The Different Types of GIS Data

MGISS | 28 February 2022

Surveyor engineer working on highway construction site, working with theodolite and gps system

When you look at a map, you’re looking at layers of information that have been integrated. Information about streets, buildings, vegetation, and other relevant data is combined, which allows people to see, understand, and analyse relationships and patterns.

A geographic information system (GIS) is a computer system that captures, stores, verifies, and displays this data. Integrating GIS data provides a more insightful view of a location, which will allow users to more accurately compare the location of different objects to discover how they relate to each other, as well as make informed decisions on geographic planning.

There are different types of data utilised in GIS mapping. We will discuss the different types of GIS data and how this data is used in various industries and technologies.

GIS Data Types

There are two different types of GIS data, vector data and raster data. Each type of data has its format. 

Vector Data

Vector data is the spatial data most people are familiar with, as it is the format presented in mapping portals such as Open Street Maps and Google Maps. It is also used extensively in computer graphics and computer-aided design (CAD). It consists of points, lines, and polygons.

  • Point Data – Point Data typically represents nonadjacent features or distinct data points. Points are zero-dimensional, so you cannot measure their length or area. Examples of point data would be cities, points of interest, and schools.
  • Line Data – Line data is also known as arc data. It represents linear features such as rivers, streets, and trails. Line data has a starting and an ending point, and, since it only has one dimension, it can only be used to measure length. 

To distinguish arc features from each other, some lines may be solid while others are dashed, and different colours or line thicknesses may be used. For example, a road may be a solid black line, while a river is a dashed blue line.

  • Polygon Data – Polygons typically represent areas such as cities, lakes, or forests. Unlike point and line data, polygons are two-dimensional and can measure the perimeter or area of a geographic feature. Colour schemes, patterns or gradation colour schemes could be used to identify polygon features.

Vector images are high-quality representations of an image or a shape. They can be enlarged or reduced with no loss of quality. To create or manipulate a vector image, you must use a program like Adobe Illustrator. A camera cannot capture a vector image.

Raster Data

Raster data, also known as grid data, is made up of pixels, and each pixel has a value. You will typically find raster data on topographic maps, satellite images, and aerial surveys. Raster data is vital for meteorology, disaster management, and industries where analysing risk is essential.

There are two types of raster data, continuous and discrete.

  • Continuous Data – Continuous rasters are cells on the grid that gradually change. Some examples would be an aerial photo, elevation and temperature. Continuous raster surfaces come from a fixed registration point. For instance, in digital elevation models, sea level is used as a registration point. Each cell represents a value that is above or below sea level.
  • Discrete Data – Discrete rasters have a specific theme or class, and each pixel is assigned to a specific class. Unlike continuous data, discrete data can only take specific values, not values within a range. For example, in a discrete raster land cover/use map, you can see each thematic class, and where it begins and ends is defined.

Unlike vector data, raster data is not scalable. If it is enlarged too much, it will get pixelated, and if stretched too much, it will become distorted. A digital photo is an example of raster data.

Industries That Use GIS Data

Professionals in just about any industry can benefit from GIS technology. Here are some of the most popular examples of industries that use GIS.

  • Supply Chain – Tracking inventory shipments can make the supply chain more effective, thus saving businesses money.
  • Insurance – Having the ability to accurately determine risk is vital for insurance companies. GIS can identify areas that are more likely to experience earthquakes, floods, or other natural disasters, as well as identify areas with higher crime rates.
  • Forestry – GIS systems can collect data to help preserve ecosystems by identifying species in certain areas, changes in animal populations, and mapping out things like annual rainfall, temperatures, and the severity and length of dry seasons.
  • Urban Planning – GIS helps planners better understand the needs of their city. It allows them to design the city to fill those needs in a way that will benefit its businesses and residents.
  • Banking – Banks can use GIS to determine where their branches’ locations should be or what branches they should close to increase profitability. It can also help them decide what products are best suited for their demographics.
  • Public Health – Public health offices can use GIS to identify areas at risk for certain diseases. Using this data, they can deploy awareness campaigns to help educate the citizens of a particular place at risk.

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