What is Spatial Analysis?

Ultimately, geospatial analysis concerns what happens where, and makes use of geographic information that links features and phenomena on the Earth’s surface to their locations.

This sounds very simple and straightforward, and it is not so much the basic information as the structures and arguments that can be built on it that provide the richness of spatial analysis. In principle there is no limit to the complexity of spatial analytic techniques that might find some application in the world, and might be used to tease out interesting insights and support practical actions and decisions.

In reality, some techniques are simpler, more useful, or more insightful than others. Spatial analysis exists at the interface between the human and the computer, and both play important roles. The concepts that humans use to understand, navigate, and exploit the world around them are mirrored in the concepts of spatial analysis — the track of human intuition on the one hand, with all its vagueness and informality, and the track of the Layer Sampleformal, precise world of spatial analysis on the other.

The domain of geospatial analysis is the surface of the Earth, extending upwards in the analysis of topography and the atmosphere, and downwards in the analysis of groundwater and geology. In scale it extends from the most local, when archaeologists record the locations of pieces of pottery to the nearest centimeter or property boundaries are surveyed to the nearest millimeter, to the global, in the analysis of sea surface temperatures or global warming. In time it extends backwards from the present into the analysis of historical population migrations, the discovery of patterns in archaeological sites, or the detailed mapping of the movement of continents, and into the future in attempts to predict the tracks of hurricanes, the melting of the Greenland ice-cap, or the likely growth of urban areas. Methods of spatial analysis are robust and capable of operating over a range of spatial and temporal scales.

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