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What Is GIS Cartography?

GIS cartography uses multi-layered maps to display information beyond that of a normal map.
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  • Written By: M. McGee
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 13 December 2014
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    Conjecture Corporation
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A geographic information system (GIS) is a system that stores information related to geography and land formation. When geographic material is used for mapping, it is called GIS cartography. Maps using GIS systems are often very accurate and contain much more information than a standard map. This additional information is part of a larger process called spatial analysis, where geographic information is used to create layered two-dimensional or true three-dimensional representations of real-world locations.

The worldwide geographic information system is made up of a collection of public, private and government-run geographic databases. These databases contain a wealth of information on many different parts of the world. At any given spot, there may be information related to human and animal habitation, historical data, surface and substrate conditions or current and historic natural resource utilization.

The information in the GIS databases may be used to create maps. Simple roadmaps or political maps are possible, but that isn’t the essence of GIS cartography. In most situations, in order to be a true GIS map, it must have additional information beyond that of a normal map. The varying pieces of information available in the GIS need to come together to create a whole experience of the area.

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GIS cartography focuses on multi-layer information. When a user looks at a map, it may appear to be a normal topographical image. With a few button presses, the user can switch that map to a substrata, forest cover, roadmap, or any number of other overlays. This allows GIS cartography to dig deeper into the current and historical existence of a segment of land.

Spatial analysis is the larger discipline of which GIS cartography is apart. This field is a convergence of several different disciplines such as geology, computer science, archeology and mathematics. Information from different sources is combined together into a single database. When a user calls up a location, he can view that place in any number of different ways.

Software for spatial analysis allows different maps of a location to layer on top of one another. One base map, often a topographical map, is used as a foundation, and other maps showing different types of activities are placed on top. This convergence of different information will often show patterns that may not have been known before.

These patterns are used in other locations to make predictions. For instance, if a specific natural resource was located in several locations with similar topography and patterns, it is possible that other similar areas may have the same resource. These predictions are used by companies to limit the cost of looking for natural raw materials.

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