Blog Archives

FREE GIS Software for Mapping

Whitebox GAT (Geospatial Analysis Toolbox) is my favorite open source, free GIS software!  Come join the Listserv and follow the Whitebox GAT blog by Dr. John Lindsay.  Happy Geoprocessing!


You don’t have to pay an arm and a leg to map the world.

With a shoestring budget of 0$, you can do it all with free GIS software.

As you’re about to see, there’s a bucket load of free GIS software packages available with the capability to:

  • Perform hundreds of advanced GIS processing tasks.
  • Generate stunning cartography and mapping products.
  • Manage your company’s geospatial assets efficiently.

The best part is:

These free GIS software mapping options give you enough firepower to get the job done as if you’re working with commercial GIS software.

I personally tested 13 of the top free mapping software packages online.

Read this jam-packed guide to open source GIS:

1. QGIS – Formerly Quantum GIS

QGIS (Quantum GIS)

With striking similarities and even upgrades to ArcGIS in certain areas, QGIS is undoubtedly the #1 free GIS software package.

QGIS is jam-packed with hidden gems at your fingertips. Automate map production, process geospatial data, and generate drool-worthy cartographic figures.

There’s no other free maping software on this list that lets you map like a rock star than QGIS.

QGIS Plugins boost this mapping software into a state of epicness. If the tool doesn’t exist, search for plugin developed by the QGIS community.

Volunteer effort is key to its success. The QGIS Stack Exchangesupport is impressively great.

You’d be insane not to download the free GIS software QGIS.

Read More: 27 Differences Between ArcGIS and QGIS – The Most Epic GIS Software Battle in GIS History

2. Whitebox GAT

WhiteBox GAT

Yes, Whitebox GAT (Geospatial Analysis Toolbox) is #2 on my list of open source, free GIS software.

Unbelievably, Whitebox GAT has only been around since 2009 because it feels so fine-tuned when you see it in action.

There’s a hydrology theme around Whitebox GAT. It actually replaced Terrain Analysis System (TAS) – a tool for hydro-geomorphic applications.

Whitebox GAT is really a full-blown open-access GIS and remote sensing software package.

Where it shines is LIDAR!

With no barriers, Whitebox GAT is the swiss-army knife of LiDAR processing.

The LiDAR toolbox is a life-saver. LAS to shapefile is an insanely useful tool. You may need a Java update to go in full throttle though.

The cartographic mapping software tools are primitive compared to QGIS.

But overall Whitebox GAT is solid with over 410 tools to clip, convert, analyze, manage, buffer and extract geospatial information.

I find it amazing this free GIS software almost goes unheard of in the GIS industry.

Get more useful knowledge from the Whitebox GAT Open Source Blog.



GRASS GIS (Geographic Resources Analysis Support System) was developed by the US Army Corps of Engineers as a tool for land management and environmental planning.

It has evolved into a free GIS software option for different areas of study.

Academia, environment consultants and government agencies (NASA, NOAA, USDA and USGS) use GRASS GIS because of its intuitive GUI and its reliability.

It has over 350 rock-solid vector and raster manipulation tools.

Not awfully useful in cartographic design, GRASS GIS excels primarily as a free GIS software option for analysis, image processing, digital terrain manipulation and statistics.



SAGA GIS (System for Automated Geoscientific Analyses) is one of the classics in the world of free GIS software.

It started out primarily for terrain analysis such as hillshading, watershed extraction and visibility analysis.

Now, SAGA GIS is a powerhouse because it delivers a fast growing set of geoscientific methods to the geoscientific community.

Enable multiple windows to lay out all your analysis (map, histograms, scatter plots, attributes, etc). It provides both a user-friendly GUI and API.

It’s not particularly useful in cartography. The lack of scale bars, north arrows symbology and grids are telltale signs of this.

Overall, it’s quick, reliable and accurate. Consider SAGA GIS a prime choice for environmental modeling and other applications.



Surface Temperature from Landsat Data: a New Lab Using the Semi-Automatic Classification Plugin

A very detailed tutorial for deriving surface temperature from Landsat data using QGIS and Semi-Automatic Classification Plugin.

Source: From GIS to Remote Sensing: Surface Temperature from Landsat Data: a New Lab Using the Semi-Automatic Classification Plugin.

Download the tutorial pdf (link)

In a previous post I have illustrated how to estimate land surface temperature using Landsat images and the Semi-Automatic Classification Plugin.
I was very pleased when Katie Fankhauser, a graduate student at Portland State University, informed me that she was preparing a lab, inspired by that tutorial, about how to determine ground surface temperature using satellite imagery and my plugin.
The document that she prepared provides background information about remote sensing and Landsat imagery (such as conversion of Landsat images to TOA reflectance and brightness temperature), and describes all the required phases about:
– download of software and data;
– data processing and supervised classification of land cover;
– calculation of an emissivity raster and estimation surface temperature.
Temperature calculated for a Landsat image of Portland (data available from the U.S. Geological Survey)

The image used in the lab is a Landsat image of Portland (OR, USA). The processing of data is described step by step, from the ROI creation to the raster calculation, which is ideal also for students that have little experience with remote sensing.
The lab document (pdf file) is freely available at the following link:
This lab was prepared by Katie Fankhauser, and Evan Thomas who is Assistant Professor of the course Mechanical Engineering Measurements at the Portland State University, Sustainable Water, Energy and Environmental Technologies Laboratory. Very kindly, they credited also me as an author of this lab and allowed me to share the document.
Katie is currently working for a health campaign that aims to reduce the amount of wood fuel use consumed by traditional stone fires, and she is involved in ground truthing satellite-derived land surface temperature to study the rates of deforestation in Rwanda.
Evan Thomas holds a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering Sciences, and in particular he is the Director of the Sweet (Sustainable Water, Energy and Environmental Technologies) Laboratory, a very interesting and worthy project (
“At Portland State, the SweetLab designs and tests sustainable life support technologies for spacecraft and developing countries. The SweetLab’s current primary focus is developing and implementing remotely accessible instrumented monitoring technologies designed to improve the collection of effectiveness evidence in global health programs, including high efficiency cookstoves, water pumps, household water filters, sanitation systems, pedestrian footbridges and other developing world appropriate technologies. The SweetLab has projects in India, Nepal, Indonesia, the Philippines, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Haiti and other countries with partners including the Gates Foundation, USAID, Mercy Corps, the Lemelson Foundation, the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, and DelAgua. The SweetLab also has on-going work with the NASA-Johnson Space Center on microgravity fluid management systems”.
I am really glad and honored that my work can be useful for courses about environmental sustainability like this. Also, I hope that the upcoming new version of the plugin will allow for improved environmental analyses.
I would like to thank very much Katie and Evan and I hope that there will be other opportunities of cooperation in the future.

If one is interested in sharing the work done using the Semi-Automatic Classification Plugin, please contact me at the Facebook group or the Google+ Community.

Quantarctica (QGIS + Antarctica) Free Data

A QGIS specific free GIS dataset is available for downloading from the Quantarctica site (QGIS + Antarctica).  The GIS data contains geography, glaciology and geophysics data originally developed for in-house use at the the Norwegian Polar Institute.  Quantarctica was first released for public consumption in July of 2013 and there are plans to expand the data offerings with contributions from the research community.  The data is free for noncommercial use.

Users can download a base package which is 7GB in size.  The base package includes GIS base map vector and raster data, and scientific data covering geophysics and glaciology.  Geography data includes place name, facility, grounded ice, ice shelf, and outcrops.  Glaciology data includes ice thickness, ice-flow speed, and subglacial lakes.  Geophysics data includes geoid heights, and magnetic anomalies.  The data is available at a range of scales from continental to local.

FTP Sites :

Web Sites :
Alex Tereshenkov

Programming and managing GIS

REDD+ for the Guiana Shield

Technical Cooperation Project

Dr. Qiusheng Wu @ University of Tennessee

Writing Science

How to write papers that get cited and proposals that get funded

GIS In Ecology

Providing Training, Advice And Consultation On The Use Of GIS In Ecology


On cities, land, ...


Open GIS: No Bounds

Scientia Plus Conscientia

Thoughts on Science and Nature


Learning hydrology with R

Karl Hennermann

GIS at the University of Manchester

GIS and Science

Applications of geospatial technology for scientific research and understanding.

Whitebox Geospatial Analysis Tools

Open-source GIS development and spatial analysis with Whitebox GAT


MATLAB-based software for topographic analysis

Anything Geospatial

Dr. Qiusheng Wu @ University of Tennessee

Dr. Qiusheng Wu @ University of Tennessee