Geographical Information Systems

During your studies of GCSE geography, you will have used a variety of Geographical Information Systems (GIS for short). For the exams, you are required to be able to use and demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the use of new technologies, including GIS, to assist geographical investigation. That's a bit of a mouthful, but remember, satellite navigation and online mapping services are examples of GIS - all you need to do is to think about the things you can do with them and the data they can supply you in order to pick up some marks.

Before computers, information systems for geographers were limited to paper maps, tables, lists and atlases, and showed information about human and physical geography. The information they supplied could be years out of date by the time you were using it, which limited their usefulness apart from classroom use to teach students the techniques needed to analyse and interpret the geographical data. It was very time consuming.

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A modern geographical information system links hardware (computers), software (computer programs) and data, and enables geographers to capture, analyse and display virtually any form of geographic information in helpful ways. It can produce maps and map overlays (for example like showing the parish boundaries of villages or areas of mobile phone coverage as well as reports, graphs and charts to display the data in an easy-to-understand form to answer questions about different locations. Data capture by professional geographers can be used to update the data so that you have the very latest information.

In a GIS, lots of different information about places is stored in a database or on a spreadsheet. You can use a variety of tools to display the information on a map. The software adds layers representing different geographical features such as roads or buildings, and data sets such as census data, crime statistics or even pet ownership. You end up with a 'stack' of layers, each of which can be turned on or off and analysed to understand the relationships between them. As well as answering the question 'where' it can help to answer others like 'what if ...', 'why' and 'how does ...'. This makes it a powerful tool for businesses too as they can add customer data and improve their marketing and sales.

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  1. GIS stands for ...
    You will also see it written as 'geographic information system'
  2. Which of the following is not an advantage of using a GIS?
    A GIS contains many different ways to present the data and can present complex information in a visual and easy-to-understand way
  3. The data for a GIS is usually stored in ...
    Different systems can use different files but data is usually stored in databases or spreadsheets
  4. A GIS reveals ...
    A GIS is a powerful set of computerised tools that enables the user to view, understand, question, interpret, and visualise data in many ways
  5. Which of the following data would you be least likely to obtain from a GIS?
    A GIS contains geographical data. Some of this will be relevant to human geography but will not identify individual people other than perhaps the owners of local businesses when the data was collected
  6. There is a lot of geographical data contained in an atlas so why would you use a GIS instead?
    In an atlas, each map contains only a limited amount of data, it is not easy for you to add or remove other data but with a GIS it is usually as simple as making a few clicks with a mouse (or taps on a screen). But that's only one advantage, for the exam, make sure you know some others too
  7. How is the data displayed on a map by a GIS?
    The different layers can be switched on and off to help the user to spot patterns
  8. A GIS can be used for ...
    It is also used for managing geographical data too
  9. Which of the following is not a use of a GIS?
    Navigating using a map and compass does not involve a computer, software or digital map
  10. Which of the following is not an essential part of a GIS?
    You could access and use a GIS via a smartphone but it is not essential. Whatever you use to access the GIS, you need the software to link the database information to the map

Author: Kev Woodward

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