Data Analysis and GIS Mapping

November 26, 2021

During the current era, data is king. Not only is there more data available than ever before, but there are more ways to analyze it and use it in ways that impact the lives of everyday citizens. GIS mapping is an example of how data can be used, analyzed, and displayed to fit the requirements of a variety of industries and to be useful for people in their private lives. GIS analysis is tied in closely with the history of GPS satellites and with the burgeoning field of spatial data analysis.

What Is a Geographic Information System (GIS)?

“GIS” stands for geographic information system. It’s a computer system used to analyze data that contains location coordinates and displays that information. GIS can be used for many different applications. For example, let’s say a few different specimens of an endangered bush are located. Why are these specimens thriving when almost all other plantings of the bush have died? GIS analysis can study the location data and learn that all of the bushes are located at elevations of about 1,500 feet, are sheltered from direct sun by trees, and receive about 15 inches of rainfall a year. Analysts can then use GIS techniques to locate other places that fit these criteria and hopefully find more living examples of this bush.

What Can We Do With GIS?

GIS impacts people’s everyday lives in a lot of ways that very few people are ever aware of. For example, many municipalities hire GIS consultants to help them analyze traffic and accident data to decide where new traffic lights should be installed. Every user who clicks on Google Maps or any app like it is using GIS. Urban planners also use GIS data to understand the impact that building a new skyscraper or putting in a new neighborhood will have on utilities and traffic patterns. During the lead-up to natural disasters like hurricanes, GIS analysis can help organizations like FEMA understand where the hurricane is likely to make landfall and identify the most efficient routes for evacuating the population.

Spatial Data Analysis

Various techniques, many of them still in the primary stage of development, can be used to analyze the geometric, geographic, or topological properties of some sort of entity. Many different fields require this sort of analysis. For example, astronomy has used spatial data analysis to understand where each galaxy is located in the cosmos. Microchip engineers use it to design algorithms to make it possible to build tiny yet complex writing systems. And it’s often used to analyze transcriptomic or geographic data. This field has several pinch points as it grows at a rapid rate. One issue is coming up with a standardized way of classifying and indicating the primary location of an entity being analyzed. One reason why standardization is difficult is because many different research fields have contributed techniques to spatial data analysis or regularly use it. These fields, which all have their own ways of dealing with data and their own vocabulary, each indicate that things should be done in a certain way that often contradicts the customs of another involved field of research.

The History of GPS Satellites and Tracking Technology

When a smartphone app or car’s navigation system effortlessly routes a user around roadwork or traffic to get them to their destination as quickly as possible, the user probably doesn’t realize that they have the Cold War to thank for this service. A large part of the Cold War was the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States, which led both countries to begin launching satellites into space. Those satellites, which provided constant surveillance of Earth, made way for a technology that would have the biggest impact on how humans navigate since the first cartographer drew a map. The initial NAVSTAR satellite was launched in 1974. The crash of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 in 1983 made the United States government decide to make GPS data available for civilian use in the hopes of preventing another tragedy. The first portable GPS device was released by Magellan six years later in 1989. However, in 1990, the U.S. Department of Defense decided that highly accurate GPS data released to civilians was a security issue and decreased the amount and accuracy of GPS data that was released to civilian companies. This was reversed in 2000, one year after the first GPS-enabled cellphone designed for civilian use was released by Benefon. Qualcomm successfully tested a way to improve location accuracy on cellphones by combining GPS data with data from cell phone towers. The third generation of GPS satellites, GPS III, was launched in 2018.

When Magellan released the first handheld GPS device in 1989, its high price meant that the biggest customers were large delivery and freight companies. These devices allowed them to track their drivers. Today, GPS trackers are often part of another device, and their uses have expanded. Companies that rent out moving trucks use these devices to prevent theft, while Amazon uses location-trackers to track their delivery drivers as well as to generate data that can be analyzed to create more efficient delivery routes.