A.C. Robinson

The Pennsylvania State University, Department of Geography, State College, USA


Dynamic, multi-representational geovisualization tools are enabling geographers to explore and analyze multivariate spatial data to answer complicated geographic questions. The theoretical approach that drives geovisualization development describes geovisual analysis as a process that begins with exploration, continues to analysis, transitions into result synthesis, and finishes with presentation of findings. This approach calls for specialized tools to support each stage that allow users to work across stages if desired. To date, there has been little research to understand or characterize synthesis in geovisualization. Geovisualization tools currently rely on simple methods to capture maps and graphics to facilitate synthesis. Analysts typically synthesize discoveries using other tools, often with office productivity software, a practice that limits their ability to reach back to previous analyses to continue work, collaborate with others, or compare incoming information to past discoveries.

New geovisualization tools in development will support many types of visual representations and integrate heterogeneous data such as text, pictures, and multimedia. This means that geovisual results will become more powerful as well as more complicated. To address this complexity, we need to study the synthesis process and design synthesis-support tools. The goal is to shape synthesis tools that are fully-integrated into geovisualizations. Integrated synthesis tools can preserve direct links to data and representations used to generate geovisual results, making it possible to return to and reuse prior analyses.

The problem-solving goals of the next generation of geovisualization tools are ambitious, and the domains they support are of high-importance (epidemiology, crisis management, threat assessment, etc…). Analysts will need to rapidly explore and analyze massive databases while synthesizing results with representations that will be easy to return to at a later time, and in a format that supports collaboration with others. Analysts must be able to explain how they arrived at a conclusion, and to re-use portions of prior work when situations arise that require comparative analyses.

This paper reviews the topic of synthesis in geovisualization, examining its origins in geovisualization theory and the definitions that have been used to describe it as a stage of analytical work. It explores the reasons why synthesis in geovisualization has remained largely untouched in terms of specific research. It suggests several key research questions in order to understand and characterize geovisual synthesis. Finally, this paper describes several potential interface metaphors for supporting synthesis based on tools and techniques that are commonly used by analysts outside of current geovisualization environments.