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Cofrin Center for Biodiversity


Students encountering geographic informations systems for the first time are sometimes surprised by it's "techiness". In fact GIS is a subdiscipline within the broader field of Geomatics Engineering which can be summed up as follows:

"... the discipline of gathering, storing, processing, and delivering ... spatially referenced information."
Wikipedia - 13-nov-2013 - click here to see the complete article

This is the one and only time we will make reference to "Geomatics Engineering". We prefer the term "Geospatial Technology" and it is roughly synonymous.

Geospatial Technology Is Not Rocket Science
The terms "spatial" and "geospatial" don't imply a connection to rocketry and space travel. It's true that spacecraft are employed in some branches of geospatial technology, but in all cases the instruments they carry are observing and/or measuring what's happening on earth.

"geo" = earth          "spatial" = relating to size, shape and position

It's About Coordinate Pairs
Spatial referencing is the basis of Geospatial Technology and coordinate pairs is the language used to tie a piece of information to it's location on the earth surface. Coordinate pairs are scientific measurements. As with any scientific measurement the accuracy and precision of the numbers that define location are important. But it isn't just about the numbers. The language used to express the numbers needs to be unambiguous. If the language is sloppy, the same two numbers can define multiple locations on the earth's surface.

GIS Software Is Database Software
GIS software is a unique combination of several software categories that students may already be familiar with. It has some elements found in graphics packages, spreadsheets and presentation programs. However it is primarily database software and that comes as a shock to many beginners. True databases are foreign territory for many and the spatial databases used in geographic information systems work are foreign territory for almost everyone.