Waldo Tobler

Waldo Tobler earned his PhD in Geography at the University of Washington in Seattle. He has served on the faculty at the University of Michigan, and at the University of California-Santa Barbara, where he served as Professor of Geography and Professor of Statistics. Dr. Tobler is now Professor Emeritus at the University of California in Santa Barbara. He was one of the principal investigators and a Senior Scientist in the National Science Foundation sponsored National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis (NCGIA).

More than fifty years ago, in 1959, he figured out how to get a paper map into a computer and get it back out again. This innovation became known as “Map In Map Out,” or “MIMO.” Essentially, Professor Tobler made GIS possible. This achievement alone should ensure Professor Tobler a position in the GIS Hall of Fame.  If this were not enough, Professor Tobler also articulated the principle at the heart of geography and by extension, at the heart of GIS. His “First Law of Geography” states, “Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things” (Tobler, 1970: p. 236). This framework helps to inform everything we do in geography and GIS.

In addition, Professor Tobler is “… the inventor of novel and unusual map projections, among which was the first derivation of the partial differential equations for area cartograms. He also invented a method for smooth two-dimensional mass-preserving areal data redistribution” (http://www.geog.ucsb.edu/~tobler/bio.html).

His committee work involved the National Research Council, most recently the Board on Earth Sciences. He has been on the editorial board of several journals, including The American Cartographer, Journal of Regional Science, Geographical Analysis, and the International Journal of Geographical Information Systems. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States and, until his retirement, was a member of the Royal Geographical Society of Great Britain. He was a charter member of the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association, a council member of the Regional Science Association, member and chairman of the Mathematical Social Science Board, and served as the US delegate to the International Geographical Union Commission on Geographical Data Processing and Sensing.

Professor Tobler's most recent work involved building a global, latitude-longitude oriented, demographic information base with resolution two orders of magnitude better than was previously available. His latest ideas concern the development of smooth finite element and categorical pycnophylactic geographic information reallocation models. In July of 1999 he presented a keynote speech, “The World is Shriveling as it Shrinks”, at the ESRI International User Conference, and was the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award in GIS by ESRI. Taylor and Francis of London recently published a map projection book, co-authored with Q. Yang of China and the late John Snyder. Current interests relate to ideas in computational geography including the analysis of geographical vector fields and the development of migration patterns in coherent spatial structures. Since retiring in 1994 he has given presentations on those these topics and on cartography or on spatial analysis several times each year.

Professor Tobler has always been very approachable and helpful, sharing his knowledge and insights in a very modest manner, in spite of his outstanding achievements. It is this combination of his foundational contributions to GIS and his approachability that support his nomination for the GIS Hall of Fame. Professor Tobler’s membership in the GIS Hall of Fame is long overdue.

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