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What is and Why GIS?

GIS, first coined as Geographic Information Systems, is an information system for creating, storing, editing, and analyzing data related to locations on or near the Earth's surface.  It provides a discipline independent environment that supports not only explicit spatial thinking and reasoning, but also interdisciplinary collaborations.



The unique character of GIS lies in storing locations explicitly as coordinates (as apposed to addresses and place names).  By doing so GIS provides capabilities that are not possible in traditional data analysis environments:

  1. GIS can easily integrate data of different types and disciplines by common geography. This can be a long, labor-intensive and error-prone, or impossible process with traditional data analysis packages.


  2. GIS displays data in a form of maps which often reveals patterns and relationships not apparent in tables and charts deployed by traditional data analysis packages.
  3. Because the locations of data are stored, GIS allows users to explore and analyze the variation of data across the geographic space. The spatial distributions of data are important to many problems we are facing, from locating a new hospital to the impacts of climate change. Traditional data analysis packages only provide capabilities in exploring and analyzing the variation of data in the numeric space.