What is GIS?

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A geographic information system, also commonly referred to GIS, is a system designed to capture, store, manipulate, and manage various types of geographical data. Geography is a key component of GIS, as data that is used in the system is in some way referenced to locations on earth. 

What can we do with GIS? 

GIS can be used to both help solve problems and influence decision making, as well as presenting data in a graphical or spatial way. A few uses for GIS include…

  1. Mapping where things are. We can map the location of real-world features and visualize the relationships between these features. For example, GIS can generate a map of all of the water towers within a given area or region. 
  2. Mapping quantities. GIS can map the distribution of features within a given area, helping to influence decisions. An example of this could be a map of fire stations across Iowa. Counties with a higher number of fire stations would be shaded in a darker color than counties with a smaller number of fire stations. 
  3. Mapping densities. Sometimes it is beneficial to map concentrations in specified areas. For example, GIS can generate a map or graphic showing population density in a given area, with more densely populated areas being shown in a different color than areas with a smaller population density. 
  4. Mapping what is nearby. Users can find out what is located within a set distance of a given feature or location. For example, a map of Cities within a 30-minute drive of Davenport, Iowa. 
  5. Mapping change. Our world is constantly changing, and GIS can help visualize these progressions over time. An example of this is two maps, 20 years apart, showing the growth in development in a given area over that period of time. 

GIS is more than just a computer software. Combining the power of GIS with various methods and tools, we are able to analyze geographical data, manager large data sets, and display information in a graphical/map form.