GIS Application: Using Maps to Understand the World Around Us

gis applicationThe application of Geographic Information Systems – or GIS – is an incredibly useful tool for taking data and translating that data into useful geospatial information. By working with electronic maps and sets of data, you can help people understand locations, concepts, history, data sets, and more. For example, if you are reviewing a visual representation of crime in a specific city, GIS application is what produces the easy-to-read map.  This map may highlight neighborhoods or areas based on the degree of crime and could also reveal how crime rates have shifted in a particular district. GIS application would enable a presentation of this information by color coding or pin pointing specifics based on the data was input into the GIS program. By taking a long, wordy study and inputting the data in to a GIS application, you create a quick-to-understand visual that is more likely to get your point across.

As another example, GIS application can also help in studying history and the movement or demographics of people in a particular area. For instance, if you were interested in the movement of military forces as you read the history of World War II, GIS application could turn that complex data into a visual that helps make sense of the movements of various armies happening simultaneously and opens the door to understanding history, military strategy, and the long-term effects of war. Huge amounts of time and information become an easy to read map of key events and the progress of soldiers in relation to opposing forces.

By taking data and translating it in to a geospatial representation, the resulting visual can increase understanding, recall, and help with making decisions that would affect the data in the future. When you add the benefits of using GIS for communicating data to the increasing ease of digital mapping, it is obvious that this tool can be a great asset to business communication, education, science and politics.

History of GIS Application

GIS has been applied in a striking number of ways for over 100 years.  In 1832, French geographer Charles Picquet is said to be one of the first people to apply GIS. He created a map organized by halftone color to represent the 48 districts of Paris in light of the number of deaths by cholera in each district. Maps like these have been used to understand the spread of disease as well as outbreaks and possible origination points so that doctors can strategically limit spread and help stop dangerous transmissions. Instead of simply looking at a list of neighborhoods and numbers, the same data is presented as an overlay to the city helping show exactly where pockets of extreme disease are and how those pockets are affecting the districts surrounding it. In 1854, 20 years after Picquet’s GIS application from Paris, a similar map that used points to track individual outbreaks of cholera was instrumental in revealing the source of outbreak in London – a contaminated water pump. The geographer, John Snow, who created this map of London and identified the source, simply removed the pump’s handle and stopped the spread of cholera. Thanks in part to GIS application, the people of London in 1854 were able to recover from terrible disease.

In 1960, Canada’s Department of Forestry and Rural Development used GIS applications for mapping information that would be used to determine land capabilities. Information about wildlife, natural growth, agriculture, soil and recreation were all mapped with a GIS application.  These environmental data studies have expanded making GIS application helpful for a variety of environmental concerns like tracking the depletion of the rainforest or the melting of polar ice caps.

Using a map to reveal any variety of information can be helped through the application of GIS.  There are many, many more examples of how GIS application has been used to illustrate important data and help decision-makers respond to events. With technology increasing the ease with which these important maps are created, it is possible that they are incorporated into many disciplines of business, education and science that can benefit from understanding geospatial data and movements.

GIS Application for Decision Making

GIS applications are commonly used to present information for decision making based on the data available for a particular area and the studies that have been done for a particular demographic.

As mentioned above, GIS has been applied to show the changes being seen in the environment over time. Since this mapping technology allows us to input data and see resulting changes, GIS can help by pinpointing the causes and forecasting the level of change we will see in the future. With this data, scientists, politicians and activists can make recommendations for ways to protect crucial parts of the landscape and environment as well as help inform others of how climate change is affecting our planet.

Another way GIS application aids in decision making is by helping policy-makers understand changes happening in districts. For example, a map showing the student to teacher ratios across a city can help determine where funds go, where more teachers should be hired, and how to support families most effectively with available resources.  The same goes for mapping where the majority of financial help goes across a district to understand what the families may be dealing with and develop strategies that will increase the success of students in those areas. Without this information the policy-makers would be operating with less of an understanding about what is needed in the areas they are responsible for.

As mentioned above, another key way GIS can be used in decision making is with crime survey. When police departments know the scope of crime in a particular neighborhood, they can dedicate forces to that area and help diminish crime. By tracking where arrests take place and what types of arrests are happening, the police department has the potential of understanding where points of specific interest are. Much like the hand pump that stopped the cholera outbreak in 1854, police can stop the key players and shut down the key locations for crime by analyzing data with the help of GIS applications.

GIS for You

Today’s world of digital mapmaking provides resources for creating your own, customized map of information and for applying today’s GIS technology. These can be the tools you need to communicate progress to your colleagues or business partners to help them make decisions as well as see and understand important information for your projects.

Whether you are operating in the business fields of real estate and marketing and need to show information about the areas your clients are interested in, or you work with public health and disease prevention and want to illustrate your findings and results of case studies, or if you are part of an urban planning committee and want to illustrate zoning, emergency response procedures or tax assessments for decision making, GIS applications can be the answer to how you can present your data in a highly understandable and effective way.