GEOG 482
The Nature of Geographic Information

1. Overview

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Geographic data are expensive to produce and maintain. Data often accounts for the lion's share of the cost of building and running geographic information systems. The expense of GIS is justifiable when it gives people the information they need to make wise choices in the face of complex problems. In this chapter, we'll consider one such problem: the search for suitable and acceptable sites for low level radioactive waste disposal facilities. Two case studies will demonstrate that GIS is very useful indeed for assimilating the many site suitability criteria that must be taken into account, provided that the necessary data can be assembled in a single, integrated system. The case studies will allow us to compare vector and raster approaches to site selection problems.

The ability to integrate diverse geographic data is a hallmark of mature GIS software. The know-how required to accomplish data integration is also the mark of a truly knowledgeable GIS user. What knowledgeable users also recognize, however, is that while GIS technology is well suited to answering certain well defined questions, it often cannot help resolve crucial conflicts between private and public interests. The objective of this final, brief chapter is to consider the challenges involved in using GIS to address a complex problem that has both environmental and social dimensions.

Objectives

Chapter 9 should help prepare you to:

  • recognize the characteristics of geographic data that must be taken into account to overlay multiple data layers;
  • compare and contrast vector and raster approaches to site suitability studies;
  • gave realistic expectations about what geographic data analysis can achieve.

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.