Geographicinformation system (GIS) is a special type of information technologythat integrates data and information from various sources as maps[ CITATION Hey11 l 1033 ].It is one of the landmarks in the advancement of technology in themodern world. Just as the word geography suggests, geographicinformation system or science, deals with the location as the keyindex variable. As an information system GIS provides for thestorage, organization and distribution of data. GIS was first used in1968 by Roger Tomlinson for regional planning and thus he is referredto as the “father of GIS”[ CITATION Rog13 l 1033 ].This paper seeks to highlight the key functions of GIS, its majoruses and its impact in the twenty first century.
GISessentially deals with location, direction, distance and navigation.Locationsuse some type of reference system to define positions on the earth’ssurface. The development of the global positioning system (GPS) isimportant in determining location. Once the location of something isspecified, it can be mapped using GIS. Direction refers to theposition of something relative to another, thus there is a benchmarkposition. A GIS uses true north, magnetic north and grid north as thestandard benchmarks defining direction. Distance refers to the levelof separation between two locations. Distance, as well as space, isused in GIS as a key variable in developing maps. Navigation is atthe heart of GIS because once a map is developed it is relevant if itcan be navigated with ease. Navigation incorporates our spatialunderstanding of location, direction, distance and space. Theseconcepts are thus used in harmony to develop a functional GIS.[ CITATION Dav06 l 1033 ]
Computerbased GIS deals with geographical data using four sets ofcapabilities. It is important to recognize the central role played bydata in GIS in its primary and secondary form. To begin with datacapture and preparation refers to the actual identification of thedata to feed into the GIS. This depends on the nature of theanalysis. Secondly, data management deals with the decision of how torepresent our data in the system including storage. Thirdly, datamanipulation and analysis deals with the predictive nature of GIS.This means that the data can be analyzed to estimate outcomes inrelation to the input. Lastly, data are presented and this normallyinvolves the use of models. A model is a representation of some partof a real situation. Therefore the ultimate result of a GIS functionis to produce a model that can be utilized to reflect real lifesituations.[ CITATION Hey11 l 1033 ]
Onecannot talk about GIS without talking about maps. It is one of themost widely used models in GIS, both as an input and an output. Themapsrepresent and describe various aspects of the world. Reference mapsfocus on the location of a certain object while thematic maps focuson themes, statement features or topics of interest. Reference mapsand thematic maps are however not mutually exclusive and should thusbe used together. Maps are founded on scales, coordinate systems,projections and abstractions. Traditional maps were restricted to atwo dimensional static representation. Development of GIS providedfor the derivation of modern multi-dimensional maps which are dynamicand can be navigated to the specifications of the user. These are themodern day dynamic maps which are integral to a GIS system. Thesemaps involve user interaction in that they can change scales, zoom ornarrow their focus on a certain element of interest. Satelliteimagery and aerial photography are also important contributors in thedevelopment of efficient GIS. Satellites are regularly being sent tospace to capture images on the surface of the earth and even beyondthus widening the scope of GIS.[ CITATION Jan00 l 1033 ]
Ina dynamic world we always deal with situations and phenomena thatchange rapidly over time and we can use GIS to make informeddecisions. In almost all circumstances it is important to understandthe past condition, the present and future prospects. GIS is thusutilized to analyze phenomena under different circumstances. Forexample, we can use GIS to predict the sea level in say Californiagiven the current state of the region’s climatic condition. It ishowever important to note that just like any computer based function,the outcome of the GIS is just as good as the data fed into thesystem. Therefore the accuracy of the outcome is only as good as theinput of the data.[ CITATION Qua l 1033 ]
Theapplication of GIS in society today cannot be over emphasized. GIS isuseful in project management solutions used in modern workplaces[ CITATION Rog13 l 1033 ].This is meant to navigate the complex job market and enable theeffective running of affairs. GIS is also used widely by engineers toproject the outcome of a certain project. For example an urbandeveloper may consult a geo-spatialengineer to come up with the best location to construct a skyscraperand GIS may be adopted to establish the efficacy of the project. Moreso, GIS is utilized by environmentalists to come up with projectionson future climatic conditions that ultimately affect the livelihoodsof humankind. For example, GIS can be used to predict the onset ofextreme climatic conditions such as el-Niño as well as earthquakes[ CITATION Qua l 1033 ].GIS is thus a powerful tool in understanding the world we live in. Itis therefore necessary to enhance the advancement of GIS to ensureits relevance in a changing world.
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