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Geographic Information Systems

In this Section

A Geographic Information System, or GIS, is a collection of computer based technologies designed to create, store and analyze spatially referenced data.  GIS is used by a growing number of disciplines including civil engineering, the physical sciences, business and the social sciences to solve complex spatial problems.    GIS can be used at multiple scales to examine global problems such as climate change and desertification to local problems such as site selection for a new library or business.

GIS combines spatial coordinate information with data to create map-based visual interpretations of information.   Analyzing information from a spatial perspective can be very useful for answering any questions involving location:

  • Why is so there so much crime in a certain area?
  • Where is the best location to build a new school?
  • How is water quality influenced by land use?
  • Where are pollutants likely to be found?
  • Where are natural disasters likely to occur?  Earthquakes, landslides, floods, etc?
  • Why do more heart attacks occur in certain areas?

GIS can also be used to solve temporal problems such as urban sprawl and deforestation.  

A good example is Change Matters, which uses historic and current Landsat Imagery to show vegetation changes around the world since 1972.


GIS uses Layers to Represent the Earth