Interpreting GIS Data

interpreting gis data

With the ability to collect massive amounts of geospatial information comes the need to interpret and apply that data. In this month’s Geospatial Information Science and Technology (GIST) Online Blog, we look at how geospatial data is the original big data; the challenges and opportunities posed by geospatial data; and what skills a geospatial scientist needs for interpreting GIS data. We also review how NC State can get you started.

Geospatial Data is the Original Big Data

By now, you’ve probably heard the term big data, but have you thought about where it got its start or where it came from? The term was coined in the 1990’s by computer scientist John Mashey, but geospatial information scientists have long used the concept of big data for understanding our earth and geospatial systems.

Although invented in the 1990’s, the big data field has recently experienced explosive advancement due to new technology and capabilities for data collection and analysis, geospatial data is no different. The amount of data with spatial attributes being generated is growing thanks to technologies such as unmanned aerial systems, which collect terabytes of super high-resolution imagery, hyperspectral imaging satellites, social media data and citizen science. Combine these collection instruments with improvements in Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR), mobile data collection and numerous secondary data sources, and the result is an extraordinary amount of geospatial information.

The Challenges and Opportunities of Geospatial Data

The ability to collect so much geospatial data is incredible, but without the skills, knowledge, and ability to interpret it, it is difficult to make proper use of the data in a beneficial and constructive way. Other challenges when dealing with geospatial data include storage capacity as well as computational capacity (supercomputing). Considering how to efficiently handle the amount of data being generated poses challenges for geospatial professionals.

Opportunities for interpretation of geospatial information seem limitless. The January GIST Online Blog discussed ways scientists are using GIS to solve real world problems. Right now, it’s essential to ensure enough specialists exist who can understand and interpret the data to continue growing its many applications.

The Interpretation Requirements

In order to be able to effectively interpret geospatial information, a GIS professional needs a variety of skills and knowledge bases. First and foremost, the fundamentals of geographic thought and concepts of hypothesis testing and statistical analysis are essential. Data interpretation ultimately requires: clear problem definition; the understanding of audience perceptions and expectations; and knowledge of techniques, such as spatial statistics, spatiotemporal analysis, modeling, analytics, data mining, image classification, map reading and cartographic principles—to name a few!

Gain GIS Interpretation Skills at NC State

GIS professionals must be able to acquire, store, analyze, interpret, manage and communicate ‘big’ geospatial data to effectively aid in decision-making. At NC State, our courses prepare future geospatial information scientists to do just that. Click here to view our course offerings for both undergraduate and graduate students.

Check back each month to the GIST Online Blog as we take a look at topics in geospatial information and discover new concepts and innovations in the field.