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What is GIS?
What is GIS?

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is a combination of computer hardware, software, and data that let us store, create, and analyze spatial data. What is spatial data? Any information that is referenced to a location is spatial data. For example, house addresses, latitude and longitude or some other coordinate system associates the data to a place on Earth or in space. Any physical and cultural geographic features and their attributes can be displayed on a GIS system if they have this geo-referencing. GIS systems let us stack many different layers of information together and ask questions about their relationships. In a GIS we can create a digital map of an area using layers describing political boundaries, roads, streets, wetlands, soil types, building footprints and more. Once the map is created we can use the GIS to ask questions such as, "how many wetlands are within 100 feet of the roads"? The ability to create and update geographic information and interact with different elements of a map is what makes GIS such a powerful tool for many different applications. GIS is used in land use planning, transportation planning environmental management, business marketing and health and social services program planning and management and education.

How was GIS used in the MEC project?

The Center for International Earth Science Information Network, (CIESIN) has developed and managed a Geographic Information System (GIS) as a component of its partnership in the Metropolitan East Coast Climate Change Assessment study. GIS was used in the MEC project in three main areas:

  1. Create a visual description of the study region
  2. To assist researchers in mapping the results of their studies
  3. To help communicate the results of the MEC study to the general public through Maps and the creation of an On-Line resource for students and educators who wish to use the MEC data in their classroom studies

The Metropolitan East Coast GIS had played a valuable role in assisting research participants in conducting their analysis and visualizing their results. Fundamentally, the GIS gives scientists and the public a detailed description of the physical and social geography of the study region. More importantly, the GIS helped us to map the magnitude and spatial distribution of potential threats to the region’s infrastructure, public health, water supplies, coastal zones and wetland areas resulting from climate change. Publishing the maps illustrating these potential threats on the Metropolitan East Coast web site will greatly contribute to one of main goals of the projects, increasing the public’s awareness of global climate change issues. One of the most interesting applications of the MEC GIS is a special Educator’s Package the delivers GIS data layers and a free GIS software program along with a series of lesson plans for teachers and students to use in classroom projects.

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