Getting to understand what exactly GIS really is!

We recently sat down with Chris Carter, Director of Technologies at GeoAfrika, to ask him some questions about what GIS really is and unpack some of the acronyms and terminology of GeoAfrika Technology services.

Lets start off with understanding what GIS is in ‘basic terms’

GIS is a computer-based system that enables the capture, creation, storage, management, analysis and display of all data types, related to that data’s position on the earth’s surface. GIS supports the integration of location data (where things are) and descriptive information (the nature of anything at that location). GIS supports complex data models in both 2 and 3 dimensions to represent data for mapping and analysis in almost all areas of science and industry. A common example of GIS is smartphone or motor vehicle navigation applications.


Chris, can you explain what it can do and how it can help you, perhaps giving some examples?

GIS provides the ability to display many kinds of data, based on location, thereby supporting visualisation and analysis of patterns and relationships of different kinds of data. The application of GIS is extensive and can be used to identify problems, monitor change, manage and respond to events, perform forecasting, set priorities and understand trends.

Common uses of GIS include: inventory and management of resources, crime mapping, establishing and monitoring routes, managing networks, monitoring and managing vehicles, managing properties, locating and targeting customers, managing agricultural crop data, mapping wildfire risk, modelling hazmat risk and mapping and modelling public health issues.

So what are the benefits of GIS?

  • Cost savings resulting from greater efficiency.
  • Better decision making.
  • Improved communication and information sharing.
  • Better geographic information record keeping.
  • Spatially enabled management.

Please can you share a project example of something you have worked on and experienced using GIS?

An example of the application of GIS is in the Validation and Verification of Water Use on agricultural properties that was done by GeoAfrika Technologies for the South African National Department of Water and Sanitation as well as its Catchment Management Agencies. This involves the integration of aerial and satellite derived data (crop extents, water storage, forestry extents, feedlots, crop tunnels etc.) with property boundaries to model the extent of water use on each property. This supports the analysis of actual water use, using sophisticated modelling of water usage by actual planted crop type and accurate areas, against any legal entitlements to water use on a property-by-property basis. Aggregated, these information provides vital understanding regarding local and regional water usage and stresses for catchment management purposes.

Utilising GIS and historical aerial and satellite data allows the same analyses to be carried out at specific time periods, that can have a bearing on water use entitlements, as per the Water Act of 1956 and the National Water Act of 1998. Maintenance of the derived data can be easily and cost-effectively held in a GIS environment and updated periodically to support the detection of illegal expansion of water use, to check adherence to water use license conditions or to provide inputs to catchment management plans and strategies. The GIS and water use modelling data can also be applied to detect water users that are applying irrigation water inefficiently in order to engage with them to apply better irrigation practices.

The use of GIS software and data, with aerial and satellite data, is critical in the South African context as most agricultural water use is not metered or measured on site. GIS and the processes described provide a cost-effective tool for large scale management of this vital resource.

I hope this has helped a little in explaining more about what GIS is, and thanks to Chris for giving us your time and educating others!

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About the Author: Juliette Rowlett

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