We all want to understand our environment — how it changes and how our actions impact it.
Spatial analysis, a common feature of GIS software, users that study the world around us can do just that.
What is spatial analysis?
Spatial analysis definition
Spatial data are the geographic locations of various physical features on Earth (lakes, mountains, rivers, etc.). This information is typically recorded in coordinates on a map. Spatial analysis involves studying the distances between various geographic points.
Spatial analysis determines the relationship between these two variables. This process helps to extract new information about these sets of coordinates. That way, routine examinations, assessments, evaluations, analyses and more can be performed. Those studying these coordinates allows professionals in the field to study the land in this area more efficiently.
The various types of geographic data are often placed on a digital map in layers. People conducting spatial analysis can study the map layer by layer to pull out specific information as needed. Computer processing helps users determine geographic suitability, predict patterns and understand climate change.
There are multiple types of spatial analysis. This includes:
Spatial autocorrelation — This type of spatial analysis concerns statistics that measure and analyze the degree of dependency of two coordinates in a geographic location
Spatial interpolation — This process estimates the variables at unobserved locations compared to values at observed locations
Spatial regression — This method captures spatial dependency and avoids statistical problems like unstable parameters and unreliable tests.
Spatial interaction — This studies the flow of people, material or information between locations in a given geographic space
Multiple-point geostatics — This process analyzes the spatial statistics of a geological model and generates realizations of the input point statistics
Who benefits from spatial analysis?
There are a variety of people who benefit from spatial analysis:
Urban planners develop procedures and programs for all the ways land can be used. They map communities, plan for growth, build facilities, smart cities, and more. Urban planners conduct spatial analyses to track environmental changes and account for how they might impact the community.
An environmental scientist’s responsibility is to assess the health of a geographic location. These individuals often work in the field conducting various tests on the land. Environmental scientists rely on spatial analysis to capture data that can help them predict climate change.
Law enforcement professionals utilize spatial analysis to track crime hot spots. Crime analysts utilize certain data from these analyses, such as census demographics, to better understand why crimes happen in certain areas. This data also helps agencies more effectively dispatch police officers during an emergency.
Public health professionals
Public health workers are focused on improving the health of residents in their community. These individuals study the quality of food and water, and track air pollution and disease prevention. Spatial analysis helps them track environmental risks, such as a contaminated water source.
Spatial analysis and GIS software
Spatial analyses are performed through geographic information systems (GIS). These tools capture, analyze and display spatial data to make a 2D or 3D map. GIS software helps businesses analyze real-world problems. GIS technology helps users understand patterns in geography and improve operations in specific locations. GIS products sometimes include visualization capabilities, so users can see their data as a map before it’s actually published.
Highly rated GIS programs
The following GIS tools can help you perform spatial analysis. We selected these tools because they’ve received the highest average G2 Crowd star ratings by our users.
G2 Crowd star rating: 4.5 out of 5.0 stars (147 reviews)
Overview: This Google product renders a 3D representation of Earth based on satellite images and other data. In addition to the typical GIS features, Google Earth Pro provides globes of the moon and Mars, along with a tool for viewing the night sky.
What users like:
“I love how easy it is to review and use spatial data and without having to deal with special file formats. It also requires very little training to become adept at using.”
— Google Earth Pro review by Shannon R.
What users dislike:
“If there is anything I dislike about Google Earth Pro is the fact that sometimes it gets 'glitchy' and zooms me into a pitch black screen sometimes when exiting street view. However, every software is bound to have some sort of glitch, and this is a small inconvenience compared to large benefits.”
— Google Earth Pro review by Andrew S.
Recommendations to others considering the product:
“I recommend that you use Google Earth Pro, which is a tool for designing and editing maps and photographs. It is an excellent professional application.” — Google Earth Pro review by Miguel P.
G2 Crowd star rating: 4.4 out of 5.0 stars (291 reviews)
Overview: Esri ArcGIS connects maps, apps, data and people so businesses can make smarter and better-informed decisions. Users can share maps from any device at any time.
Pricing: ArcGIS offers five pricing plans tailored to individuals in specific fields. However, before users purchase a plan, Esri offers a free 21-day trial.
What users dislike:
“Not really a dislike, but you should really use a desktop computer with some processing power to be able to use multiple tools on multiple maps — all at the same time.”
— Esri ArcGIS review by Stephen M.
Recommendations to others considering this product:
“This is the standard. I would only recommend something else if you have no money and must have a free GIS software suite. Otherwise, there shouldn't be any question.”
— Esri ArcGIS review by Cheyne H.
G2 Crowd star rating: 3.9 out of 5.0 stars (54 reviews)
Overview: This software allows GIS professionals take control of their project’s spatial analysis. MapInfo Pro is designed to show users the relationship between data and geography in a visual manner.
Pricing: MapInfo Pro is available in five editions at a variety of costs. Interested businesses can try a 30-day free trial before purchase.
What users like:
“I like MapInfo's unique format of saving all vector type data in a single file, which comes handy while working on typical water resource projects.”
— MapInfo Pro review by Prabhanjan A.
What users dislike:
“The worst thing is the undo button; you can only go back just one step back.”
— MapInfo Pro review by Vishnu K.
Recommendations for others using this product:
“Go for it. It is very handy and robust and very user-friendly. Model builds are quicker. The snap and auto trace are very easy to use”
— MapInfo Pro review by Supriya S.
More on spatial analysis
If you’re looking to conduct the most accurate spatial analysis possible, GIS software is the way to go. (If you’re hoping to learn a little more about the software in layman’s terms, take a look at this magical comparison to the Marauder’s Map from “Harry Potter.”) After selecting a new GIS software program, be sure to leave a review and tell your peers how it helped your business improve its spatial analyses.
*G2 Crowd star ratings as of January 8, 2019
**Reviews may have been edited for grammar and clarity