GIS: Data, Maps, and Imagination

A geographic information system

Using GIS, you can map where things are (ex. wells, bus routes). You can map quantities (ex. number of doctors, or schools in an area). You can map densities (ex. distribution of coverage, or populations. Using GIS you can identify features or ranges (ex. ‘school zones’, street names). Using GIS, you can determine distances between items (ex. proximity to toxic waste). Using GIS, you can map the change of these things over time (ex. changes in land use).

Governments, Environmental Organizations, Utility Companies, Planners, Natural Resources Industries. Governments use GIS to analyze issues to help increase efficiency and improve coordination. Environmental Organizations use GIS to make conservation decisions. Utility companies use GIS to monitor their services and manage assets. Planners use GIS to map and plan for long-term land use. Natural resources industries use GIS to determine the locations and feasibility of their extraction efforts.

USGS Eros is controlled by the federal government and is responsible for collecting and managing data resources on land use in the United States. The United States Census Bureau is controlled by the federal government and it collects information on populations and demographics. National Atlas is (also) managed by the US Department of Interior; it collects maps and geospatial data for use in GIS systems.

“The Geographic Approach” integrates information and mapping, in a way which makes it a tool for understanding our world. The Steps are: Ask, Acquire, Examine, Analyze, and Act. It involves asking a specific question from a location-based perspective, acquiring information and data necessary to analyzing the issue, examining the issue, analysis of the method used to reach your answers, and then finally, acting upon or utilization of the conclusions found. GIS is an important tool in the entire process.


ESRI is maker of GIS programs and their website helps users seeking support, training, and other geospatial and data resources. It was a project of the geographer Jack Dangermond.

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