use of visualisation software that enables the exploration of geographic information.

Research Practice and Project Planning

This course aims to equip the student with a variety of skills useful to the professional research scientist or GIS professional. These include writing, presenting, organising, managing research and conducting field work. The course introduces the GIS dissertation and leads into the annual postgraduate conference, where students contribute talks on their chosen field of research.

This course also comprises of these core activities:

  • A long weekend field course in which students undertake field based GIS projects. This is supported by field technique learning in which students will learn about GIS data capture. This aspect of the course aims to provide experience and training in certain areas of GIS in a more hands on manner and to apply some of the theoretical considerations encountered in lecture courses to real case-studies;
  • A series of seminars from national mapping agencies, politicians, consultancies, research laboratories and researchers associated with the field of geographic information. The students will explore a variety of debates relating to GI profession, and gain a clear sense of career opportunities in geographic information science.
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