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Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

What is GIS?

GIS is a collection of computer-based tools for organizing information from a variety of data sources to map and examine changes on Earth. It is designed to capture, store, manage, analyze, and visualize all types of geographical data, and allow for the integration and collective analysis of geospatial data from multiple sources, including satellite imagery, GPS recordings, and textual attributes associated with a particular space.

GIS technology integrates common database operations such as query and statistical analysis, with maps. GIS manages location-based information and provides tools for display and analysis of various statistics, including population characteristics, economic development opportunities, and vegetation types. GIS allows you to link databases with maps to create dynamic displays. Remote sensing, the art and science of making measurements of the Earth using airborne- or satellite-based sensors, is used in GIS. Remotely sensed data, integrated within a GIS, can be visualized to obtain information about the data; and a GIS provides specialized capabilities for manipulating and analyzing those images.


There is a rapidly growing effort within the Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) to support the use of NASA’s Earth science data within GIS tools. GIS provides end-to-end capabilities for managing NASA Earth science data from various sources—satellites, aircraft, field measurements, and other programs.

The Earth Science Data Systems (ESDS) GIS Team (EGIST) was created to enable the appropriate use and adoption of GIS technology in support of Earth science research and applied science for EOSDIS data. EOSDIS maintains a wiki with information such as best practices, inventories, and data transformation. To learn more, go to EOSDIS GIS.

Do you use GIS to access and use NASA data? If so, we’d love to hear from you. Send us an email. and provide your thoughts and feedback.

How NASA Data Are Used in GIS Research and Applications

GIS software is designed to capture, manage, analyze, and visualize all forms of geographically referenced information. It reveals relationships, patterns, and trends in the data and integrates with other visualization platforms and non-scientific data formats. GIS can also be configured to make data more easily discoverable, accessible and usable via web data services, and provides the ability to quickly deploy powerful raster and vector analytical capabilities via maps and applications. NASA Earth science data are useful for a wide range of GIS research and applications in the areas of climate, atmosphere, hydrology, weather, and agriculture.

Examples of GIS research and application:

  • Application for Extracting and Exploring Analysis Ready Samples (AppEEARS)—Located at NASA's Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center (LP DAAC), AppEEARS offers users a simple and efficient way to perform data access, extraction, and transformation processes, greatly reducing the volume of data downloaded by enabling users to subset data spatially, temporally, and by layer.
  • Dizzy the Disdrometer—An interactive story map from NASA's Global Hydrometeorology Resource Center DAAC (GHRC DAAC) to learn about the disdrometer instrument, the Global Precipitation Monitoring (GPM) Ground Validation (GV) project, and where to find the data used during the field campaigns.
  • Gridded Population of the World, Version 3 (GPWv3)—The Population Estimation Service, provided by NASA's Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC), is a web-based service for estimating population totals and related statistics within a user-defined region, enabling users of a wide variety of map clients and tools to quickly obtain estimates of the number of people residing in specific areas without having to download and analyze large amounts of spatial data.
  • Prediction Of Worldwide Energy Resource (POWER)—Located at NASA's Langley Research Center, POWER was initiated to improve upon the current renewable energy dataset and to create new datasets from new satellite systems. POWER targets three user communities focused on Renewable Energy, Sustainable Buildings, and Agroclimatology.
  • State of the Ocean (SOTO)—SOTO is an interactive, web-based visualization tool from NASA's Physical Oceanography DAAC (PO.DAAC) that provides access to a broad range of satellite-derived products and key parameters to the oceanographic community. SOTO allows the user to generate informative maps, animations, and plots as well as research through exploration and comparative analysis of physical oceanographic data.

Access NASA Earth Science Data

With the advancements in geographic technologies, the DAACs and Applied Sciences are organically moving towards a collaborative effort to streamline and leverage best practices in order to geospatially enable and deliver their mission-specific datasets directly to users in the government, academia and public sectors.

Find Data

Read more about Getting Started with Earthdata to learn about the types of data available in Earthdata Search and how to use it.

Using NASA's Global Imagery Browse Services (GIBS) Layers with GIS

Learn more about how to integrate GIBS layers to ArcGIS Online and other programs via Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Web Map Tile Service (WMTS) and Tiled Web Map Service (TWMS) protocols.

Select a Tool

ArcGIS was the most popular software tool listed in the most recent American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) survey report (used by 64% of respondents). Quantum GIS (42% of respondents) and ENVI (32% of respondents) were also listed as popular software tools. Many users are creating their own tools to work with GIS data; 63% of respondents reported Python as their preferred programming language.

Use Data

Tutorials or step-by-step instructions for accessing and using NASA Earth science data:

GIS Resources at EOSDIS DAACs

  • Sea Ice Index—Located at NASA's NSIDC DAAC, the Sea Ice Index allows you to access the archived monthly and daily Sea Ice Index images and data, as well as the input data from which the Sea Ice Index is derived for Arctic- and Antarctic-wide changes in sea ice.
  • Socioeconomic and Earth science data—NASA's SEDAC provides over 240 datasets within multiple themes and years that are available across a number of raster, vector, tabular, and file geodatabase formats.
  • Spatial Data Access Tool (SDAT)—Located at NASA's Oak Ridge National Laboratory DAAC (ORNL DAAC), SDAT provides access to various geospatial data across broad themes (including agriculture, atmosphere, biosphere, land surface, human dimensions, oceans, and more) for visualization and download through Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) standards-based web services, including Web Map Service (WMS) v1.1.1 and Web Coverage Service (WCS) v1.0.0.
  • MODIS Web Map Service (WMS)—NASA's LP DAAC provides a subset of data products from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) collection available as WMS map layers, which can be requested and visualized, via HTTP, in an internet browser or in a program that connects to, and consumes, layers available on a WMS server.

GIS Webinars

Earthdata provides a series of webinars to help learn how to use NASA data in a GIS:

EGIST webinars provide an overview of technology and resources available to NASA (including the Esri Enterprise License Agreement), implementation of tools across the enterprise, and how to increase discovery and use of data through online services and platforms:

NASA's Applied Sciences Remote Sensing Training (ARSET) program provides training on the use of NASA data for applications research:

Page Last Updated: Apr 19, 2021 at 1:17 PM EDT