Scientific Computing Topics

Scientific Computing Environments

Statistical environments


USGS holds a license for a version of the S-Plus statistical package, and the USGS internal distribution includes USGS-developed statistical and graphics tools.


R is an open-source statistical analysis system built to be functionally equivalent to S. It is gaining in popularity, and has a body of GUI's (such as RCommander) and interfaces available for it. Since R has a command-line interface, it is fairly easy to connect with other software, for example, ArcGIS. and Java Python ("Jython"). Some have described R as a "statistical scripting language."

Although the user community is very good at answering questions, the volume of questions and answers may be overwhelming.


Python, an interpreted, interactive, object-oriented, extensible programming language, supported on numerous computing platforms.

Packages for Python

There are a few distributions of python libraries that try to eliminate the hassle of pulling together lots of libraries. We should investigate these!

Python and ArcGIS


MATLAB is commonly used for data and compute-intensive scientific analysis.

Known USGS MATLAB users: Rich Signell, Ashley Van Beusekom

Microsoft Office

Although Microsoft Office is very useful for general-purpose computing widely used in science, it has also been also widely criticized by the scientific community (especially by statisticians). The largest problem by far is data import/export, and the misuse of the tools, for example the (far too common) use of Excel as a database, and errors in worksheet cell references.

USGS holds a site license for MS Office, through the Bureau Windows Technical Support Team (BWTST).

Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

Since much of USGS scientific computing involves spatial data, it is no suprise that more than half of the attendees of the 2011 CDI meeting were polled identified themselves as users of Esri's ArcGIS product.

USGS Core Science Systems supports the Enterprise GIS (EGIS) team, who supports GIS activities in the Bureau. EGIS supports USGS-wide site licenses for Esri's ArcGIS suite, and Global Mapper.