Mapping, Modeling, and the Fragmentation of Environmental Law

63 Pages Posted: 2 Mar 2012 Last revised: 3 Dec 2013

Date Written: March 1, 2012


In the past forty years, environmental researchers have achieved major advances in electronic mapping and spatially explicit, computer-based simulation modeling. Those advances have turned quantitative spatial analysis — that is, quantitative analysis of data coded to specific geographic locations — into one of the primary modes of environmental research. Researchers now routinely use spatial analysis to explore environmental trends, diagnose problems, discover causal relationships, predict possible futures, and test policy options. At a more fundamental level, these technologies and an associated field of theory are transforming how researchers conceptualize environmental systems.

Advances in spatial analysis have had modest impacts upon the practice of environmental law, little impact on environmental law’s structure or theory, and minimal impact on environmental law research. However, the potential legal implications of these advances are profound. By focusing on several of environmental law’s traditional core debates, and by using urban development as a central example, this Article explores those implications. It shows that spatial analysis can change the problems environmental law addresses, the regulatory instruments environmental law uses, the entities law empowers to address those problems, and the methodologies of environmental law research.

Keywords: environmental law, spatial analysis, geographic information systems, land use

Suggested Citation

Owen, Dave, Mapping, Modeling, and the Fragmentation of Environmental Law (March 1, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

Dave Owen (Contact Author)

UC Law, San Francisco ( email )

200 McAllister Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
United States

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