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Research group completes first-ever land use survey on Coast

MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST — Over a 10-month period, a group of University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast students and their geography professor conducted a parcel-based land use survey by coding more than 200,000 parcels of land across the three coastal counties of south Mississippi.

Dr. David Holt, assistant professor of geography at the Southern Miss Gulf Park campus, and 29 of his students were sub-contracted through a grant known as the Coastal Impact Assistance Program. Through the grant, the students learned firsthand how to use their geography skills in the field.

The survey, the first of this kind on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, was part of a sustainable development project with the Gulf Regional Planning Commission.

“Our students received extensive training to identify the features of the landscapes we were coding,” said Holt. “By being part of this program, the students learned real-world skills they can include on their resumes. Telling an employer you were part of this project shows you earned an invaluable experience.”

To conduct the survey, Holt and his students used two different methods for coding parcels – field surveys and aerial imagery. During the field survey, the team coded 71,428 parcels by physically visiting each parcel, which included photographing each parcel visited. Using aerial imagery, the team spent time in a laboratory coding more than 150,000 parcels by examining human land use of each parcel.

By having a comprehensive baseline of land use on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, future planning can benefit by understanding infrastructure, transportation corridors, environmental protection, and many others. According to Ken Holland, GIS manager for the Gulf Regional Planning Commission, the commission is aiming to have the data available to the public in an online format by the end of 2013.

“This survey presents a great inventory for what is currently on the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” said Holland. “We would like to have the survey available on a website where it could operate as a base layer for projects. Since we now have this fairly extensive data set, we hope to maintain it through our different jurisdictions.”

In the past, the three coastal counties had only been surveyed in piecemeal. With a complete and consistent coded data set for the entire Mississippi Gulf Coast, future surveys can be used to view changes in infrastructure or even monitor recovery.

“This project showed exactly how Southern Miss can help with data development,” said Holt. “It gets our students out in the field, as well as learning lab analysis. Projects like these teach them how to build data from the ground up.”

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