The Center for Spatial Studies promotes excellence in interdisciplinary research, supporting spatial thinking in a variety of ways. We organize research-oriented events, such as the ongoing ThinkSpatial Brown Bag presentations for the local community and our annual Specialist Meetings. Learn more about our Research Resources.

Our current research projects are described below.

Core Concepts of Spatial Information


The Core Concepts of Spatial Information are designed to facilitate spatial computing and reduce its complexity. They also serve as conceptual lenses on environments, allowing for different perspectives on them, fed by data with any sort of spatial reference. We specify the Core Concepts as Abstract Data
Types (ADT)
, defining a set of core computations for each concept, through which users can ask spatial questions (Kuhn & Ballatore, 2015). The ultimate goal is a generic Application Programming Interface
for spatial computing. Read more…

Spatial Discovery
Website: Spatial Discovery Project Website

Period: 2015–2020

Co-PI’s: UCSB Library and Werner Kuhn (Center for Spatial Studies)

Researchers: Sara Lafia

This research is studied the challenges and strategies that libraries and researchers face in trying to discover linked spatial data via metadata on diverse platforms and in a variety of environments. The research was carried out in a collaboration between the UCSB Library and the Center for Spatial Studies.

Contact: Werner Kuhn

Tags: spatial discovery, library, metadata, spatial search

Energy Challenges: Development and Climate Change in Global Perspective
Location: Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies Research Cluster Award

PI: Javiera Barandiaran (Global & International Studies)

Co-PI’s: Werner Kuhn (Center for Spatial Studies), Lisa Parks (Film & Media Studies), Paul Amar (Global & International Studies), Stephan Miescher (History), Corey Byrnes (East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies).

What are developing countries doing to switch to cleaner energies and with what effects? How are they participating in the rise of new energy challenges? Can they benefit from new energy sources, such as lithium used in electric cars? Or are fossil fuels still black gold, as Brazil’s recent oil discoveries suggest? Orfalea Research Cluster funds are creating a cluster around humanities approaches to energy issues, focused on the intersecting challenges of development and climate change. Participating faculty bring expertise from around the world, with on-going or planned research projects in Ghana, Brazil, Bolivia, and China, and from a range of energy technologies: oil, lithium, hydroelectric, and mobile energy sources. We create cross-departmental collaborations that will inform our research and teaching efforts. The result will be the improved academic capacity to discuss energy choices in environmental, social, and political contexts, as well as in economic and engineering concerns. We will learn about and explore ways in which mapping technologies and spatial data can support humanities-based research on energy issues, and vice versa. These efforts are carried out at a series of cluster meetings in various educational and research settings and will culminate in a conference showcasing a leading researcher in this field that will attract students and faculty from across campus.

Contact: Werner Kuhn

Tags: clean energy, sustainability, humanities

Modeling, Display, and Understanding Uncertainty
modeling-projectThe Center for Spatial Studies is collaborating with researchers at the University of Utah, Clemson University, and Texas A&M University to establish the foundations for capturing the uncertainty associated with predictive simulations for policy decision making.

Aspects of the project include simulation and uncertainty quantification, developing methods of visualizing uncertainty, and evaluating these visualizations by examining perception, cognition, and decision making in the presence of visualizations of uncertainty. This project is supported by the National Science Foundation.

Contact: Mary Hegarty

Home page:

Tags: uncertainty, visualization, perception, decision making

I/UCRC for Spatiotemporal Thinking, Computing, and Applications
nsf_stc_logoMany 21st century challenges, such as natural disasters and climate change, happen in space and time. Most scholarship assumes a single static timeslice and fails to explore the true dynamics of social and physical phenomena. Spatio-temporal principles are rarely utilized to optimize and enable relevant science discovery and engineering advancements. A systematic investigation of exploring and utilizing the principles will advance human knowledge in providing a trailblazer thinking methodology and exploring the next-generation computing for addressing the challenges. This I/UCRC for spatio-temporal thinking, computing, and applications was established as a collaboration platform among academia, industry, government agencies, and other organizations to advance this domain of knowledge. The center is established on the previous success of three sites, including a) Center for Intelligent Spatial Computing (CISC) at GMU for computing/software development, b) the National Center for Geographic Information Analysis (NCGIA) and the Center for Spatial Studies (spatial@ucsb) at UCSB for spatial thinking, and c) the Center for Geographic Analysis (CGA) at Harvard for applications.

Contact: Keith Clarke

Home pages:,

Tags: Spatiotemporal analysis, spatial thinking, spatial computing

A Generic API for Geographic Information
To validate research on spatial questions, we design a generic Application Programming Interface (API) for computations on geographic information. The API methods map to various existing spatial computing environments and are made accessible as web services. The longer-term goal is to first map from domain API’s to this generic spatial computing interface.

Contact: Werner Kuhn

Tags: geographic information, API

Individual Differences in Large-Scale Spatial Cognition
The Center for Spatial Studies conducts research on Large-Scale or Environmental Spatial Cognitive Processes, including learning the layout of new environments, wayfinding and navigation in known environments, and representing and communicating spatial information. Much of our work in this area has involved collaboration between Mary Hegarty (Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences) and Daniel R. Montello (Department of Geography). This research has contributed new measures, such as the Santa Barbara Sense of Direction Scale, and basic research on the nature of individual differences in large-scale spatial cognition. Current research, funded by a seed grant from the UCSB Center for Creative Biotechnologies, is focused on identifying fundamental differences in neurological and cognitive processes that differentiate people with a good vs. poor sense of direction.

Home page:…

Contact: Mary Hegarty

Tags: sense of direction, spatial cognition

Transdisciplinary Knowledge Infrastructures for Linked Science
Linked data and related semantic web technologies have the potential to break up and connect information silos. Based on these, we build infrastructures for searching and linking scientific data spatially and semantically. The results are tested in transdisciplinary projects on, for example, energy, public health, and urban history. The LIFE project at the University of Münster develops pilot services and applications that inform a follow-up effort now being initiated at UCSB. The emphasis is on developing and testing tools for future library users, pursuing the broader vision of interconnecting scientific knowledge.

Home page:

Contact: Werner Kuhn

Tags: linked data, eScience, semantic web

Detecting and Theorizing Place Sentiment in Big Data
The area of sentiment analysis aims at extracting and summarizing writers’ feelings from raw text. Knowing what people think about a given object has a wide range of scientific and commercial applications. This project investigates sentiment analysis focused on places, tapping a variety of novel digitized data sources, including travel blog, travel literature, and social media. Tailoring data mining and natural language processing techniques to geographic objects can provide insights about the complex relationship between places and humans.

Contact: Andrea Ballatore

Tags: sentiment analysis, opinion mining, place, natural language processing

See also the archive of our former research projects.