Wednesday, April 30, 2014

GIS, the Giant Iguanodon Skeleton. Or not?

“The early days of GIS were very lonely. No-one knew what it meant.”
Roger Tomlinson, the Father of GIS

Behind the mysterious abbreviation of GIS, which may sound familiar to some of you already, there are no dinosaurs or skeletons, or even giants.It actually stands for a sort of “formula”: geographic + information + system. If reading that you feel disappointed and irritated, while recalling that you’ve always hated geography, computers and unknown abbreviations, be fast to scroll the page and read some other nice blog posts with probably less catchy titles. For the rest of you it should be an interesting topic and I’ll continue.

So, GIS. It can be defined through all the three components of the acronym. First, “geographic” means that it has something to do with maps, location on Earth and Google maps. Secondly, “information” in this case stands for objects of different kinds (buildings, natural landscape, whether stationary or in motion), coordinates and their features. System here means that geographic information can be collected, transformed, analyzed and applied. Rather broad definition, isn´t it? This is a common problem in describing what GIS actually is, and thus looking at the particular implementations and applications of this “beast” would be more useful than just a plain definition. A good field to use as a source for examples would be the environmental one.

Normally, the most crucial tool in dealing with GIS is the computer program. Probably, it is because GIS’s main “alternative” and ancestor – drawing the contours of objects on a plastic film and then combining them as needed – is not the most efficient and convenient way, but does create a lot of dull jobs. There are several GIS computer programs, either commercial or open-source, user-friendly or user-hostile and other or’s, but the basic idea behind them is similar: the spatial information is presented in the form of an interactive map, on which objects, landscape features and other various information are shown. 

Where does the initial information come from?  Well, this topic deserves another huge post, but in brief, it comes from digitizing available maps, remote sensing via aerial or satellite images, and land-based sensing and mapping.  After the information in the form of a map is loaded into the computer program, the user can easily (or not so easily, it depends) edit it, analyze it, state questions and find the answers by means of so-called geospatial analysis tools.

To get a bit more specific, let´s have a look at the actual applications of the GIS.  Ready? Unfortunately we are not yet :) But the second blog post is underway, where we will be discussing several practical applications of GIS, which are used in environment sciences and engineering!
Thank you for attention and see you in the next post!

P. S. 

While waiting, you could actually check the karaoke-videos to the theme of our acquaintance with G-I-Yes! They are hilarious.

Post by Maksim Mandelshtam  

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