Two Disciplines With Different Roots: Geomatics and GIS
In the world of geography, two disciplines are often mistaken as the same one. These two fields are Geomatics and Geographic Information Systems.
They share a lot of resemblances. But they’re different.
Universities treat Geomatics and GIS as two separate curriculums. But what makes them different?
We outline some of the key differences between Geomatics and GIS below:
The First Usage of Geomatics and GIS
Where did the terms Geomatics and GIS originate?
In order to get a better understanding of the terms, you have to look at the origins of the definitions.
What were the intentions of both terms origins?
Both the origins are Canadian but had completely different intents on their definitions of Geomatics and GIS.
Let’s take a look at Roger Tomlinson’s and Michel Paradis’ view of their definitions.
Roger Tomlinson’s GIS
In the early 1960s, Dr. Roger Tomlinson, the father of GIS, developed of the world’s first true operational GIS in as part of the Canada Geographic Information System (CGIS). The Canada Land Inventory (CLI) helped determine land capability for rural Canada by mapping data related to soils, agriculture, forestry and land use.
Roger Tomlinson first used the term “Geographic Information System” in his paper “A Geographic Information System for Regional Planning”.
It was during Roger Tomlinson’s tenure with the Canadian government in the 1960s when he initiated the development of the Canadian Geographic System (CGIS).
Canada is the second largest country in the world. Because of its sheer size, paper maps and analysis was cumbersome and inaccurate. This is why the idea for a computerized Canadian Land Inventory (CLI) was developed in 1964. But it wasn’t until 1971 that it became fully operational.
What was the purpose of the CLI?
The CLI managed soil, drainage and climate characteristics on the Canadian landscape. Because the CLI data was used to determine land capability for crop types and forested areas, it became a key decision-making tool for land use in Canada.
Many consider CGIS as the roots of Geographic Information Systems. CGIS was unique because it adopted a layer approach system to map handling. Since this period of time, GIS has evolved into a computer-based tool for storing and manipulating map-based land data.
Michel Paradis’ Geomatics
Michel Paradis was a photogrammetrist working for the Ministry of Natural Resources in the Quebec Provincial Government.
He is credited for creating the term “Geomatics” or “Geomatique” in French in the mid-1980s. The idea of Geomatics was derived from his keynote paper at the 100th anniversary symposium of the Canadian Institute of Surveying (which became the Canadian Institute of Geomatics).
What was the idea of Geomatics that Michel Paradis wanted to convey?
The term Geomatics that Paradis wanted to convey was to encompass how modern technology data acquisition was becoming commonly involved in disciplines such as surveying, photogrammetry, geodesy and hydrography. It was meant to be a broad term to encompass every method and tool from data acquisition to distribution.
In 1986, the Laval Surveying Department in Quebec, Canada developed the first academic program in geomatics in the world, replacing its current surveying program.
The Field of Study: Geomatics
Geomatics is a scientific term for gathering, storing, processing, and delivering geographic information. Geomatics is an umbrella term for every method and tool from data acquisition to distribution. It focuses on mathematics, computers and Earth science.
If you were to look at a university curriculum for Geomatics (or Geomatics Engineer) you’d see subjects like land surveying, geodesy, remote sensing, photogrammetry and other scientific studies.
This doesn’t mean GIS analysts don’t work with remote sensing or survey data because they often do.
The focus of Geomatics is based on products, services and tools involved in the collection, integration and management of geographic data.
The Field of Study: Geographic Information Systems
Not to be confused with Geographic Information Science (GISci), GIS is a very powerful tool that essentially does four things:
- Collects geographic data
- Stores and edits it
- Analyzes it
- Visualizes geography on a map
GIS puts data collection, storage, analysis and visualization into action.
Take any real world problem with a geographic nature – climate change, pipeline networking, environmental monitoring – GIS is your most efficient, effective and cost saving tool at providing a solution to data management, analysis and visualization of this problem.
GIS isn’t just mapping software.
It’s geography in action.
It’s about finding solutions to real world issues geographic in nature.
A GIS curriculum usually comprises of subjects like database management systems, programming, remote sensing, cartography and geostatistics.
Different Concepts. Different Roots.
GIS emerged as a tool to respond to land planning and decision making. Roger Tomlinson recognized the importance of accurate and relevant data by creating the Canadian Land Inventory and the first GIS.
While Geomatics is a subject describing every method and tool for geographic data acquisition. From photogrammetry to land surveying, Geomatics is a scientific term in response to the modern data acquisition techniques in these fields.
However, these are the roots of the definitions of Geomatics and GIS. Often, definitions can evolve and encompass latest technological development.
What do these fields share in common?
They are both in their youth stage. The term Geomatics was introduced in 1981 and GIS in 1968.
… And both are progressing exponentially with new, exciting developments.
Chapter accepted for publication in the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Geographic Information Science. SAGE Publisher. Karen Kemp editor. 2007