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L.Srikumar Pai
B.Sc( Engg.), MIE, MIWWA, MICI
Civil Engineer & CAD Specialist
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( GIS ) Geographical Information System

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A Geographic Information System (GIS) is a computer-based system designed to collect, store, integrate, manipulate, analyze & display data in a spatially referenced environment. It allows you to analyze data visually and see patterns, trends, and relationships that might not be visible in tabular or written form.

Within the field of Environmental Management, GIS can be used for:

  •   Site Remediation
  •   Natural Resources Management
  •   Waste Management
  •   Groundwater Modeling
  •   Environmental Impact Assessment
  •   Policy Assessment Compliance Permit Tracking
  •   Vegetation Mapping

A GIS can be represented as several different layers where each layer holds data about a particular kind of feature. By layering information such as wells, industries, and population, spatial relationships among the objects being mapped can be emphasized. Someone might see that the highly contaminated wells are located next to a particular industry. Or, they could see how many families are potentially at risk if their drinking water comes from a contaminated well.

A GIS differs from other information systems because it combines common database operations such as query and statistical analysis with the benefits of visual and geographic analysis offered by maps.




What is GIS and where do I get it?

"Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is a system comprised of hardware, software, data, and people. Hardware and software can be purchased from a number of vendors. A user should only purchase GIS software that is Open GIS Consortium (OGC) compliant. This will ensure data created can be used by others. GIS data can be downloaded from GeoStor, Arkansas' spatial data warehouse, or purchased from qualified vendors. Individuals should be sure that license agreements do not prohibit purchasers from sharing data with others. GIS people are the most costly component of a GIS system. It is critical that staff receive proper GIS training and stay current as the technology changes."

What is the importance of having a GIS?

GIS is the Natural State's resource for gathering and presenting information on Arkansas geographical data, such as natural resources, bodies of water, roads, etc., in order to benefit the planning and development of cities, counties, industries, and various government entities. GIS can benefit Arkansas' business industry and economy by aiding employers in finding the perfect geographical location for their company or industry, thus bringing new jobs to that area and to the state. GIS can also assist emergency management teams in locating correct addresses, as well as determining how many residential structures are within a fire district. The possibilities of GIS are endless. 

What does having a GIS do for the average person?

"The average person relies on GIS for a number of decision making processes. These processes include getting efficient services such as weather forecasts, efficient Enhanced 9-1-1 response, driving directions from Internet sites, and various other services. Though the average person is not 'pushing the buttons' in the system, GIS data and processes are providing the average person with answers."

What are the benefits over cost of GIS?

"Benefits should be measured over time. Proper GIS applications provide intelligent planning for the most efficient use of resources. Because the information is digital, it also allows for continuous refinement, enhancement, and increased efficiency."  

What various kinds of information are available through GIS?

"Over 500 data layers are available for no fee in GeoStor. Examples of GIS data: Elevation, Transportation, Site Data, Soils, Hydrology, Geology, Ownership, and Imagery."  

What is the difference between GIS and a map?

"GIS is the application that compares the tabular data and illustrates the spatial relationships. It allows for selective analysis and informed decisions. The end results of the various analyses are usually illustrated as 'maps.' However, the layman mistakes GIS as simply mapmaking."

"A map is generally static and might be thought of as a cartographic output. Once created, the map does not provide any additional information. Conversely, GIS is an integrated system that enables a user to ask numerous questions of a database and visualize the answers."  

What are some non-map generation uses of GIS?

"GIS can be used to create charts and graphs of databases to verify the quality of the database. These processes can also be performed in standard spreadsheet packages. Ordinarily, GIS is used to map the database so one can visualize the location of events. Generally speaking, answers acquired from map analysis performed in a GIS could be concluded through standard database queries. However, the answers may not be as easy to interpret."  

What advantages do I, as a citizen gain from GIS?

"If you are performing the analysis in a GIS, you have an intimate knowledge of the data being used, its accuracy, and the type of spatial relationships desired and illustrated. If you only see the end product but know that it was derived from tabular information, you begin to appreciate geospatial patterns and relationships, the first steps in GIS."

Where can I get GIS data?

The best place to find GIS data for Arkansas is in GeoStor and the AGIO Web site. There is also a very good site called "Starting the Hunt." Outside of Arkansas there are a number of sites where you can download GIS data: and

How can GIS be used to make decisions?

"GIS is a planning tool. It combines known tabular data with spatial relationships to analyze the relationships and determine the most efficient use of limited resources. It can also be combined with modeling applications to determine 'what if' scenarios, or to compare results of applied resources or natural events over time."

How can GIS help my city/county?

"GIS can assist a city or a county with a number of daily processes: planning, waste water/utilities, voting precincts, road/bridge maintenance, E-911, etc."  

Where can I find a GIS consultant to do a specific job?

"GIS consultants respond to user requests that are posted in local papers and on GIS Web sites. The Arkansas Geographic Information Office can provide individuals with assistance in placing a proper request."

How accurate is the system?

"GIS accuracy varies depending on the data. It is critical that users refer to metadata to determine the accuracy of the data and make sure it is suitable for their application. For example, TIGER data created by the U.S. Census Bureau is 1:100,000 (+/- 167 feet). Data extracted from the state's digital ortho quadrangles is 1:1,200 (+/- 33 feet). Data created with a Global Positioning System (GPS) could have sub-meter accuracies. Generally speaking, the more accurate the data, the more costly it is to create."

( Courtesy: Learon Dalby, GIS Program Manager, Arkansas Geographic Information Office,
Richard Chaney, Resource Information Manager, Ouachita National Forest  )

  •    - Links to free software and data.
  • Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis: GIS Timeline Team - A timeline reference outlining the history of GIS.
  • ESRI
  • EPA Region - Environmental Protection Agency resource for GIS system data and applications in New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
    GIS education and training on the web
  • Example Code - Forum features information and resources related to GIS.
  • The Food and Agriculture Organization - The FAO GeoNetwork provides Internet access to interactive maps, satellite imagery and related spatial databases.
  • GeoCommunity - Data downloads, news, software tools and utilities.
  • GIS Cafe - A resource for GIS professionals.
  • GIS Case Studies - Examples of United States and Canada raster and vector GIS projects.
  • GIS Lounge - The complete source for information and resources. Information on data and applications and about GIS careers.
  • GIS Monitor - GIS monitor goes beyond the headlines and press releases. Local, county, state and federal Mapping and GIS users, consultants read and depend on the GIS Monitor Newsletter every week.
  • - Provides introductory overviews on many aspects of GIS. Find information about industries, curriculums and current events in GIS.
  • GISuser - Site delivers the latest news, feature articles, and updates concerning the use of GIS, LBS, GPS, and geospatial technologies.
  • Public Health - Provides information on the use of GIS in public health applications, from a 1998 conference.
  • ReGeo Geo-Information System - Project aimed at creating an information system based on a virtual geo-multimedia database, which will serve different applications including rural communities and eco-tourism.
  • SpatialNews - News, features, career postings, events, and daily wire.
  • Steigerwald, Scott - Exploration of geography, GIS, geographic programming and serving maps on the web. Resource for ArcIMS and ESRI-based software.
  • U.S. Geological Survey - Gives a brief overview of how a GIS is used, some of the theory behind how it operates, as well as a discussion of various applications.
  • Spatial News
    Providing Daily News and resources to the GIS, CAD and mapping communities

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