GIS and Land Surveying Resources

Geographic information systems (GIS) use multiple data sources to create detailed informational models about an area based on a specific location or point on a map. These areas can be very small or as large as an ocean. All maps display locations, but GIS adds other data like the names of residents or population density on streets to create a more thorough understanding of an area.

What Is a GIS?

Have you ever entered the name of a restaurant or landmark into a map app on a smartphone? If so, you've used a GIS system. These systems overlay information like restaurant names onto maps. It allows users to not only get detailed, turn-by-turn directions to a location but also type in things like "Indian restaurant" to receive a list of all nearby Indian restaurants. GIS also allows maps to account for current traffic conditions to help users find the quickest, most efficient way to travel. Currently, the Environmental Systems Research Institute, or ESRI, is the leading organization behind GIS.

History of GIS

Mapmaking, also known as cartography, is a very old art and science for humankind. The Ancient Greeks made some of the oldest, still surviving maps. Maps were vital in the growth of trade routes, especially when sailors took to the high seas. However, for most of history, maps were relatively imprecise. They relied on people's memories and used primitive devices for their measurements. Satellites and aerial cameras have forever changed how people make maps and how accurate and precise those maps are. Since governments have always been one of the largest producers and consumers of maps, it makes sense that governments led the way in GIS development. Canada launched the first GIS back in the 1960s. Back then, the systems used punch cards read by a very large analog computer. As computers advanced technologically, so did GIS, until eventually systems were in place that allowed them to be used by the general public.

How Does a GIS Work?

GIS needs two things to function. One is map data, and the other is the user's location. No matter how complicated or advanced any GIS is, these two things are the heart of its functioning. So yes, NASA GIS and the GIS that powers Apple Maps work in basically the same way. Once the location parameters have been established, the system overlays relevant data in layers. Think about a city block. The layers will include road data, street numbers, nearby railroad crossings, and information about all businesses on that block.

Uses of a GIS

There are endless uses for GIS. Everyone from tourists needing walking directions to a nearby museum to climate change experts studying how weather patterns impact certain terrains uses GIS. Think about weather maps distributed by the local news and smartphone weather apps. Both are possible thanks to GIS. Another common use that most people see is the electoral maps on the internet and the news during Election seasons. Both pre-election polling and predictions and maps showing results are possible with GIS.

Glossary of Terms

GIS, like all fields, has specific phrases and terms used to describe its various functions and practices. ArcGIS, for example, is a variety of programs that work together to use GIS and make new types of maps and information modeling possible. Topography is an older term that's been around since maps were hand-drawn that describes the study of a planet's terrain. Cartography is another word for mapmaking. Geocoding is when specific points are added to a map based on a location's street address.

Careers in GIS

GIS is a rapidly growing field with rising demand across various industries. For example, all industries and organizations impacted by climate change use GIS to understand how it will impact their business or organization. City planners use GIS to visualize how people move through a city. Even sewage engineers use GIS when designing or upgrading systems. Everyday demand for more sophisticated and yet easy-to-use GIS interfaces grows the need for designers to create these apps and interfaces grows with it. Governments and other organizations need people who can analyze data and use GIS to develop models. Land surveyors also use GIS and are in hot demand.

Land Surveying Resources