What is a geographic information system?

GIS is a computer system that captures, stores, checks, and displays information related to positions on Earth’s surface.

sea level rise viewer from NOAA Digital Coast showing Charleston, SC

The ability to link maps digitally to information enables us to visualize and understand patterns and relationships around us. Geographic information systems, or GIS, provides this link. GIS is a computer system that captures, stores, checks, and displays information related to positions on Earth’s surface. It helps analysts and scientists study climate change, sea level rise, land use planning, business, and even our nation’s defense.

You may be surprised to learn how much geography matters in our everyday lives. The ability to link maps digitally to information enables us to visualize and understand patterns and relationships around us. Geographic information systems, or GIS, provides this link.

GIS describes a wide variety of computer-aided tools and services that capture, store, check, and display information related to positions on Earth’s surface. You probably use GIS every day without realizing it. When you use a smartphone to get directions or to find the closest restaurant to your location, you're tapping into the power of GIS. Here at NOAA, GIS is used to map oil spill trajectories, plot the paths of historic hurricanes, view and analyze nautical charts, and understand trends in areas such as sea level change and coastal socioeconomics. Analysts and scientists also use GIS for land use planning, business applications, scientific research, and even as a tool to aid in our nation’s defense. Explore some of the GIS-related products and services NOAA provides to:

Did you know?

Each year, we celebrate GIS Day in November as part of Geography Awareness Week. GIS Day started in 1999 as an educational event for GIS users to showcase their projects that have real-world applications. Opening their doors to schools, businesses, and the public, GIS users and vendors demonstrate the benefits of GIS and how it makes a difference in our society. Today, GIS Day is recognized globally with events occurring in dozens of countries.

More Information

Search Our facts
Get Social
Last updated:
02/26/21

Author: NOAA

How to cite this article

Contact Us