Geographic Information System (GIS) Part- I

What is GIS?

  • As an emerging technology itself, the field of geographic information systems (GIS) is constantly evolving.
  • Over a span of twenty years, members of the geographic information community have seen this technology advance from the command line, workstation-based software to tools that can now be used in the cloud and via mobile devices.
  • GIS is a technological field that incorporates geographical features with tabular data in order to map, analyze, and assess real-world problems.
  • The keyword for this technology is
  • Geography – this means that some portion of the data is spatial. 
  • This means that the data is in some way referenced to locations on the earth. 
  • Coupled with this data is usually tabular data known as attribute data.  
  • Attribute data can be generally defined as additional information about each of the spatial features.
  • An example of this would be schools.
  •  The actual location of the schools is the spatial data.  
  • Additional data such as the school name, level of education taught, student capacity would make up the attribute data.
  • It is the partnership of these two data types that enables GIS to be such an effective problem-solving tool through spatial analysis.


What is GIS Used For?

  • GIS operates on many levels.
  • On the most basic level, geographic information systems technology is used as computer cartography that is for straight forward map making. 
  • The real power of GIS, however, is through using spatial and statistical methods to analyze attribute and geographic information.  
  • The end result of the analysis can be derivative information, interpolated information or prioritized information. 
  • Some examples of the types of questions that GIS is used to answer might be:
  • How many schools are within one mile of the bus stop using buffer analysis
  • What areas is the cellular service the strongest using line-of-sight analysis
  • What are the different types of vegetation in an area using NDVI classification of satellite imagery?
  • How walkable is a neighbourhood using street network analysis?
  • Where are areas of high crime based on the hot spot analysis


Uses of GIS

  • There are numerous ways in which GIS is used across different industries.
  • A few examples are:
  1. Emergency response teams normally use GIS when they want to collect logistics with regards to how they will move in times of natural disasters 
  2. The system also comes in handy when authorities want to discover any potential wetlands that need to be protected from the harmful effects brought about by pollution.
  3. Companies also take advantage of the GIS so that they may be able to choose a strategic market location that has not yet been saturated by other competitors in the particular niche industry.
  4. Management personnel use this system also so that they can be able to locate areas that are bound to suffer from catastrophes with regards to the infrastructure that is in place there.
  5. Any potential spread of diseases & others such as pandemic are usually limited by the use of the GIS since the patterns of their occurrence is predicted insufficient time.

Uses of GIS in agriculture

  • Droughts, floods, swarms of insects and poor farming techniques have plagued the agricultural community for centuries. 
  • Improvements have been made to ensure the safety and gain of crops worldwide and yet these factors and many more continue to make or break individuals and communities affected by them.
  • Geographic Information Systems are incredibly helpful in being able to map and project current and future fluctuations in precipitation, temperature, crop output, and more.


GIS Can Help Increase Food Production
  • By mapping, geographic and geologic features of current (and potential) farmland scientists and farmers can work together to create more effective and efficient farming techniques. 
  • Doing this could increase food production in parts of the world that are struggling to produce enough for the people around them.
  • GIS can analyze soil data combined with historical farming practices to determine what the best crops to plant are, where they should go, and how to maintain soil nutrition levels to best benefit the plants.

Monitoring Livestock Using GIS

  • For many regions around the world, livestock is a critical part of the economy that necessitates close management of the animals and the surrounding landscape used by them. 
  • Particularly in regions where cattle and other livestock roam, understanding roaming behaviour and numbers of livestock require close spatial monitoring. 
  • The integration of GPS, monitoring of vegetation, and long-term monitoring of movement patterns of cattle have been important for areas heavily dependent on economically optimal numbers of animals for herds. 
Using GIS to Understand the Role that Livestock Play in Climate Change
  • More recent studies have been concerned with the role that livestock play in global warming through the release of methane. 
  • In this case, methane emissions, including its quantity and distribution, shows strong links with larger herds.
  • Nitrogen released into soils is also another potential hazard that can pollute water. 
  • Different livestock species, including swine, cattle, sheep, and goats, have differential effects. 
  • GIS tools, and analysis tools that allow stakeholders to assess potential damage by herds based on animal, vegetation, landscape, and other factors.
GIS and Estimating Biofuel
  • On the other hand, livestock is not just a source for detrimental emissions but can also produce manure that can be used as biofuels. 
  • Quantitative modelling and estimates for livestock spatial ranges, numbers, and quality of feed have helped to produce estimates for how much biogas production is possible. 
  • This is particularly useful for countries that depend heavily on livestock but have limited natural gas resources or other sources that can be used for energy. 

Using GIS to Model Wildlife Corridors

  • Wildlife does not recognize the boundaries created by human activity. 
  • The creation of highways across the habitats of large, roaming mammals often results in significant deaths when, for example, bears attempt to cross highways that pass through their ranges. 
  • Specific crossing points can be built as part of a highway project, but where should wildlife corridors be placed to maximize their value? In a study to find the best approach to creating linkages between areas of the range of Black Bears where the Trans-Canada Highway passes through Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada, GIS played a key part in the research. Suitability maps indicating the areas most likely to be selected by bears for crossing points were developed with GIS software. 
  • Several sources of data on bear movements were used to create and compare models to predict the most likely linkage points that would be used by bears, to minimize both construction costs and road-kill. 
  • This kind of successful research highlights the advantages of GIS models over the time-consuming and expensive process of collecting data in case-by-case situations.

GIS and Anti-Crime Measures

  • Spatio-temporal crime pattern analysis has become an important policing tool for crime prevention. 
  • In fact, crime mapping and pattern observations have been utilized for many decades. 
  • Recent approaches generally fall in the categories of stochastic, rule-based models, and more abstract models that utilize minimal input but look at simple benefits and deterrence to criminals that inform where crime is likely to occur.
  • Knowing when and where a crime is likely to occur helps police plan where to allocate their resources at different times of the day.
  • These methods tend to minimize specific factors but look more at the location, the presence of crime-fighting resources, and the probability of crime as a way to determine the likelihood of crime.
  • While generally simple, such stochastic models simplify data collection efforts and can help police determine crime locality without always understanding what factors might be affecting crime in a given area.

Navigation, GIS, and Voice Command

  • For blind and visually impaired individuals, GPS and navigation devices might be of little value, as the inputting of data and interpretation of results has generally required visual incorporation. 
  • However, over the last 20 years, technologies to improve voice-command GPS have been further developed. 
  • For some time, common GPS devices have included abilities to use simple voice commands. 
  • However, an early relatively advanced tool was Drishti, a voice-activated navigation tool that included wearable technology, GPS, GIS, and wireless network technology incorporated. 
  • The system helped users anticipate where they may want to go based on memory and repeated use of the software in addition to having voice synthesis and analysis.

Ways Retailers Use GIS and Geographic Data for Holiday Marketing

  • Income Data: Is the income of those in the store’s neighbourhood growing, shrinking, or remaining static? How about the unemployment rate?
  • Housing/Rent Price Data: Are commercial and residential rental rates rising or falling? What about vacancy rates?
  • Surrounding Business Performance: businesses can learn a lot from their competition. How are other businesses in the area doing? Are there closures or a lot of turnovers? Are any of those businesses similar to yours?
  • Population: Is the area population growing, or shrinking? Are your customers moving away? Are new ones moving in? Who are they? What do they do?
  • Age: How old are the customers in your area? Age has a lot to do with how much disposable income they have, but also how interested they will be in the products and services you offer.

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Blog Post written by:
Anurag Trivedi
UPSC Mentor