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Analyzing, interpreting and mapping satellite images involve complex
technologies, like the GIS - Geographic Information System. A GIS
is a computer system capable of capturing, storing, analyzing, and
displaying geographically referenced information. The GIS technology
can be used for scientific investigations, resource management, and
development planning.

One of the most common products of a GIS is a satellite image map.
Maps are generally easy to make using a GIS and they are often
the most effective means of communicating the results of the GIS
process. As the scientific community recognizes the environmental
consequences of human activity, GIS technology is becoming an
essential tool in the effort to understand the process of global
change. Satellite map and satellite information sources can be
combined in models that simulate the interactions of complex
natural systems.

GIS works by relating information from different sources in a spatial
context and to reach a conclusion about this relationship. Most of the
information we have about our world contains a location reference,
placing that information at some point on the globe. A GIS can convert
existing digital information, which may not yet be in map form, into
forms it can recognize and use. For example, digital satellite images
can be analyzed to produce a map of digital information. If the data
to be used are not already in digital form - that is in a form the
computer can recognize, various techniques have been developed to
capture the information. Maps can be digitized by hand-tracing with a
computer mouse on the screen, or on a digitizing tablet that collects
the coordinates of features.

The GIS can also be used to emphasize the spatial relationships
among the objects being mapped. While a computer-aided mapping
system may represent a road simply as a line, a GIS may go further
and recognize the same road as the boundary between wetland and
urban development, between two census statistical areas.

Data capture, which means putting the information into the system,
involves the identification of the objects on the map, their absolute
location on the Earth's surface, and their spatial relationships.
Software tools that automatically extract features from satellite
images or aerial photographs are gradually replacing what has
traditionally been a time-consuming capture process.

The GIS can use combinations of mapped variables, to build and
analyze new variables. But can a land use map be related to a satellite
image? The answer is yes. Although digital data are collected and
stored in different ways, which can produce incompatibility, the GIS
is able to convert data from one structure to another. Satellite image
data that have been interpreted by a computer to produce a land use
map can be "read into" the GIS in raster format. Raster files can be
manipulated quickly by the computer, but they are often less detailed
and may be less visually appealing than vector data files, which can
approximate the appearance of more traditional hand-drafted maps.

Data restructuring can be performed by a GIS to convert data between
different formats. For example, a GIS can be used to convert a satellite
image map to a vector structure by generating lines around all cells
with the same classification, while determining the spatial relationships
of the cell. This is a critical component of a GIS, meaning its ability to
produce graphics on the screen or on paper to convey the results of
analyses to the people who make decisions about resources.
Standardization helps to stretch data collection funds further by allowing
data sharing, and, in many cases, gives users access to data that they
could not otherwise collect for economic or technical reasons.

Together with cartography, remote sensing, global positioning systems,
photogrammetry, and geography, the GIS has evolved into a discipline
with its own research base known as geographic information sciences.
These developments will lead to a much wider application of the
technology throughout government, business, and industry.

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