Spatial data is an essential part of modern-day conveniences, such as checking the news, weather, or directions on a smartphone. This data is organized and managed using geographic information systems (GIS), computer-based tools that store, analyze, and interpret geographic data. These systems help organize information about roads, topography, weather conditions, landmarks, and businesses into layers that can be combined and displayed on maps.
GIS is not only used in smartphones but also in various industries and scientific applications. It helps industries ensure products and people get to their destinations, and it aids scientists in mapping disease spread, understanding wildlife movement, and studying changes in glaciers, sea levels, and weather patterns. Additionally, GIS is used by social scientists, urban planners, and engineers for various research and planning purposes.
The evolution and development of GIS is tied to the U.S. National Science Foundation, which has played a central role in its growth. The foundation continues to support GIS-related research today, having awarded about 180 grants totaling more than $83 million in the last two years. These grants support research in fields such as geography, math, computer science, geology, anthropology, and education.