Geospatial Concepts: The Fundamentals of Geospatial Science

The concepts and tutorials presented in this book are for readers with little to no experience using geographic information systems (GIS) software. This book is intended for use in an introductory college-level course. It contains seven chapters, each representing approximately two-weeks of work for a three-credit 16-week semester course. Each chapter starts with text related to fundamental concepts related to geospatial science and its sub-disciplines. The chapters also include one or more tutorials designed to reinforce the concepts learned. Tutorials may take between one to six hours to complete, depending on their complexity. When possible, the authors provide an estimated time to complete tutorials. Additional references, such as video content and external websites, may also be mentioned throughout the text.
Chapter 1 explains how one creates, represents, manages, and displays geospatial data. A phrase familiar to computer science says, “Garbage in, garbage out.” It means that the results of one’s work depend upon the quality of data that goes into it. This phrase also applies to geospatial science. Understanding geospatial data will ensure that a project, analysis, or procedure will result in producing quality work. This Chapter covers the concepts, structure, data types, file types, and management of geospatial data.
Maps are a medium for communication with a unique set of methods and techniques. Understanding how maps communicate will allow one to view maps in a new light and with a critical eye. One begins by learning the essential map elements and the visual variables of graphic communication. Chapter 2 presents the fundamental principles of cartographic design and communication.
Chapter 3 presents the discipline at the root of geospatial science, geodesy. Geodesy is a branch of applied mathematics. It is the science of measuring and representing the size and shape of Earth, the exact position of points on the planet, and the study of Earth’s gravitational and magnetic fields as they change over time.
Determining a position on earth in a way that is meaningful to others is a difficult challenge. In part, the difficulty is due to the variations in map projections and datums used across the world, which can change longitude and latitude coordinates in different ways. It may seem like a small detail, yet boundary definitions and positional information can have significant legal, political, and military consequences. Chapter 4 presents how distance and location are defined and communicated using map scale and spatial reference systems.
Chapter 5 presents a series of methods and equipment for mapping data in the field. This chapter differs from others due to the hands-on nature of field collection that is difficult to translate into a digital textbook. The activities included in this chapter have far less focus on software and incorporate some outdoor activities that readers will have to perform.
Today, anyone with an internet connection and a web browser can view images from aircraft and space satellites. With imagery so commonplace and accessible, many might take it for granted. However, there are still new frontiers emerging in the collection, application, and processing of images. The scientific and educational potential of civilian-operated unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) is just one. Chapter 6 presents the phenomenon, concepts, equipment, and methods behind the science of Remote Sensing.
Too often, people conduct a geospatial analysis without consideration for uncertainty and error, map projections, and datums. More often, there is little regard for cartographic convention and communication design goals. A geospatial analysis should consider the properties of geospatial data before applying GIS software tools. Chapter 7 introduces the first steps in learning how to conduct a geospatial analysis. The topics presented within should help to prepare readers for more sophisticated uses of GIS.