Even though you may not realize it, geospatial technology likely impacts your life every day. Governments, private companies, and organizations worldwide use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) all the time in ways that are visible and ways that are just out of view. GIS is a tool for everything from constructing accurate maps for military use to planning relief efforts during natural disasters to ensuring that electricity is directed to power computers. GIS is ingrained in our lives.
GIS takes the traditional study of geography and catapults it to the next level. Essentially, GIS takes data from a certain source, whether that source is information about an approaching hurricane, aerial photographs of crops for farmers, or locations of bird habitats, and displays that data on a map to make it applicable for everyday use.
The first uses of GIS can be traced back to 1854 in London, England, where Dr. John Snow plotted the locations of homes on a map of the city where individuals were infected with cholera. He used this data to prove that the cholera outbreak was linked to water supplies that were contaminated. This in turn helped to create a network of water pumps to contain and control the spread of the outbreak. Dr. Snow’s approach was a revolutionary breakthrough that tested the theory that data could be applied to a map to improve the understanding of information.
As technology progressed in the 19th and 20th Centuries, so did the capabilities of GIS. In the early 1960s, Dr. Roger Tomlinson, a Canadian geographer, was the first to use computerized GIS. Dr. Tomlinson, known in the field as the “father of GIS”, applied data to a computer program which then assisted in understanding land management and use in Canada. Additionally, Dr. Tomlinson was instrumental in the formation of the Canada Geographic Information System, or CGIS, recognized as the first nationally funded GIS agency in the world.
While governments and private industries have used it for years, GIS is rapidly becoming available for the average consumer to use. Google Earth is a good example of this phenomenon. Through this free online tool, users are able to apply GIS data to provide such information as interactive maps displaying global warming effects or to take users on a tour of art museums worldwide.
Ultimately, GIS allows its users to visualize and enhance data, and to make it more manageable and, easier to interpret so that informed decisions can be made.
To learn more about why geography is important, check out a video resource that explains how GIS helps us to understand how the earth works, climate change, and what new occupations have been sparked by emerging geospatial technologies Geospatial Revolution: Importance of Geography.
To learn more about the history of GIS, check out a video resource that traces the development of GIS from centuries of mapmaking to 21st century computer-based technology Geospatial Revolution: History of GIS.
To learn more about vocabulary that has developed with the growth of GIS, check out this interactive with relevant videos and embedded assessments of your understanding Geospatial Revolution: GIS Vocabulary.
For a better understanding of how to read topographic maps, check out the Flash interactive Visualizing Topography.
Take a look at GIS in action with this Flash interactive, an example of data overlaid on a map to make information more relevant to the user Soils Around the World.
To consider the expanded roles and responsibilities of citizens and government In the digital age, check out a video resources that profiles a city using technology, especially geospatial applications, in a variety of operations. Geospatial Revolution: Portland, an Interactive City.
To consider how GIS technology is helping address the lack of easy access to fresh food in high poverty neighborhoods, check out a video resource that profiles Philadelphia's use of geospatial applications. Geospatial Revolution: Food Deserts.
To consider how technology is rapidly changing the nature of jobs and careers in ways that will affect your opportunities, check out an interactive resource that profiles several job requirements at UPS. Geospatial Revolution: Your Next Job.