what is GIS?

February 28, 2022

Geographic Information Systems (or GIS) are part of day-to-day life for some of our Soar.Earth users. But if you’re new to the platform and new to GIS, fear not. This article will provide a simple rundown of GIS for anyone not in the know. 

A GIS is a collection of computer systems that capture, store, analyse and display information about the Earth’s surface. The main aspect of GIS is geography, meaning it uses location information, in the form of latitude and longitude coordinates. These coordinates let us know where on Earth the information is connected to. 

Many of the maps in our system were produced using various GIS software - where layers of different information come together to visualise different aspects of the Earth’s surface.
Raster is faster but vector is corrector
There are two main data types when it comes to GIS: vector data and raster data. Vector data is data that uses points, lines and polygons to represent spatial features. Raster data on the other hand, uses a grid of cells with varying values to represent spatial features.

Vector data is great at representing objects with defined boundaries, like roads or landmarks. Raster data is better at representing a continuous surface, like land cover. Both methods have one thing in common, they are both a model of our real world. 

But GIS doesn’t just deal with physical structures. GIS can be used to describe information like human population, animal movement and even disease outbreaks.
Information formation
GIS data can come in large volumes, so it’s important to keep it organised. To keep it organised, the data is split into layers - a concept taken from mapping - with each layer used to describe a specific feature.

For example, in GIS, you would have one layer of just roads and another of just buildings. The layers are then used for analysis and to derive relationships between them. Based on the example given, you could analyse the distance between buildings and roads from the two layers.

Layering is useful as it separates features of interest into common groups. Just like the example above, all the universities in the area are grouped under the layer ‘Universities’, train stations grouped under ‘Railway train locations’, and all roads are grouped under the layer ‘Roads’.

Of course, if the type of road is important in your analysis, you could break it down further into different layers like ‘Freeway roads’ and ‘Residential roads’. Once it’s broken down into common groups, it makes it easier to pick features to conduct analysis on.
Of course, if the type of road is important in your analysis, you could break it down further into different layers like ‘Freeway roads’ and ‘Residential roads’. Once it’s broken down into common groups, it makes it easier to pick features to conduct analysis on.
Why use GIS? 
It can be difficult and overwhelming to deal with so much data in the real world. Creating a model based on the real world helps us focus on information that’s important to us.
GIS also helps us visualise vast quantities of data in a map or image that’s easy to understand. This helps us manage and plan important decisions around natural disaster management, urban planning, environmental conservation, and more.

Bringing back the example of the visualisation of animal movement, it’s interesting to visualise how an animal moves through the environment and how far it moves within the habitat. This information is helpful for conservation scientists to ensure the habitat of endangered species is preserved and in allocating appropriately sized reserves for these species.
The data is done, what happens next?

There is a myriad of analyses that can be done using GIS, ranging across all skill levels. Some of these include calculating elevation from a satellite image, creating a heatmap from human population data, or something as simple as creating a distance buffer from a ‘Roads’ layer. 

Soar.Earth is a great platform to share the amazing work that you’ve done in GIS. Many users on Soar.Earth upload their maps and imagery so it’s seen on top of a base layer, similar to how you’d see it in the analysis process in GIS software. 

Once your GIS analysis is complete, don’t let the data just sit on a file somewhere. Upload it to Soar.Earth for everyone to view. You can even share it to your other social media straight from the platform.  If you want to expand your knowledge on what GIS is capable of, check out some of the maps already available on Soar.Earth and explore the platform today.
This blog was written by:

Diana Rodzi

Diana is Soar.Earth’s local map aficionado, connecting with people in the field who share the same interest and passion in mapping and cartography. She's a big foodie, so she's always trying out the hottest new food joint or experimenting with new recipes at home.

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