Geographic Information Systems
Intro Techniques Spatial Geostatistics Geocoding GIS software
A geographic information system
(GIS) is a system for capturing, storing, analyzing and managing data and
associated attributes which are spatially referenced to the earth. In the
strictest sense, it is a computer system capable of integrating, storing,
editing, analyzing, sharing, and displaying geographically-referenced
information. In a more generic sense, GIS is a tool that allows users to create
interactive queries (user created searches), analyze the spatial information,
edit data, and present the results of all these operations. Geographic
information science is the science underlying the applications and systems,
taught as a degree program by several universities.
Geographic information system technology can be used for scientific investigations, resource management, asset management, Environmental Impact Assessment, Urban planning, cartography, criminology, history, sales, marketing, and route planning. For example, a GIS might allow emergency planners to easily calculate emergency response times in the event of a natural disaster, a GIS might be used to find wetlands that need protection from pollution, or a GIS can be used by a company to find new potential customers similar to the ones they already have and project sales due to expanding into that market.
35,000 years ago, on the walls of caves near Lascaux, France, Cro-Magnon hunters drew pictures of the animals they hunted. Associated with the animal drawings are track lines and tallies thought to depict migration routes. While simplistic in comparison to modern technologies, these early records mimic the two-element structure of modern geographic information systems, an image associated with attribute information.
Possibly the earliest use of the geographic method, in 1854 John Snow depicted a cholera outbreak in London using points to represent the locations of individual cases. His study of the distribution of cholera led to the source of the disease, a contaminated water pump within the heart of the outbreak.
Original map by Dr. John Snow showing the clusters of cholera cases in the London epidemic of 1854While the basic elements of topology and theme existed previously in cartography, the John Snow map was unique, using cartographic methods to depict clusters of a geographically dependent phenomena for the first time.
The early 20th century saw the development of "photo lithography" where maps were separated into layers. Computer hardware development spurred by nuclear weapon research would lead to general purpose computer "mapping" applications by the early 1960s. The year 1964 saw the development of the world's first true operational GIS in Ottawa, Ontario by the federal Department of Energy, Mines, and Resources. Developed by Roger Tomlinson, it was called "Canadian Geographic Information Systems" (CGIS) and was used to store, analyse, and manipulate data collected for the Canada Land Inventory (CLI)—an initiative to determine the land capability for rural Canada by mapping information about soils, agriculture, recreation, wildlife, waterfowl, forestry, and land use at a scale of 1:250,000. A rating classification factor was also added to permit analysis.
CGIS was the world's first "system" and was an improvement over "mapping" applications as it provided capabilities for overlay, measurement, and digitizing/scanning. It supported a national coordinate system that spanned the continent, coded lines as "arcs" having a true embedded topology, and it stored the attribute and locational information in separate files. As a result of this, Tomlinson has become known as the "father of GIS."
CGIS lasted into the 1990s and built the largest digital land resource database in Canada. It was developed as a mainframe based system in support of federal and provincial resource planning and management. Its strength was continent-wide analysis of complex data sets. The CGIS was never available in a commercial form. Its initial development and success stimulated various commercial mapping applications being sold by vendors such as ESRI, MapInfo, Intergraph and CARIS to successfully incorporate many of the CGIS features, combining the first generation approach to separation of spatial and attribute information with a second generation approach to organizing attribute data into database structures. The 1980s and 1990s industry growth were spurred on by the growing use of GIS on Unix workstations and the personal computer. By the end of the 20th century, the rapid growth in various systems had been consolidated and standardized on relatively few platforms and users were beginning to export the concept of viewing GIS data over the Internet, requiring data format and transfer standards. More recently, there is a growing flavor of free, opensource GIS packages such as GRASS GIS and Quantum GIS which run on a range of operating systems and can be customised to perform specific tasks.