Which system is designed to capture, store, and analyze spatial and geographic data?

And the answer: Geographic Information Systems.  
An example of use of layers in a GIS application. Photo credit: Jaknouse.

Using a layered system with various real-world data sets, geographic information systems give a more complete picture to study an area. For example, geographic information systems are useful for tracking climate change, census data, and even the shifting of the Earth’s tectonic plates—all in one location, or multiple locations over a certain period of time.

The technology of geographic information systems, or GIS, creates a tool powerful enough to change the way we think about the world around us. It is defined as a technology that best understands the “where” in data, and is able to use that data to create visual representations. This means that if you’ve ever mindlessly spun the globe in Google Earth, you have GIS to thank.

GIS might be a technology that continues to adapt with the market, but its origins lie back in 1960s computer labs, where scientists began the challenge of figuring out computational geography. In 1963, the first computerized GIS debuted in Canada. A man named Roger Tomlinson was the first to create a design for automated computing to store and process large amounts of data—an innovation that had great effect. Now with access to a manageable inventory of Canada’s natural resources, Tomlinson’s invention (however rudimentary it may have been) allowed his country to begin its national land-use management program.

Did you know?

Yesterday, November 16th was Geographic Information System day! This worldwide event celebrates the innumerable contributions of GIS technology—from Google Maps, to satellites, to agriculture, to archaeology—geographic information systems help humans solve complex problems and better understand the world around us every single day. Learn more about how to get involved with the celebration here.

Learn more about the many, many uses and applications of GIS here.


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