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GIS Definitions

Geographic Information Science (GISci)Copyright Ken Driese
Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
Global Positioning Systems (GPS)
Remote Sensing
Scientific Visualization



As the study of geographic information in a digital world moves beyond the mechanics of computer hardware and software application tools, a new, transdisciplinary research field has emerged. At a basic level, geographic information science (GISci) opens the door for merging traditional GIS with related spatial technologies (remote sensing / image processing, the Global Positioning System, etc.). However, as an integrated discipline, GIScience has the potential to be much more far reaching in its scope. It is a research field that seeks to redefine geographic concepts and their use in the context of geographic information and, more broadly, the digital age. It re-examines some of the most fundamental themes in traditional spatially-oriented fields such as geography, cartography, and geodesy, while incorporating more recent developments in cognitive and information science, and is beginning to embrace more specialized research themes in such established disciplines as computer science, statistics, mathematics, and psychology.



GIS stands for Geographic Information System: an automated system for creating, editing, analyzing and displaying spatially referenced data. A GIS has the ability to manipulate different spatial datasets simultaneously. Some example applications using GIS include: finding out how many houses exist within 100 yards of a highway that needs to be expanded; locating a new branch office for a business based on locations of current customers and competitors; and determining the percentage of vegetation types within different management categories for resource planning.



GPS stands for Global Positioning Systems: a satellite-based system for locating near-exact positions on the earth's surface. GPS applications fall into five broad categories: location identification, navigation, tracking, mapping and timing. For more background information about GPS and its applications, see Trimble's web pages about GPS.


Remote Sensing

Remote sensing is the remote collection of data, usually by sensors riding on aircraft and satellites that collect information about the earth's surface. Remote sensors usually detect either visible light or invisible electromagnetic radiation, or both. Remotely-sensed data and associated tools are used in studying land forms, land use, environmental pollution, and vegetation patterns, to name a few applications. For more information about remote-sensing, check out the USGS's EarthShots pages.


Scientific Visualization

Scientific visualization is a set of research methods developed in computer science to enable the controlled manipulation of data presented graphically to enhance readability, or to reveal or demonstrate unsuspected patterns, regularities or connections. Visualization tools are specifically designed to aid in the understanding of large sets of spatially oriented data. Some examples of student projects involving visualization at the University are available, or click on the image to the left to actually run VRML models created for the Jackson Hole area of Wyoming (requires a VRML plug-in.)

For more a more detailed introduction to GIS, see ESRI Inc. is the producer of the popular commercial GIS software tools, ARC/INFO and ArcView. The University of Wyoming has a site license agreement with ESRI, providing all University students, staff and faculty with access to this software for non-commercial purposes.

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