Geospatial Information Systems

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Geospatial Information Systems

What major historical factors (ideas, technologies, etc) came together to allow the birth of GIS?
The birth of Geospatial Information Systems is traced back to the desperate attempts by French geographer, Charles Picquet to map the scope of cholera outbreak in the streets of Paris in 1832. However, it was a Briton, John Snow, in the same decade that utilized the points on the map to analyze the data on the map from a spatial perspective. He discovered that the proximity of the towns to water sources determined the intensity of the disease. Mapping was elevated from a description technique to an analysis tool. He established a link between human activities and location. The above major events laid a foundation for Dr. Roger Tomlinson, the undisputed father of GIS. John Snow’s Cholera map transcended spatial analysis implications by highlighting a connection between geography and public health safety founding an entirely new discipline, epidemiology.  The essence of GIS in mapping the spread of diseases illustrated its problem solving potentiality.

Roger Tomlinson leveraged the available computing technologies to aid decision making in regards to land planning. Under the guidance of this Scottish immigrant, Canadian Land Inventory collected data on the drainage, soil, and corresponding climate characteristics of the country’s vast terrain to determine their fertility and stability. The essence of the information was enhanced by the harsh climatic changes that compromised food sustainability. The accurate data produced by GIS proved critical for planning settlements. The importance of the spatial analysis grew parallel to technological evolution eventually gaining mainstream acceptance.

Discuss the major changes (ideas, technologies, social systems, etc.) have influenced GIS and geospatial technology in the ~50 years it has existed.
            Several developments in the 19th century solidified the importance of data collection with respect to location.  Cartography and mapmaking paradigms embraced the advent of the camera with its implications in facilitating aerial photography. Initially, the cameras were attached to balloons and birds subsequently giving way to airplanes and high-powered lens cameras. GIS was multidisciplinary from its inception drawing from the creative arts, pure sciences, technology, the humanities, and economics. While the historical origins of the GIS are inextricably intertwined to the advancement of computer technology, sociopolitical factors had equal impact on its development. The Cold war expedited the development of satellite imaging of the earth’s topography.  It built upon strides made in photographic interpretation as well as map making used to identify enemy positions during the Second World War. The limitations of these technologies were gradually eliminated. On the other hand, computers facilitated transfer and storage of the collected images subsequently developing digital software and corresponding spatial database on the environmental features and economic activities to optimize the GIS functioning.

Research in GIS was pioneered by different leading proponents who initially took divergent trajectories only uniting after the commercial viability of the application was ascertained. British, Canadian, and American researchers concerted effort towards optimizing the feasibility of the product in the international market. Given the diverse applications of the technology, GIS was no longer the reserve of academic institutions such as Harvard and Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) as the key business players took interest. However, ESRI’s head start solidified its place as a market leader in GIS. The competitive market led to an increase in the efficiency of the application. The nuclear arms program expedited mapping technologies that led to further advancement of Geospatial information systems. The ability of GIS to utilize datasets on landmass eventually trickled down from the governmental and industry level to municipality level. The above is attributed to its newfound compatibility to Windows in the form the Archview desktop application and the rise of the internet infrastructure. The internet and GIS have a symbiotic relationship. It was the Cold War that enabled the global position system to become accessible to the public to demarcate airplane flight plans. In contemporary society, the advancements in GIS have surpassed the comprehension of the average user incapable of leveraging the technology’s full utility. In its nascence, the information was secured as a way of maintaining strategic advantage contrary to the prevalent open sourcing techniques employed. Currently, GIS developers are not limited to lifelong scientists as every contribution counts. Users build their GIS software in collaborative manner utilizing common platform and their corresponding tools at no costs.

What is Special about Spatial Data?

Spatial data as opposed to other types of data is defined in relation to a geographical location. Some scientists prefer collecting spatial data without an overarching model or subscribing to a theory to guide it. They claim that the spatial data in its raw form embody the true relationships between topography and human activities. In order to eliminate inconsistencies from one perspective, contemporary users of GIS utilized multiple approaches to see if there is a confluence of the findings. If the quantitative results gathered from the different techniques have inconsistencies, the initial data collected is wrong. Meaningful insights are only attained when the different techniques deliver similar results.

In order to identify the errors that comprise the spatial data, a specialized methodology is necessitated.  The artificial nature of the prevalent data often complicates the simplistic implications of the geography-human relations. The visual representation of GIS has a handicap in illustrating the time dimension as the past and future characteristics of the spatial data are absorbed into a picture of the present. Future developments should strive to return to its realistic origins. The danger is confounded by the access of GIS by the mainstream. It puts the technology into the hands of unprofessional users. Therefore, spatial statistics that does not observe scientific collection principles will be embraced as the standard.

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