What is GIS?

Initial Publication Date: November 21, 2005

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) represent a quantitative means to collect, analyze and connect spatially-related information and then present that information cartographically, graphically, or as a report. Usually GIS is entirely computer-based since it relies on the development of dynamically-linked databases. This definition can make it difficult to include GIS at the introductory level of geoscience since it the time require for the student learning curve for the GIS tools competes with time for the development of traditional geoscience concepts and skills.

Since GIS is a broad field with many concepts that are not necessarily computer-based, it is useful to consider the basic building blocks of GIS: spatial relationships between data sets, often presented as a map. In this way, a traditional paper geologic map can be used to as a means to present some of the concepts of GIS: collection of topographic, geological, and strucural data; methods to contour scattered data points; projections; scale; etc.

By noting the GIS elements that enter common introductory material, labs, and exercises, we can introduce the students to some of the analytical, spatial, and organizational concepts of GIS that they will see as they continue their geoscience education.

Modern GIS methods emphasize the quantitative analysis and interpretation of spatial data. Using GIS in geoscience courses emphasizes skills that are useful to students who intend to pursue science and non-science careers.

The following sites provides excellent overviews of modern GIS: