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  Understanding: Geographic Information Systems

Geographic Information System (GIS) technology is an integration of cartographic and computer science. GIS is a software and hardware system that helps scientists capture, store, manipulate and display spatial or geographic information. Both manually and digitally collected information can be integrated into the system for analysis.

Information sources can range from satellite images and maps to manually collected environmental readings on variables such as water depth or chemistry. Researchers can combine different types of data layers to ask questions that would be difficult or impossible to address through standard cartographic approaches. GIS technology is capable of producing a wide range of visual outputs, including maps, drawings, animations, and numerous other cartographic products.

GIS technology is especially powerful because it allows the user to interactively manipulate information. Along with this interactive ability, GIS can be linked with computer models to carry out simulations of given environments and variables over time. For instance, by linking a map with a storm water model, the system can predict how quickly salts or other contaminants may move into a stream system. The capabilities of GIS can help illustrate the human impact on surrounding environments to students, resource managers and the public.

Water on the Web uses a technology called the Internet Map Server (IMS) to allow students to perform basic GIS operations online. We have assembled GIS data for most of the real-time data locations, and provide links to other online data sources.

To learn to use this technology, read our
GIS Quick Start Primer

To start using online data, go to the
IMS Data Access Page

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date last updated: Sunday March 07 2004