More Information on GIS
What is GIScience?
While Geographic Information Systems are a collection of practices, hardware and software used to analyze spatial data, GIScience deals with the theoretical and intellectual issues that surround the use of GISystem technologies. GIScience is, in the simplest sense, the theory that underlies GISystems. It took several decades, however, for this alternate GIS identity to emerge. By the beginning of the 1990s, a sense prevailed among many academic researchers that GIS had forged new intellectual territory. There are unique characteristics of geographical data, and problems associated with its analysis, that differentiate GIS from other information systems. These properties include: the need to develop conceptual models of space; the sphericity of spatial data; problems with spatial data capture; spatial data uncertainty and error propagation; as well as algorithms and spatial data visualization and display. Questions about the underlying assumptions written into the code that comprises GISystems are the basis of GIScience. The emergence of Geographic Information Science as the preferred term for the scientific discipline underlying GISystem technologies and applications are now widely recognized and promoted by major university and institutional consoritia in both North America (UCGIS) and Europe (AGILE).
GIScience is a field that requires solid foundations in both computing science and geography. While GIScience graduates will be exceptionally well qualified to contribute to a rapidly growing industry, the aim of the GIScience major is not to provide a vocational degree, but a liberal education in the computational analysis of geographical phenomena. Students will explore the merits of different methods for digital representation of spatial entities on the earth's surface. They will learn how to model data effectively; how to visualize those models using computer graphics; and how to program in object environments. They will also investigate philosophical issues pertinent to GIScience, including the ontology, epistemology and ethical implications of spatial data representations.
The information science component of this degree is complemented by studies in geography. Majors are required to take courses in one or more subject areas in human or physical geography. Several domains of modern human and physical geography have been transformed by GISystems: resource management, for example, depends on GISystems to analyze and map resource inventories and environmental values, while modelling atmospheric processes like global warming requires strong foundations in climatology and computational theory. Other fields in Geography that are of particular interest to the GIScientist include hydrology and sub-surface modelling, location analysis, immigrant settlement patterns, epidemiology, urban growth, and the economic geography of telecommunications.
Contributions to Canada
The development of a GIScience major at SFU will benefit the province and the nation through the training of future employees with the skills needed to compete in the $20 billion international Geomatics market. Ensuring that Canada can share information with other nations is a key component of our ability to participate in the industry. This is essential not only to Canada's competitiveness on the world market, but also to providing equality of access to geospatial information within Canada.
The Government of Canada has shown its commitment to the field by establishing a Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure and a funding agency (GEOIDE: Geomatics for Informed Decisions) to fund its ongoing development. The data infrastructure is expected to benefit Canada in at least six areas: jobs and economic growth; international competitiveness; rural and remote community access; public and private sector partnerships; new models of governance and collaborations on a national project. Canadians will benefit in many ways through the increased capacity to use geospatial data. These benefits include the routing of emergency services by the quickest routes, tracking criminal activity, locating businesses in the best areas and integrating information to improve public transportation and facilities management.
According to Industry Canada, Geomatics (which includes GISystems) is one of the five components of the rapidly growing information technology sector. The GISyestems industry is growing at double-digit rates and is expected to continue to grow in the future. The industry has proven resistant to boom-bust cycles in technology because both private firms and public sector agencies need to manage geographic information, and that need has continued to grow even as the dot-com bubble has deflated.
The employment prospects are bright for students with training in GIScience. Both private companies and public sector employers have growing needs for workers who can help them take advantage of their investments in spatial data infrastructure and management. Firms and agencies dealing with natural resources, energy production and distribution, transportation and waste management now require GIS training for many career paths. Other fields in which GIScience plays a large and growing role include public health, police services, and planning at all levels of government. More generally, any organization with spatially extensive resources and operations needs GIScience expertise to manage the proliferating spatial data that document and model the environments in which they work.