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An Introduction to Geospatial Mapping: Understanding Geospatial Mapping

This is a guide to help Virginia Tech community members be introduced to the concept of ‘Geospatial Mapping’ and ‘Geographic Information System (GIS)’ and how to make maps using different geospatial mapping software.

Welcome to the Introduction to Geospatial Mapping LibGuide! This guide will cover different areas of Geographic Information System (GIS) and geospatial mapping, its key components, types of geospatial data and their sources, and introduce different types of geospatial mapping tools; open & proprietary and desktop & web-based GIS tools. This guide will also cover data analysis and visualization and will provide examples of how geospatial data can be visualized in proprietary, open-source, and web-based GIS tools.

Geospatial Mapping Definition

Geospatial mapping is a spatial visualization method that enables the creation of customized maps to address specific requirements. Its primary aim is to show items with geographic coordinates in a geographical framework, providing a representation of the physical world on a map. Various approaches, solutions, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software can be employed to analyze existing geospatial data and geographical and terrestrial databases.

Geographic Information System (GIS)

A Geographic Information System (GIS) is a computer system for capturing, storing, querying, analyzing, and displaying geospatial data. GIS can also be defined as a process of systematic gathering, storing, analyzing, and presenting of geographic information to gain insights, make informed decisions, and solve spatial problems. It involves data collection, mapping, and the use of software tools to extract valuable insights for various applications.

Esri explains more about the concept of GIS here.

Geospatial data, or geodata, is data that contains locational information, such as an address with a city, a ZIP code, or latitude and longitude coordinates. This locational information is relative to the Earth’s surface. It describes both the locations and characteristics of spatial features. 

Example: To describe a road, we refer to its location (i.e. where it is) and its characteristics (e.g. length, name, speed limit, and direction).

Note: ‘GIS’ and ‘geospatial’ are often used interchangeably as adjectives. In this guide, we will focus on using the term geospatial.

Geospatial data usually has two components:

  • Location information represents the spatial component, which tells you where something is.
  • Attribute information represents the non-spatial component which tells you more about the thing itself, like what it looks like, how big it is, or what it's used for. Attributes provide more information about the related locations allowing us to make sense of the data.

Key Components of GIS

GIS typically consists of several components that work together to collect, manage, analyze, and present geographic information. These components are:

Importance of Geospatial Mapping

  • Enhanced Research: Geospatial skills enable researchers to explore complex spatial patterns and relationships, leading to deeper insights and more robust research outcomes.
  • Improved Skill Set: Geospatial training equips individuals with valuable skills in geographic information systems (GIS), remote sensing, and spatial analysis. These skills are applicable across various academic disciplines and industries, enhancing employability.
  • Interdisciplinary Learning: Geospatial training promotes cross-disciplinary collaboration, allowing participants to tackle real-world challenges from diverse perspectives.
  • Community Engagement: Universities can use geospatial training to engage with local communities. Mapping and spatial analysis can aid community planning, resource allocation, and disaster preparedness.
  • Career Advancement: Proficiency in geospatial technology is in high demand across various industries. Our services will equip individuals with valuable skills that enhance their employability.
  • Data Analysis and Visualization: Geospatial training enables individuals to analyze and visualize data in geographic contexts. This aids in the interpretation and communication of research findings, making them more accessible and compelling.
  • Geospatial Technology Advancements: Staying current with geospatial training allows students, faculty, and staff to leverage the latest advancements in GIS technology, remote sensing, and spatial analysis tools.
  • Data Literacy: It enhances data literacy as individuals learn to collect, manage, and interpret geospatial data, fostering a broader understanding of data-driven decision-making.

Geospatial Data Curator

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Imma Mwanja
Newman Library Room 3010
560 Drillfield Dr
Blacksburg, VA 24061