GEOG 482
The Nature of Geographic Information

1. Overview


Chapter 1 outlined several of the distinguishing properties of geographic data. One is that geographic data are necessarily generalized, and that generalization tends to vary with scale. A second distinguishing property is that the Earth's complex, nearly-spherical shape complicates efforts to specify exact positions on Earth's surface. This chapter explores implications of these properties by illuminating concepts of scale, Earth geometry, coordinate systems, the "horizontal datums" that define the relationship between coordinate systems and the Earth's shape, and the various methods for transforming coordinate data between 3D and 2D grids, and from one datum to another.

Compared to Chapter 1, Chapter 2 may seem long, technical, and abstract, particularly to those for whom these concepts are new. Registered students will notice that we've allotted more time to work through the chapter and associated quizzes. Seven practice quizzes are available in Canvas to help registered students get a grip on these concepts. Chapter 2 also includes a graded quiz in the same open-book format as the practice quizzes. If you do reasonably well on the practice quizzes, you should do well enough on the graded quiz, too.


Students who successfully complete Chapter 2 should be able to:

  1. demonstrate your ability to specify geospatial locations using geographic coordinates;
  2. convert geographic coordinates between two different formats;
  3. explain the concept of a horizontal datum;
  4. calculate the change in a coordinate location due to a change from one horizontal datum to another;
  5. estimate the magnitude of "datum shift" associated with the adjustment from NAD 27 to NAD 83;
  6. recognize the kind of transformation that is appropriate to georegister two or more data sets;
  7. describe the characteristics of the UTM coordinate system, including its basis in the Transverse Mercator map projection;
  8. plot UTM coordinates on a map;
  9. describe the characteristics of the SPC system, including map projection on which it is based;
  10. convert geographic coordinates to SPC coordinates;
  11. interpret distortion diagrams to identify geometric properties of the sphere that are preserved by a particular projection; and
  12. classify projected graticules by projection family.

Comments and Questions

Registered students are welcome to post comments, questions, and replies to questions about the text. Particularly welcome are anecdotes that relate the chapter text to your personal or professional experience. There are discussion forums available in the Canvas course management system for comments and questions.

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Students who register for this Penn State course gain access to assignments and instructor feedback, and earn academic credit. Information about Penn State's Online Geospatial Education programs is available at the Geospatial Education Program Office.