What is GIScience and the UCGIS?

The University Consortium for Geographic Information Science (UCGIS) is a nonprofit organization of universities and scientific organizations dedicated to expanding and strengthening geographic information science education and research through improved theory, methods, technology, and data. UCGIS members institutions achieve this through research in basic and applied science, training of future GIS scholars and professionals, and outreach to communities who either use or have a need for geographic information in all its forms. Member institutions are selected by depth of experience in research and commitment to GIS education.

Geographic information science (GIScience or GISci) includes the existing technologies and research areas of geographic information systems (GIS), cartography, remote sensing, photogrammetry, and surveying (also termed geomatics in the U.S.). GIScience therefore addresses fundamental issues in the use of digital technology to handle geographic information; namely, information about places, activities, and phenomena on and near the surface of the Earth that are stored in maps or images.

GIScience includes questions of data structures, analysis, accuracy, meaning, cognition, visualization, and many more, and thus overlaps with the domains of many traditional disciplines (e.g., earth science, mathematics, computer science, physics, cognitive science, and ethics). However, GIScience is not central to any of these, representing instead a new kind of scientific collaborative that is defined by researchers from many distinct backgrounds working together on particular sets of interrelated problems.

Why is There a Compelling Need to Advance Geographic Information Science?

Use of geospatial technologies has become pervasive throughout business, government, industry, and the scientific community. Even small advancements in geographic information science are having broad effects in improving day-to-day tasks throughout all sectors of society.

The tools and techniques of geographic information science are allowing us to:

  • navigate automobiles and emergency vehicles along optimal routes through busy cities
  • inventory and manage the physical facilities of utilities and city governments
  • explore new ways to visualize the human genome
  • carry out detailed epidemiological studies of diseases
  • track and model the spread of pollutants or destructive biological agents
  • provide detailed lanning for efficient and environmentally sound land development
  • select optimal sites for businesses and other facilities
  • map the migrations and territories of endangered animal and plant species
  • profile and target consumer preferences
  • guide airplanes as they progress along their routes
  • track depletion and recovery patters of fisheries, forests, soil erosion, and ozone
  • and a host of similar analysis, monitoring, design, maintenance, inventorying, routing, resource allocation, mapping, and management tasks.

Lack of knowledge advancements in geographic information science has become a critical impediment to the effective application of information system capabilities throughout all of these important social domains. Geographic information science applies the concepts of information systems science, geography, geodesy, cognitive science, mathematics, physics, computer science, psychology, ethics, and related sciences to design tools and techniques for analyzing, displaying, visualizing, and communicating information about places, events, activities, and phenomena on or near the surface of the Earth.

Oregon State University played a pivotal role in the formation of the Consortium as a founding member in December 1994. Over 40 faculty and permanent staff members at Oregon State, from over 30 academic departments, schools, or research labs have demonstrated expertise in geographic information science.

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