What Type of Data Does GIS Use?


Larry Thompson

When it comes to Geographic Information Systems (GIS), data is the foundation on which everything else is built. GIS is a powerful tool that allows us to analyze, visualize, and understand spatial data, but what type of data does it actually use? In this article, we will explore the different types of data that GIS can work with.

1. Spatial Data

Spatial data refers to any data that has a geographic or locational component.

It represents the physical locations and boundaries of objects in the real world. Spatial data can be represented in two main ways:

  • Vector Data: Vector data represents geographic features as points, lines, and polygons. Points are used to represent individual locations such as cities or landmarks. Lines are used to represent linear features like roads or rivers.

    Polygons are used to represent areas such as countries or land parcels.

  • Raster Data: Raster data divides the Earth’s surface into a grid of cells or pixels. Each cell contains a value representing a specific attribute such as elevation or temperature. Raster data is commonly used for satellite imagery or digital elevation models.

2. Attribute Data

In addition to spatial information, GIS also incorporates attribute data which provides additional details about the geographic features. Attribute data can be stored in tabular format and linked to spatial features using a unique identifier.

Attribute data can include various types of information such as:

  • Numeric Data: Numeric attributes represent measurable quantities such as population density or temperature.
  • Categorical Data: Categorical attributes classify features into distinct categories such as land use types or vegetation classes.
  • Date and Time Data: Date and time attributes record the temporal aspects of geographic features such as the date a road was constructed or the time of an earthquake.
  • Text Data: Text attributes store textual information like the name of a city or the description of a place.

3. Geodatabases

To organize and manage spatial and attribute data, GIS uses geodatabases.

A geodatabase is a container that stores, manages, and maintains all the data used in GIS. It provides a structured way to store different types of datasets while maintaining their relationships.

Types of Geodatabases

There are different types of geodatabases that can be used in GIS:

  • File Geodatabase: A file geodatabase is a folder-based system that stores data in multiple files within a directory structure. It offers good performance and can handle large datasets.
  • Personal Geodatabase: A personal geodatabase is stored as a single Microsoft Access database file (.mdb). It is suitable for smaller projects with limited data requirements.
  • Spatial Database: A spatial database is designed for managing large volumes of spatial data using database management systems (DBMS) such as PostgreSQL or Oracle.

In conclusion, GIS uses various types of data including spatial data, attribute data, and geodatabases. By combining these different types of data, GIS enables us to analyze and understand our world in new and powerful ways.

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