I'd like to get involved with GIS, im a marine engineer and clueless about it and although i've tried to research it, I'm overwhelmed by the amount of programs available & information. I wanted to do a personal project, what i have in mind is try to map the flow of Natural Gas.

So how should i go about it to complete my project?

I need a free program to start; which one would you suggest?

Does it have forums / documentation support?

I'm alone on this, so the easier I can get info/answers the better. I'd rather get a local program ie. not web based. I run windows7.

As I understand it, I also need:

  1. A world map with countries?
  2. Some import/export data which I think I've found.
  3. What else would I need to do the analysis from the program pov?
  4. Some analysis tool to get the flows? Is that included in the program or must I find an add-on or something like this?

My future targets include finding/plotting sea routes & also pipelines. Would the suggested program be capable of doing that? Would it automatically be able to plot the sea routes?

Sorry if I wasn't clear but what I'm asking is what free GIS program can do all of the above?

Is there a step by step guide to learn?

As suggested from the posts QGIS is a starting point & read its manual with a goal to do networks analysis. ArcGIS is the industry standard and when I have enough money I should consider it. Getting a book as well would help. Long-term doing python programming or something.

closed as too broad by PolyGeo Jan 22 at 5:21

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    It sounds like you may need a general introduction to GIS. Check out these two posts, gis.stackexchange.com/questions/27188/… AND gis.stackexchange.com/questions/15490/… – artwork21 Apr 29 '13 at 12:52
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    Not to rain on your parade but I'd imagine it would be hard to obtain pipeline data as it can be considered sensitive or classified. Software is not going to be able to find pipelines for you by itself. In general, you or your organization must find, supply or acquire the data, and then you use GIS to analyze and present the data in a meaningful way. – blah238 Apr 29 '13 at 19:01
  • thnx for the help but 1st link basically refers to all the GIS programs or were u just referring to QGIS/GRASS/GVSIG? can u pls be more specific as to which one you would suggest for an amateur and would it be able to do everything my project is intended for? 2nd link is way too general... I'm aware of the capabilities of GIS hence why i want to get involved and hence why i have specific questions but my problem is where to start? there's no step by step guide (or i havent found one), sry if that wasnt apparent from my original question – user17673 Apr 29 '13 at 19:20

Start with what you know: marine engineering. Look at where you want to go: natural gas flow. Find spatial data that solves problems for marine engineers involved in gas production. Instead of "natural gas flow", I suggest you be more general. Otherwise you may miss an opportunity like natural gas crystals (do they even flow?) Once you have found a problem you wish to solve, and the data needed to solve it, choose the most appropriate software. Avoid Golden Hammers - the best software for modeling turbidity currents might be very different from the best software for managing offshore pipelines in a PODS data model.

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If you are working near the Gulf of Mexico, I recommend looking at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. In particular look at the geodata that is available for download. Like pipelines ...

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If you are not in the US, perhaps consider the International Oil Association of Oil and Gas Producers. In particular, look at the Geomatics Committee - including the Seabed Survey Data Model report 462-02.

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Generally speaking there are two types of data, vectors and rasters. (What are Raster and Vector data in GIS and when to use?)

GIS software in general are tools that helps you transform data to knowledge, and because there are many research topics out there GIS tools can be found to be engineered from too abstrasct to much specific, and tend to speciallise to a specific field. For example Grass GIS is great for working with raster data, while arcgis is good with vector data. My point is that now days there are tools (open source or commercial) for every need.

You said you want to plot points and pipelines, a good and straightforward tool to do that is QGis. You can download it with OSGeo downloader, a all-in-one application.

It's a good thing that you have a solid objective to focus. So start on that. Give us some hints on how you envision your project to be and we can suggest you some tools to achieve it.


Besides Goggling, If you're wanting to buy a book, The Geospatial Desktop, (2/1/2013) appears to have a good introduction on freely available GIS Desktops - it sells online, for example at Amazon, on paper or ebook.

The QGIS 1.8 manual, free to download from their website, is a great free introduction to GIS. Start there to wet your whistle.

ESRI has lots of great information on GIS to purchase, but if you buy their book you can get an evaluation version of their ArcGIS desktop to try for a period of time, for the book price, and they have some online courses, for free.


GIS is quite a diverse field. In my experience, it's a lot harder to figure out what skills you should know and what you want to do with them than to figure out how to do them. It's good that you know what you want to look at; that considerably narrows the field. I highly recommend QGIS as a good software to get started with mapping, as well as for more complex analysis. It's free and quite powerful. However, ESRI's products are the industry standard (for better or worse), so if you want to get employed in GIS, you should probably at least have some exposure to ArcGIS. It's expensive to buy, but they offer a home use license for non-business use if you want to learn it.

Given the scope of your intended projects, I would highly recommend reading up on projections and coordinate systems. These are good to know about for all mapping and spatial analysis projects, but matching your projection to your application becomes increasingly important as you increase your geographic extent. Map Use: Reading, Interpretation, Analysis has a pretty good introduction to this and other geographic concepts, you may be able to get it through your local library.

A particular area you may want to look into for analyzing your pipelines and sea routes would be network analysis, which helps model how goods, materials, and traffic move along paths. To my knowledge, the two best tools for this are found in GRASS GIS (which you can use as a standalone or access through QGIS) and ArcGIS's Network Analyst.

Long-term, you may want to look into Python programming to make things run more smoothly. This Q&A Has a good list of tips and pointers for when you reach that point.

Edit: Someone at ESRI put together a tool to visualize movement of goods between ports, which may be of interest to you: http://blogs.esri.com/esri/apl/2012/09/12/generating-distributive-flow-maps-with-arcgis/

  • Your last link is awesome, there's similar ones at BP statistics and thats what drove me to start thinking about GIS. Your post is spot on. I guess as also suggested above need a few manuals/books. As I see it ill start with QGIS and if I see i can evolve with GIS maybe i'll consider ArcGIS. Thnx. – user17673 Apr 29 '13 at 21:27

Since you are strictly doing this to learn with no commercial interest you can get ARCGIS for Home use which has all the extensions you would need and costs $100, then you would use network analysis. If you feel bold about learning you can use QGIS which is totally free and you may program something in python.

To model flow you would need the pipeline which would need to be drawn correctly to be used in a network analysis, that said each line should follow flow direction. To check this visually just draw the lines using an arrow symbol. You said you got some data, your best bet is to look up a tutorial online and follow it. Look up Network Analyst Tutorial ArcGIS

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