Learn about Geographic Information Systems

Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

The field of geographic information systems (GIS) is an evolving technology that combines geographic features with tabular data to analyze and solve issues. The data utilized by GIS references specific locations on Earth by means of mapping. Then, with the use of spatial and statistical processes, it’s possible to analyze the geographic and attribute information to arrive at conclusions. GIS enables people to gain a better understanding of spatial patterns and their relationships to solve problems and address issues.

Full Definition of GIS

A GIS is a specialized system that captures, stores, manipulates, analyzes, manages, and then presents different types of geographic or spatial data that reference specific locations. Attribute data is additional information corresponding to various spatial features, such as names of landmarks. GIS is powerful software, but it also includes the professionals and their methods of analyzing, managing, and displaying data in a map format.

GIS Formats

While geospatial data can include a variety of formats, the two main ones are raster and vector data formats. Raster data is ideal for expressing continuous information without specific boundaries or locations. Raster data displays as a series of grid cells with each individual cell having a value that represents the applicable feature. Raster data would be the choice for displaying elevation or precipitation, and it can include aerial photography as well as satellite imagery. Vector data displays as polygons, points, or lines. Data with a specific location or with hard boundaries is usually displayed as vector data. This might include railroad tracks, roads, or boundary lines. GIS data can be linked together by specific components, such as longitude and latitude location, zip code, or road name.

GIS Components

Several different components work together to create a working solution or outcome. GIS hardware includes the equipment needed to collect data, which runs the software. Typically, a computer workstation is one component, often working with additional equipment like a (GPS) data logger, which would be used in the field. The software is responsible for creating, editing, and analyzing data. GIS software may be further enhanced with extra add-ons such as satellite tracking and communication software. The data is the information gathered via the software and hardware. The final GIS component is the people working with the hardware and software, working toward specific goals.

Benefits of GIS

People are inherently visual, so any time it’s possible to create a visual medium to display and analyze data, it’s a win. Using maps to communicate data makes the data easily identifiable as well as engaging to the viewer. Maps are a universal method that most people can understand, and they are also flexible to display a variety of data. Maps can also be combined with tables to display even more data and statistics. GIS has broad capabilities, answering a wide array of questions that expand across a wide population. GIS can be used to explore the geographic distribution of plants and animals, to document how people have migrated during specific eras, and to record the density of archaeological finds to increase the probability of locating future finds, to name a few.

Uses of GIS

GIS is applicable for various projects that seek to create solutions, because the geospatial data enables data gathering and analysis to determine locations of landmarks or features, relationships with other landmarks or features, density of features, status of an entire geographic area, and what changes have occurred over time. Not only does GIS enable the mapping of the location of specific features, it also gives a visualization of spatial relationships between specific features and quantities of features. GIS can help determine the features located in a specific area according to specified criteria. Using a buffer tool, it’s also possible to set a specific area and explore features or events nearby. GIS is also an effective tool for making predictions about future events or conditions, because it can show historic trends of development.