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Geographic Information Systems: An Overview

What are Geographic Information Systems?

A geographic information system (GIS) is a computer system capable of capturing, storing, manipulating and displaying spatially referenced information. GIS is a tool for planning and decision making processes. GIS is used in a wide range of applications including urban and regional planning, agriculture, emergency response systems and natural resource management.

GIS enables users to produce high quality maps at any scale, to store and maintain a large quantity of geographically related information, to visualize and simplify complex data and to create new data from existing data. The most powerful aspect of a GIS is that it allows users to perform complex analyses by linking data layers and overlaying different data sets to get a spatial perspective.


What are the Parts of a Geographic Information System?

Data Application
Hardware People
Software

What are Common Data Formats?



There are a number of different data formats that can be imported into a GIS. The most common form of data is vector data, which includes point, line and polygon data. Examples of each of these types of data can be seen above. Vector data have attributes associated with them. The attributes can provide information about ownership, polygon names, collection dates, sources, special codes or any other information that is pertinent to the spatial data. The attributes are stored in a database file and are linked to the vector information. With a GIS, users can access the attributes to perform analyses and query the vector data.

Attributes for the States GIS File Include State_name, Sub_region and State_abbreviation.


Recently, remote sensing data have become a data source valued by many GIS users. Many GIS software packages allow users to import and view raster data, such as aerial photography and satellite imagery.
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