BOX 1.1

Definition of Geographic Information Science

The individual who coined the term GIScience defined it as “a multidisciplinary research enterprise that addresses the nature of geographic information and the application of geospatial technologies to basic scientific questions” (Goodchild, 1992).

CEGIS staff recently identified the reach of GIScience as including “the traditional mapping disciplines of surveying, aerial photographic interpretation, photogrammetry, remote sensing, and cartography. It also encompasses a broader scope of issues related to the modeling and representation of geographic phenomena, data, and processes; human cognition of geographic information; the analysis, depiction, and use of uncertainty information; spatial analysis and modeling, including geographic information systems (GIS); scale sensitivities; geographic ontologies; visualization; and other similar topics” (CEGIS, 2006). GIScience relies on expertise from many allied fields and has intimate ties to geospatial technology and applications.

As stated earlier, the starting point for planning CEGIS’s GIScience research activities is a study by McMahon et al. (2005) that describes a science strategy for geographic research, including GIScience, at USGS between 2005 and 2015. The recommendations of the McMahon report were, in fact, quite broad and include the needs of the other USGS disciplines. Furthermore, many of the authors, including McMahon, were from disciplines within USGS other than geography, or were from outside of the USGS. The McMahon report recommended that USGS establish CEGIS to lead USGS GIScience research (for details on the McMahon report’s ideas for CEGIS, see Appendix C). Proposed areas of focus within CEGIS are drawn from goals 8, 9, and 5 in McMahon et al. (2005), namely:

  • Provide timely, efficient, and intelligent access to new and archived USGS geographic data needed to conduct science and support policy decisions (Goal 8).

  • Develop innovative methods of modeling and information synthesis, fusion, and visualization to improve our ability to explore geographic data and create new knowledge (Goal 9).

  • Develop credible and accessible geographic research, tools, and methods to support decision making related to the human and environmental consequences of land change (Goal 5).

While the call to action in the McMahon report is the primary reason that CEGIS is being established now, the agency feels a need to retain key talent with a critical mass of researchers for which a center of excellence would be helpful (Steve Guptill, USGS, personal communication, 2006). The McMahon report suggests that such a center would build, nurture, and maintain a core of GIScience researchers and provide a focal point and sense of identity for these

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