What is GIS (Geographic Information System)?

What Is GIS (aka Geographic Information System)?

The Modern Geographic Information System (GIS) coordinates software and data choices for the purpose of capturing, organizing, analyzing and presenting countless forms of geographically referenced material. With GIS, you can review and comprehend a given data base. You can also translate data and even visualize a data base to learn about patterns, trends and recurring similarities on maps, charts, globes and documents. This information can then easily be shared and viewed by many individuals or groups, as needed. GIS methodology and techniques are currently being used within many informational structures worldwide to the benefit of governments, corporate and small businesses, organizations, universities and other educational facilities. 

The first well-documented use of GIS data gathering and analysis was in 1854, when John Snow mapped the onset of a cholera epidemic in London. By means of this visual display of clusters of cholera case locations in the city, a pump emitting contaminated water—the cause of the disease—was found and closed down. Then, in the early 20th century, maps were first divided into layers (for example, one layer showing natural plant life and another displaying land surface rock). These layers could later be joined together to form one image. Later on, in 1960, the linking of a database to layered mapping by Dr. Roger Tomlinson in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, resulted in the Geographic Information System. First known as the Canada Geographic Information System (CGIS), it subsequently gained worldwide usage and is now referred to as GIS. 

What Can Be Accomplished With GIS?

  • Map Where Things Are Located. With use of GIS, you can accurately discover the locations and general patterns of certain physical elements and activities of subject matter. Governments can gather valuable and dependable information about a national populous through GIS studies. For instance, GIS can easily reveal where the greatest number of pre-school children live within a country, region, state or locale. Or, state-sponsored unemployment evaluations can quickly learn, with GIS, where within the state adults with different types and levels of education live. 
  • Suppose a community improvement group wants to petition town or city officials to designate biking lanes on public streets and avenues. By means of GIS analysis, the group can accurately present results of local demographic studies showing the number and location of area bicycle sales within the past few years. Or, maybe you, your neighbors and other families in your district would like to have a sizable piece of land designated as a dog run so that the numerous canine “family members” can have an open space to exercise regularly and make friends with other dogs living nearby. With the help of a GIS evaluation, you will be prepared to present accurate statistics to city or town officials revealing the concentration of dogs within your area based on volumes of dog food sales in local stores. 
  • Map Quantities. A state dental association may decide to map the numbers of dentists per every 1,000 residents in the state’s population to be sure there is adequate dental care statewide. This type of mapping can also be very helpful to county school districts in determining how many first grade teachers there for every group of 25 children starting school this year. 
  • Chart Densities. When viewing a density chart or map, you can see the distribution of an element immediately. It measures components by use of a given spatial unit. If you map the population of several counties in your state, larger counties may have more people, but some smaller ones may have higher densities, or greater population per square mile. 
  • Discover What’s Inside. GIS can help keep track of specific activity within a certain region. For instance, traffic safety groups and law enforcement officials can monitor serious traffic violation incidents in a given locale to determine how close they occur to an elementary school road crossing. 
  • Find What’s Nearby. GIS can map the activity surrounding or in close proximity to a feature, for example, which weeks during the summer the most people make use of public camping grounds and facilities in a certain region or state. 
  • Map Change. GIS can map alterations in a region to predict and plan for future occurrences. Weather experts examine storm paths and patterns by this method. 

What Are the Major Steps in the Geographic Mapping Approach? 

With the help of GIS, individuals and groups of people, governments, businesses, organizations, and educational facilities can gain important knowledge to improve all types of designs and plans to initiate necessary change. Necessary actions along this path include the following:

  • Frame the Question: To tackle a problem or issue geographically, you must first structure it with a location-oriented perspective. (What is the problem and where is it located?) 
  • Find Related Data: Decide on the data you need and find where to locate or generate it. Especially if detailed information is required to reveal results over an extended time period, you may need additional map layers. In most all cases, you will need to gather or calculate new and current data. 
  • Examine the Data. Examine your collected data carefully. Review its schema (organization), its topology (how well this data compares with other related data and rules of the physical world), and the origins of the data (its metadata). 
  • Analyze the Data. Be sure to look closely at the results of your analysis. You can always rerun the analysis using different specifications by means of GIS remodeling tools, if necessary. 
  • Share Your Results: Presentation of your results of the data analysis is of very high value to the geographic approach. Your presentation can be shared in the form of documents, reports, maps, charts, tables, or in audio/video format. It can then be delivered physically or online. Some recipients of your data may prefer an interactive format so they can pose questions and make comments on the contents of your presentation. 

Who Uses GIS? 

Thousands of businesses around the world use Geographical Information System technology to solve problems and to update and improve procedures. Such businesses include: 

  • Banking and Financial Services: Banks often use GIS software to achieve higher operational success and profitability. Financial analysts target their markets according to different service needs. Geo-demographic analysis can promote understanding of risk levels, customer activity, and economic climates. 
  • Insurance. Many insurance companies utilize GIS for evaluating and managing portfolio risk. Others employ this software to review, analyze, and deliver risk reports. GIS software can be helpful in everything from maintaining accurate policyholder address lists to the logistics of claims processing. 
  • Media. Most modern media and press groups use GIS software to produce detailed maps quickly for use in magazines, newspapers and online news services. (Included in these media groups are the Associated Press (AP) and the National Geographic Society). In journalism, GIS is a wonderful aid to the discovery and collection of in-depth information and the production of vivid graphic images. GIS is also a valuable methodology for monitoring media delivery networks, targeted ad campaigns, and readership analysis. 
  • Real Estate. Most real estate companies use GIS for mapping of both commercial and residential property. Online, REALTOR.com uses GIS to provide maps online to over a million potential home buyers. GIS techniques can easily combine a vast range of real estate data into the form of a single map. This reveals and strongly promotes the value and desirability of available property. 
  • Retail. Retail business owners and managers have found an extremely profitable tool in GIS. Marketing strategists can easily gather data to understand current market area trends and needs. They can also better understand the unique qualities of varying age markets and store locations, tailoring product offerings to suit current popularity and consumer purchasing rates. . 

Such U.S. government agencies as the Bureau of Vital Statistics, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency all make frequent and ongoing use of GIS software and techniques in data gathering and analysis. 

A variety of degree and certificate programs are now being offered worldwide, in formal classroom situations and online, in Geographical Information System studies. As the numbers of businesses, governmental departments, educational institutions and organizations successfully employing GIS technology rapidly increase, there will be a greater need for more education and degree programs in this vital kind of detailed data collection, analysis and study. Many colleges and universities are now using online courses and training events to promote GIS awareness. Since 1987, the National Geographic Society has sponsored Geography Awareness Week to promote geographic literacy, and GIS Day is always the Wednesday which falls within that week. In 2011, GIS Day will be celebrated on Wednesday, November 16th. On this day, over 80 countries will participate in local events to promote GIS by corporate events, community workshops and expos, and school programs. Without doubt, GIS is an extremely powerful modern methodology and tool which will greatly benefit many future generations worldwide.

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