Introduction to Geographic Information
Systems in Forest Resources
Definitions of GIS
Several working definitions of GIS have been proposed. Nearly all definitions
focus on data, users, software, hardware, and methods
or a purpose. Before examining some common definitions, we should
look at what the words themselves mean (according to the Oxford
- The science which has for its object the description of the earth's surface,
treating of its form and physical features, its natural and political divisions,
the climate, productions, population, etc., of the various countries. It
is frequently divided into mathematical, physical, and political geography.
- The action of informing; formation or moulding of the mind or character,
training, instruction, teaching; communication of instructive knowledge.
- The action of informing; communication of the knowledge or `news' of some
fact or occurrence; the action of telling or fact of being told of something.
- Knowledge communicated concerning some particular fact, subject, or event;
that of which one is apprised or told; intelligence, news. spec. contrasted
- An organized or connected group of objects.
- A set or assemblage of things connected, associated, or interdependent,
so as to form a complex unity; a whole composed of parts in orderly
arrangement according to some scheme or plan; rarely applied to a simple
or small assemblage of things (nearly = `group' or `set').
In this context, a geographic information system is a complex arrangement
of associated or connected things or objects, whose purpose is to communicate
knowledge about features on the surface of the earth. We can expand the definition
of this to include features above and below the surface of the earth.
Here are some other definitions:
- An information system that is designed to work with data referenced by
spatial or geographic coordinates. In other words, a GIS is both a system
with specific capabilities for spatially-referenced data, as well as a set
of operations for working [analysis] with the data.
(Star and Estes, 1990)
- A working GIS integrates five key components: hardware,software, data,
people, and methods.
- A system for capturing, storing, checking, integrating, manipulating,
analyzing and displaying data which are spatially referenced to the Earth.
- Automated systems for the capture, storage, retrieval, analysis, and
display of spatial data.
- A system of hardware, software, and procedures designed to support the
capture, management, manipulation, analysis, modeling and display of spatially-referenced
data for solving complex planning and management problems.
(NCGIA lecture by David Cowen, 1989)
- An integrated package for the input, storage, analysis, and output of
spatial information... analysis being the most significant.
(Gaile and Willmott, 1989)
- GIS are simultaneously the telescope, the microscope, the computer, and
the Xerox machine of regional analysis and synthesis of spatial data.
Return to top
The University of Washington Spatial Technology, GIS, and Remote Sensing
Page is supported by the School
of Forest Resources
School of Forest Resources