New Horizons for the Social Sciences 3 pages

Geography – GIS Systems

Geographic information systems called GIS in short, is a constituent of all the complex geographic information technologies that exist today. The Global Positioning System or GPS and remote sensing are all parts of the emerging technologies that are today referred to as GIS systems. GIS thus encompasses both the digital and geographical techniques involved in the systems used for the processing and dissemination of geographic information. (New Horizons for the Social Sciences Geographic Information Systems) GIS may be defined as an automated system that allows the creation, editing, studying, analyzing and displaying spatially referenced data. A GIS has the capacity to manipulate several different spatial datasets at the same time. GIS plays a significant role in resource planning and other planned activities with reference to the geographical aspects of an activity. (Definitions)

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GIS makes use of both the traditional disciplines as well as technology. It is a technology that makes use of a wide variety of disciplines and as such may be considered an enabling technology. Geography is a traditional discipline and is the science of comprehending the world and man’s place on it and is a constituent of GIS. Geography has made use of spatial analysis for a very long time and this has often been done in the manual form that forms the starting blocks of spatial research and analysis. Cartography is the display of spatial information and is another constituent of GIS. Cartography happens to be the predominant source of data for input to GIS either digitized or scanned. Designing and creating maps forms a significant component in what is the output function of GIS, which gives rise to the popular myth that production of maps is the function of GIS. (What is a GIS and What Does It Do?)

Traditional cartography is now changing to digitalized and automated modes and so terms like digital cartography and automated cartography are used quite often. Remote sensing is the collecting of images from space and aircraft as input data for GIS. The commercial satellite systems that are in place as well as those that are planned to be put in place will make remote sensing data more freely available. Remote sensing is gradually becoming the most important source of input data for GIS. Remote sensing offers a very distinct advantage in that it has a very low cost in proportion to the area covered. The newer satellites will be in a position to update information in almost real time basis giving more meaning to the input data. The analyzed and interpreted data is capable of being integrated in the GIS as can the original image. (What is a GIS and What Does It Do?)

Photogrammetry is the activity, wherein photographs taken from the air or space are utilized to create very precise maps of the land surface. Photogrammetry is another discipline of the GIS. Photogrammetry is capable of drawing maps with very precise positions of features in a coordinate system. Photogrammetry caters for high accuracy positional control for the Global Positioning System. Statistics is another discipline of GIS and several of the GIS models are statistically based. Spatial statistics is a significant component for the proper understanding of the distribution of phenomena on the surface of the Earth.

The next discipline of GIS is Computer Science. Computer Aided Design or CAD equips GIS with tools for improved means for data input, display and visualization. Developments in the field of computer graphics have enabled the provision of hardware and software capable of display of spatial information and an example of this is the advances in computer display size and the resolution. Database Management Systems or DBMS play a role in the design of systems and allows for handling vast amounts of data. Another discipline of GIS is Artificial Intelligence and Neural Networks. This discipline is what enables GIS to become a part of the decision aiding tools. Mathematics is the last discipline of the GIS but is not the least important as it is components of mathematics in geometry, topology and matrix algebra that enable the analysis of spatial data. (What is a GIS and What Does It Do?)

GIS forms a part of the several information technologies that brought about a sea of change in the way geographers go about research and thereby contribute to society. In the last twenty years these information technologies have had a significant impact on the way the research techniques are employed specific to the discipline and also in the manner in which geographers communicate and cooperate around the globe. The discipline specific tools that have contributed to this include Cartography and Computer-Assisted drafting. Just as word-processing soft-wares are a boon to writers, computers give several advantages to cartographers. In today’s world automated techniques are more of the rule instead of being the exception in the area of cartographic production. (Geographic Information Systems as an Integrating Technology: Context, Concepts, and Definitions)

Photogrammetry from the air has been used extensively and successfully as a technique for cartographic production and geographic analysis. Aerial photogrammetry today is augmented with the use of remotely sensed information garnered by satellites in outer space. The developments in the field of information technologies have made both these types of information more readily accessible and more easy to use. Statistical analysis and the models of spatial patterns and processes have used the assistance of computer technology for a very long time. The developments in the field of information technology have made these techniques more widely available and have permitted the models to grow in complexity and scale to give more precise depictions of real-world processes. (Geographic Information Systems as an Integrating Technology: Context, Concepts, and Definitions)

The GIS permits geographers to collect and study information faster than was possible with the old methods and techniques. GIS thus is an integrated technology that uses and expands techniques that geographers have been using for a long time in their study of natural and social systems. The general tools include Communication and Collaboration. Today e-mail, discussion lists and computer bulletin board enable geographers around the globe to communicate and share ideas. Interactive classes and workshops at far away locations have been made possible by distance-learning techniques. Networking has made it easy to access both primary and secondary research material and resources found in libraries, government agencies and research institutions worldwide. (Geographic Information Systems as an Integrating Technology: Context, Concepts, and Definitions)

The cost of publishing and dissemination of information has gone down drastically with improved information technologies as also the time required for the circulation of information. (Geographic Information Systems as an Integrating Technology: Context, Concepts, and Definitions) Remote sensing is an example of GIS. Sensors loaded on aircraft or satellite enable remote collection of data about the surface of the earth. The normal technique used by remote sensors is to detect either visible light or invisible electromagnetic radiation or it might use both. The uses of remote sensing include studying of land forms, land use environment pollution and patterns of vegetation. (Definitions)


‘Definitions” Retrieved from Accessed on 15 January, 2005

Goodchild, Michael F. (Spring 2002) “New Horizons for the Social Sciences Geographic Information Systems” Retrieved from Accessed on 15 January, 2005

Lynch, Margaret. Foote, Kenneth E. (1995) “Geographic Information Systems as an Integrating Technology: Context, Concepts, and Definitions.” Retrieved from Accessed on 15 January, 2005

“What is a GIS and What does it do?” Retrieved from Accessed on 15 January, 2005

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