Civil and environmental engineering student's REU experience yields success at UB's GIS Day Map competition

By Peter Murphy

Published December 9, 2020

Riley Blasiak, a junior pursuing a double-major in civil and environmental engineering, won UB’s geographic information system (GIS) Day Map Competition during 2020’s Geography Awareness Week.

Green infrastructure enhancing LA County

“Through the implementation of green infrastructure, the negative effects from having large amounts of impervious surfaces can be reduced. ”
Riley Blasiak, Junior, civil and environmental engineering
Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering

“My project determined that increasing the amount of vegetation could reduce the land surface temperature in an area,” Blasiak says, “green infrastructure has the capability to reduce land surface temperature, improve people’s health, increase biodiversity, reduce runoff and improve water and air quality.”

Blasiak’s project, Proposed Green Infrastructure Locations in Los Angeles County, used data provided by California Environmental Data Exchange Network (CEDEN) to determine the impact of different green infrastructure initiatives in Los Angeles County, California. The project examined areas with poor stormwater quality, higher land surface temperature (LST), large amounts of impervious areas, low amounts of vegetation and high-risk demographics. 

Blasiak first examined this project during her Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) experience with Reinventing the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNUWIt). Blasiak worked remotely with Katie M. Spahr, postdoctoral researcher at the Colorado School of Mines and Anneliese M. Sytsma, a PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley this summer. 

Riley Blasiak, double-major in civil and environmental engineering.

Riley Blasiak, civil and environmental engineering student

“We thought it would be interesting to see possible overlaps between urban heat island and water quality data which were both considered in the suitability analysis, which is the map I submitted to the competition,” Blasiak says. 

Blasiak focused on green infrastructure and its impacts for both the map submission and the ReNUWIt project. “To me, the most important benefit of green infrastructure is the fact that it is used to reduce the number of impervious surfaces. Through the implementation of green infrastructure, the negative effects from having large amounts of impervious surfaces can be reduced.”

In addition to the data from the CEDEN, Blasiak and her mentors used demographic data from the 2016 American Community Survey. The demographic data highlighted low-income households, people over the age of 65 and people under the age of five. The high priority tracts for green infrastructure implementation include: high LST, high E. Coli, high TSS, high impervious, low vegetation, low parks, low canopy and more high-risk demographics. 

Map of green infrastructure developed by UB CSEE student Riley Blasiak.

The red area would have the highest number of co-benefits. Green infrastructure implementation would be the most beneficial in these areas. 

“I compiled data from these sources to determine the most significant contributing variables that correlated to increasing land surface temperature in LA County,” Blasiak says, “using this information, I conducted a suitability analysis to determine where green infrastructure implementation would be most beneficial in reducing land surface temperature and other negative impacts.” 

Both the ReNUWIt and GIS Map Day programs provided Blasiak with a chance to learn several new skills, including ArcGIS, the geographic information system for working with maps maintained by the Environmental Systems Research Institute. 

“I entered into this project knowing nothing about ArcGIS, and through this work, I learned how to use it both for mapping and statistical analysis.”