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GEOG 60 Introduction to Geographic Information Systems

Professor: Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue

Topic 1 Introduction to Geographic Information Systems

A Information Technology and Geography B The Purpose of GIS C Organization of Information in a GIS

The Objectives of this Topic

Understand GIS as an information technology. Understand the basic methods of information analysis in a GIS.

Information Technology and Geography

1. What is Information? 2. What is Geographical Information? 3. What are Geographic Information Systems?

What is Information?
Database A Part No. 103521 105322 106832 104338 103922 Database B Qty 5 1 6 2 7 Description Wheel spoke Ball bearing Wheel rim Tire Handlebars

Knowledge about something. Recorded in some way.

Information age
The computer has become the main mean of storing and accessing information. Tremendous amounts of digital information created:
Spreadsheets. Databases. Internet.

Date 1/22 1/26 2/24 3/02 3/10

Address 123 James St. 22 Smith St. 9 Elm Dr. #4A 12 Fifth Ave. 1067 Park

Type Robbery Noise Assault Vandalism Robbery

Most of the interesting jobs involve information processing.

What is Information?
Database B Date 1/22 1/26 2/24 3/02 3/10 Address 123 James St. 22 Smith St. 9 Elm Dr. #4A 12 Fifth Ave. 1067 Park Type Robbery Noise Assault Vandalism Robbery


Elm Smith Park 5th


What is Information?
Information System
Low order task Repetitive

Information Systems
Dominant tool. Set of computer programs that are used to input (encode) information and store it in a structured manner. Can be retrieved, analyzed and, finally, reported as a table, graph, map or picture.

Automatic Management Established Structure

Analysis Reporting

High order task Unique Medium order task Common

What is Information?
Knowledge is power
Available Information
Pure Luck No Information

Having information offers a way to control the parameters of our environment.

Making decisions (resource allocation).

Sub-optimal Decisions

Imperfect Information

Optimal Decisions

Perfect Information

With perfect information, one should be able to make optimal decisions. Impossible to be perfectly informed, so decisions are always imperfect (sub-optimal).

What is Geographical Information?

Spatial information
Between 70 and 80% of the digital information is spatially related. Can be placed on a map. Tools to deal with this information are consequently very useful. Reveal information that was previously hidden.
Destination Customer addresses Store / factory / warehouse location Census information Environmental information Resource location

A Taxonomy of Information

Land Use Name of places Spatial

Population Temperature Distance Density




Name of people and organizations Qualitatives


Stock market quotes Quantitatives

What is Geographical Information?

Spatially related

Coordinate system


Can be assigned coordinates or any spatial reference. On the surface of the earth. Involves location and organization.



Can be from general to specific. Simple to complex. A satellite can generate one terabyte (1012 bytes) of information per day.
Spatial dynamics (variations in space). Temporal dynamics (variations in time).

Time 1

Time 2

The Purpose of GIS

1. What is a GIS? 2. History of GIS 3. General Purpose

What is a GIS?
Geographic Information System
Form of Information System applied to geographical data. Produce information which will be useful in decision-making. Managing use of land, resources, transportation, retailing, oceans or any spatially distributed entities. Connection between the elements of the system is geography, e.g. location, proximity, spatial distribution.

System of hardware, software and procedures

Support the capture, management, manipulation, analysis, modeling and display of spatially-referenced data. Solving complex planning and management problems.

What is a GIS?
Geographic Information System

Information Systems
Information system specializing in the input, storage, manipulation, analysis and reporting of geographical (spatially related) information.


Digitizing maps Encoding spatial data (census, vegetation, topography, etc)


Geographic database in a spatial data format Spatial analysis



Thematic maps

Basic Structure of a GIS

Data Input Geographic Database


Output: Display

Transformation and Analysis

What is a GIS?

Geographic Information System



History of GIS
Prior to 1960
GISs origins lie in thematic cartography. Many planners used the method of map overlay using manual techniques.

The 1960s and 1970s

Many new forms of geographic data and mapping software. First GIS developed in Canada for land use inventory. Development of the first computer cartography packages for mainframe computers. First remote sensing images. Mathematical Models.

History of GIS
The 1980s and 1990s
First commercial GIS Packages. Diffusion of Microcomputers. Integration with other software (mainly CAD and databases). US Census Bureau efforts in the 1980s:
Digitize spatial, economic and demographic attributes of the United States. Creation of the TIGER format (Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Reference ).

The 2000s
Integrated Information technologies with geography. Powerful applications on desktop computers. Web/network based data sources. Portable and inexpensive field GISs with GPS capabilities.

General Purpose
GIS is a database application
All information in a GIS is linked to a spatial reference. Other databases may contain locational information (street addresses, zip codes, etc.). GIS database uses geo-references as the primary means of storing and accessing information.

General Purpose
GIS is a tool
Must serve a purpose. Not an end in itself but a mean (process) to achieve this end. Should be viewed as a process rather than as software or hardware. For decision-thinking (scenarios) and decision-making (strategies). 75% of the time used to be spent at building the spatial database:
Acquiring data for a new GIS has become much simpler.

General Purpose
Ability to integrate vast quantities of spatial information. Provide a powerful repertoire of analytical tools to explore this data. Ability to separate information in layers:
Combine it with other layers of information.

Good employment opportunities (information society).

Long process of encoding and verifying the integrity of information. Compatibility between different GIS (less an issue). Technology changes rapidly. Information overload.

General Purpose
GIS as an Integrating Technology
Evolved by linking a number of discrete technologies:
A whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Integrate geographical data and methods:

Support traditional forms of geographical analysis. Map overlay analysis. Thematic mapping.

New types of analysis and modeling:

Beyond the capability of manual methods. Possible to map, model, query, and analyze large quantities of data all held together within a single database.

Integrates people, data, hardware and software.

General Purpose
People Map user: end consumer. Cartographer: producer of the end product of a GIS. Analyst: applies methods to solve geographical problems. Database administrator: build, update and administer databases.




Remote sensing images or aerial photographs. Topographic maps. Land records. Etc.


General Purpose
The GIS Job Market
About 500,000 GIS users in the United States (another 500,000 for the rest of the world). 10% (50,000) are using GIS full-time. 15% growth each year. 75,000 people a year receive GIS training. Shortfall in training and advanced degrees. High demands to integrate GIS in all levels of the educational system.

Organization of Information in a GIS

1. Layers 2. Features 3. Attributes 4. Relationships

Representation of Geographical Information in a GIS

Thematic Map of the Continental United States
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Maps are Composed of Layers

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Layers contain features or surfaces Features
Real world objects. Natural or man-made. Represented on a map as a single entity. Each map feature has a location, shape, and symbol that represents one or more of its characteristics.

Some elements do not have a distinct shape. E.g. : elevation, slope, temperature, rainfall. Raster is the most common surface; composed of a grid.



Points represent objects that have discrete locations and are too small to be depicted as areas. Schools, traffic lights, crime locations, and park benches are examples of point features. Lines represent objects that have length but are too narrow to be depicted as areas. Freeways, streets, pipelines, and waterways are examples of line features.
Polygons represent objects too large to be depicted as points or lines. Parks, census tracts, postal codes, and trade areas are examples of polygon (or area) features.


Features in ArcMap (Data View)

Street name, Width, Direction, Lanes

Features are stored in a database along with information describing them. The descriptive information stored with a feature. Attributes of a street might include its name, street type, length, street code, number of lanes, and pavement type. The attributes of a park may be its name, area, hours of operation, and maintenance schedule.

Address, Lot #, Type, # Rooms, Owner, Value

Features and their attributes are linked. Types:
One feature as one record in a database. Many features to one record.


Access the attributes for any feature or locate any feature from its attributes. Attributes are displayed in a spreadsheet-like ArcView document called a Table.


A GIS links sets of features and their attributes and manages them together in units called layout.
Consists of a collection of geographic features. Attributes for those features.

Thematic map
A map (set of features) which visually represents a set of data (attributes) is called a thematic map.

Layout View in ArcMap