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What is GIS? - Part 2: GIS as a Tool

GIS is a tool for using, interpreting, and analyzing spatial information - for understanding and visualizing the spatial relationships between and among places and the living things that inhabit them. GIS is used to analyze different types of geographic phenomena and patterns, and to make decisions about courses of action that are geographically significant.

Pictured at right is an aerial photograph of Beaver Stadium, the home of the Penn State football team, located in State College, Pennsylvania. There are a lot of elements in this picture, all of which have their own spatial components, and each of which has a unique spatial relationship with the stadium, and with each other. Some examples are below.

Size & Space:

The stadium, the vacant lots, and the visible buildings all represent shapes and areas with distinct sizes, shapes, and land coverage. And each road is a specific length and width, and travels in a particular direction.

Locations, Distances, and Proximity:

Every element in this picture ( structures, land masses, and roads ) has a unique set of geographic coordinates and a unique location. In addition, each of them is some distance away from the others. And where roads cross and create intersections are examples of two or more geographic features sharing specific geographic coordinates or points.


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