Geographic Analysis with GIS

Caitlin Dempsey


The vast majority of information present in the world has some form of spatial element connected with it.  A geographic information system (GIS) enables the management, analysis and presentation of geographical details  from a variety of sources.

Geographic Analysis

Traditionally Geography has been the scientific study of cause and effect relationships in our world and from those studies to understand how we protect, develop and manage the resources and opportunities that world provides.

The manual steps in the process have included can best be summarised as;

  • Propose the question – the first stage in the traditional process that would normally start by creating a location based perspective
  • Locate the data – frequently this meant performing large quantities of field research as few standard sets of data existed.  In many cases, complex calculation would be required to provide the detailed insight required to answer the question
  • Prove the data is fit for purpose – a complex statistical process that involves analysing the structure of data to ensure it is fit for purpose
  • Use the data to answer the question – undertake analysis to answer the question
  • Publish results – report findings through tables, charts, reports, and of course, maps

Technology Provides an Edge

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GIS 101
Basic Uses of GISGIS GlossaryTypes of GIS DataTypes of Error in GISWhat is Metadata?

A GIS can create huge efficiencies in the above process and those huge efficiencies can, in turn, be used to make it possible to provide new insights not otherwise discernible through tables and charts.  In addition, the simple and standardised approach to plotting disparate data sources means that much closer levels of granularity can be employed to provide further insights not otherwise possible.

GIS provides a geospatial framework for geographic and attributes data to be mapped and analyzed relatively quickly and easily in order to:

  • Plot where things are so that otherwise unseen features and attributes can be revealed
  • Plot quantities across a geospatial view to demonstrate patterns
  • Plot densities across standard units to demonstrate distribution
  • Analyse what is taking place in a specific area by comparing older data sets with newer ones to demonstrate where change is or is not occurring
  • Analyse what is happening within a radius of a feature to help understand the causal relationships between a data and its environment
  • Analyse the changes taking place so that it can be presented to best support new policy proposals

A GIS allows large quantities of unrelated data to be linked together geographically in order to ask key questions of the environment that data highlights and to provide data visualization in the form of maps to support theories and ideas that have been suggested.

There are simply thousands of unrelated data sets available to the planners and analysts working in commerce and government today.  Information is available in a wide variety of formats that are not designed to relate to each other.  Using key database technologies, a GIS provides a framework for those disparate data sets to be linked together.  In essence, a GIS will store these disparate data sets along with geospatial details so that common points of reference can be created and from these points of reference analysis and calculation can be undertaken.

Cartographic information is also linked with geospatial codings of this type to enable results to be accurately and meaningfully presented.

Futher GIS 101 Resources:

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.