GIS takes the numbers and words from the rows and columns in databases and spreadsheets and puts them on a map. Placing your data on a map highlights where you have many customers if you own a store, or multiple leaks in your water system if you run a water company. It allows you to view, understand, question, interpret, and visualize your data in ways simply not possible in the rows and columns of a spreadsheet.
And with data on a map, you can ask more questions. You can ask where, why, and how, all with the location information on hand. You can make better decisions with the knowledge that geography and spatial analysis are included.
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With the vast information sources available today, GIS is a key tool in determining what it all means. With so much information tied to a location, GIS helps find patterns we might not see without a map.
GIS can make thematic maps (maps coded by value) to help illustrate patterns. To explore highway accidents, we might first make a map of where each accident occurred. We could explore further by coding accidents by time of day. We might use one color to locate those that occur at night and a second color for those that occur during the day, and then we might see a more complex pattern.
Mapping the locations of school-age children can help reveal where day care is needed. Mapping crime incidents helps reveal where there may be a need for increased police patrols. Mapping customers’ home and work locations can help banks place ATM machines to provide better service.
Mapping geologic features and ground temperatures can help exploration geologists look for minerals, oil, gas, and other materials underground. If they can identify patterns of likely locations, they save money and reduce the impact of drilling on the environment.
Mapping park land in a city may help city council members recognize the need for more green space. Mapping migration routes of birds may help protect endangered species.
GIS helps us look for patterns in both the man-made and natural realms and thus better understand our world.
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