What is GIS

GIS stands for
Geographic Information Systems

multiple data layers displayed in priority from top to bottom at the heart of GIS (source: USGS.gov)

GIS can be described as the data and software system for managing, editing and displaying geographic data. Geographic is the key as all data within a GIS has a relationship to where it is in the world – not like numbers within an accountant’s spreadsheet.

The brilliance and beauty of GIS is the ability of multiple and diverse types of data to be displayed in multiple layers all at once. Satellite imagery, rivers, roads, and street addresses can all be visualized.


All Geographic data has a location attached to it – so you could find it on a map – such as a latitude/longitude, easting/northing, or X/Y. In more recent times GIS has become 3D, adding a Z/elevation/depth component to the data, and finally a temporal component where the data may change over time (the height of a tree) but doesn’t change location.


The Information can be anything you like. Data such as camp sites, drill hole locations, pollution samples, and road centrelines all have are spatial in nature and so we want to see them on a map.


The system is the software/App and hardware hosting the data and allowing the user to interact with it – be it scrolling round and zooming into a map, spinning around a 3D model, or even building your own maps.