GIScience

Geographic information science

  • is the science behind the technology
    • considers fundamental questions raised by the use of systems and technologies
    • is the science needed to keep technology at the cutting edge
  • is a multidisciplinary field
    • many disciplines contribute to these issues
      • e.g. cartography, geodesy, photogrammetry, …
      • today we should extend the list to include areas like cognitive psychology, spatial statistics
    • the terms ‘geomatics’ and ‘geoinformatics’ have similar meaning
      • ‘geomatics’ is more popular in Europe and Canada
  • is it ‘spatial’ or ‘geographic’?
    • ‘geographic’ has to do with the Earth
      • its two-dimensional surface
      • its three-dimensional atmosphere, oceans, sub-surface
    • ‘spatial’ has to do with any multi-dimensional frame
      • medical images are referenced to the human body
      • engineering drawings are referenced to a mechanical object
      • architectural drawings are referenced to a building
    • ‘geographic’ is a subset of ‘spatial’
      • often the terms are used interchangeably
    • ‘geospatial’ is sometimes used
      • does ‘geographic’ sound too ‘soft’?

 

The big questions of GIScience

  • what questions does GIS raise?
    • or geographic technologies in general
  • questions of representation
    • the Earth’s surface is infinitely complex
      • decisions must be made about how to capture it, represent it in a digital system
      • about how and where to sample
      • about what data format options to use
    • what criteria can be used to select a representation?
      • accuracy of representation
      • accuracy of predictions, decisions based on representation
      • minimizing volume of data
      • maximizing speed of computation
      • compatibility with other projects, users, software
      • compatibility with how people actually think about the world
  • how to assess a representation
    • how to measure its accuracy
    • how to measure what’s missing, its uncertainty
    • how to express these in ways that are meaningful to the user
      • how to describe them in documentation
      • how to visualize them
      • how to simulate their impacts
  • questions about the relationship between the representation and the user
    • how to people, rather than machines, think about the world?
    • how can computer representations be made more like the ways people think?
    • how do people reason with, learn about, communicate about the geographical world?
    • how can output from GIS be made more intelligible
      • to certain types of users, e.g. children
      • under certain constrained situations, e.g. in a fighter cockpit
  • questions about data models and structures
    • how to store a given representation efficiently
    • how to retrieve information rapidly through appropriate indexing
    • how to achieve interoperability between systems
  • questions about the display of geographic data
    • how do methods of display affect the interpretation of geographic data?
    • how can the science of cartography be extended to take advantage of the power of the digital environment?
    • what basic properties of display determine its success?
  • questions about analytical tools
    • what is the nature of human spatial intuition, and how can it be enhanced by GIS tools?
    • what methods of analysis are needed to support specific types of decisions made using GIS?
    • how can methods of analysis be presented so that users can choose effectively between them?
  • there are many other big questions
    • a quick look at recent books and papers in the GIS research literature will suggest many more
  • the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science is a group of over 30 U.S. universities dedicated to promotion of GIScience
    • the UCGIS research agenda includes many important and current research areas in GIScience
    • see http://www.ucgis.org

 

The disciplines of GIScience

  • disciplines that have traditionally researched geographic information technologies
    • cartography, the science (and art) of map-making
    • remote sensing, the science of Earth observation from space
    • geodesy, the science of accurate measurement of the Earth
    • surveying, the science of accurate measurement of natural and human-made features on the Earth
    • photogrammetry, the science of measurement from photographs and images
    • image processing, the science of handling and analysis of image data
  • disciplines that have traditionally researched digital technology and information in general
    • computer science, particularly:
      • databases
      • computational geometry
      • image processing, pattern recognition
    • information science
  • disciplines that have traditionally studied the Earth, particularly its surface and near-surface, in either physical or human aspect
    • geology
    • geophysics
    • oceanography
    • agriculture
    • biology, particularly ecology, biogeography
    • environmental science
    • geography
    • sociology
    • political science
    • anthropology
    • and many more
    • these sciences are all potential users of GIS
  • disciplines that have traditionally worked to integrate knowledge from different disciplines, within the context of the Earth’s surface
    • geography
    • environmental science
    • newer fields like global change, integrated assessment
  • disciplines that have traditionally studied the nature of human understanding, and its interactions with machines
    • psychology, particularly cognitive psychology, environmental psychology
    • cognitive science
    • artificial intelligence

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