Meridian Lab logo

Barbara P. Buttenfield

Department of Geography, University of Colorado - Boulder

CU logo

Flyfishing adventures on Michigan Lake

Buffalo Bicycle Classic 2009, with Ralphie the CU mascot and with biking buddy Sue Beatty.


MAIL:       Department of Geography, UCB 260,
                  University of Colorado, Boulder CO 80309


PHONE: 303.492.3618            FAX: 303.492.7501

OFFICE: Guggenheim 201D

In my spare time, I flyfish, garden, and play music with my husband Bill and friends.

Bill and babs playing Irish tunes on St. Patrick's Day


I came to CU-Boulder in January 1996 to build the GIScience curriculum and catalyze GIS activity across campus. I direct the Meridian Lab, a small research lab in the Geography Department on research using GIS applications, as well as on research to advance knowledge about GIScience. I am a Research Faculty Affiliate at USGS Center for Excellence in GIScience (CEGIS) and at CU Earth Lab , a Grand Challenge Initative combining satellite and ground geospatial data to address questions about landscape change.

My specific interests are in data modeling and data integration, multi-scale databases, representations of uncertainty, and cartographic information design. I'm working with USGS to generalize the National Hydrography Dataset (NHD) for scales ranging from 1:4,800 (civil engineering mapping scale) and 1:24,000 (topographic mapping scale) to 1:1 million (thematic mapping scale) and smaller.

I also work on improving the accuracy of terrain-based measurements. Advances in processing speeds permit relaxation of what we call the "rigid pixel" paradigm, where Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) are assumed to contain a uniform and planar elevation. Distances measured in this paradigm can be thought of "as the crow flies", and these metrics introduce errors into modeling. In truth, we can and should measure distance "as the horse runs", accepting that elevation can vary within a pixel. As larger pixel sizes are incorporated into environmental models (for climate change or for natural hazards) and especialy in rough terrain, such errors can propagate dramatically, affecting estimates of elevation, distance, surface area, and impacting any geospatial analysis that is often based in distance metrics.

A third research interest focuses on data integration. I recently directed an NSF project on census demography which integrated PUMS microdata to refine tract-level summary attributes. Dasymetric modeling can improve small-area estimation, and Monte Carlo simulation establishes statistical confidence in the results. Dasymetric modeling work continues with current project to identify suitable locations for renewable energy farms in rural communities.

I served on the U.S. Census Scientific Advisory Committee 2012-2019, as President of the American Cartographic Association (now the Cartography and Geographic Information Society, CaGIS) from 1995 - 1996, and was a member of the National Research Council's Mapping Science Committee from 1992-1998. I am a Fellow of the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM) and a Fellow of the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science (UCGIS) . In 2001, I was the inaugural recipient of the UCGIS National GIScience Educator of the Year Award.

On Turks and Caicos in 2017 following a first open water competitive swim with swimming buddy Karen Ishibashi.


I am learning pyrography, which involves drawing and shading with heat. So far, I work on wood.

Last modified 20 March 2020