Section Two - What is GIS?
GIS stands for both Geographic Information Systems and Geographic Information Sciences, two distinct but intertwined terms. Falling under the broader umbrella of Geospatial Sciences, GIS encompasses other fields such as remote sensing, GPS and GNSS technologies, cartography, geodatabase management and design, and web map development. Understanding the meaning of GIS, as both a system and a science, is essential to your educational journey, and it'll help you explain your coursework to others too!
1.2.2: Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
Geographic Information Systems refers to the software used to create, store, manage spatial data, analyze spatial problems, and display data in cartographic layouts. While ESRI’s ArcGIS suite is popular in educational and government settings, it's not the only choice. But when we talk about GIS, we're discussing more than just the software itself; we're addressing the science and the technician's ability to make the software do what they want. The real essence of GIS isn't about the software but the science behind it.
|Read Through This Article Looking at 30 Different GIS Software Suites|
1.2.3: Geographic Information Sciences
Geographic Information Sciences, orGIScience, is the branch of the much larger geospatial sciences concerned with the underlying structure of how to collect and analyze data. Geospatial science is really any science which collects and analyzes data that has a property of where associated with it - something we call a spatial aspect. Data happens everywhere during every second of the day. Every place is more than a place - it has data associated with it and that data has meaning. Think about the place you live for a moment. What is the first thing that pops into your mind? Maybe the color of the carpet or the peeling paint on the garage door or the people who live with you or about how your cat has his own bedroom. I'm going to bet that the first thing you thought of was not the address or in what neighborhood you live. Those things are not what make the place you live "yours", those are just the identifying factors about where the house is located. The real essence of your spot is not where it is positioned on the street, but the non-spatial that makes it not just a house, but a home (cheesiness intended).
Geospatial science, as we said above is the umbrella term for any science which collects data for analysis utilizing a spatial aspect. It includes cartography (the art of creating maps with data), remote sensing (the science of collecting data without coming in contact with the landscape), GPS (the science and skill of collecting data utilizing place located by satellite), web map applications (creating maps with the intention of distribution and interaction with a much wider community than a static printed out map will reach), database design and management (the science of organizing data for rapid retrieval), land survey (collecting very accurate data utilizing hand on equipment), photogrammetry (creating accurate maps and measurements from remotely sensed images), and the class your in right now - GIS. In this class you will learn about how we collect and analyze data using a specific software suite, but that is just the beginning. Almost anyone can learn to use the GIS software but only a geospatial scientist understands what is happening behind the software and can make decisions about the data in an educated manner. You will, indeed, learn how to manipulate data in the GIS, but beyond that, you will learn how to analyze the data and really understand what is happening in the software. Obviously, we are only going to have time to look at just a few functions of the software (as it is a huge and powerful suite), but what you learn about how the tools and data work will allow you to explore more tools and more tools and more tools .... ArcGIS is just one of many GIS software suites, as we saw above, but when you finish this semester, you will be able to not only use ArcGIS, but because you've taken the time to really learn GIScience, you can move into any other software suite with confidence in your knowledge and skill set.