Many other fields have visual/"spatial" problems that can potentially be solved with GIS tools. I know I've used GIS tools for the odd non-geographical task and was wondering how much this happens and if anyone had any good examples of where this has been done.

A example of the kind of thing I'm interested in:

Using geographical information techniques to quantify the spatial structure of endolithic boring processes within sediment grains of marine stromatolites [PDF]

To sumarise the methodology:

A microscope was used to take images of cuttings from Stromatolite's (a type of rock). These images were exported as BMP's and then Erdas Imagine used for a supervised classification. The classifications were exported into ArcView 3.x, cleaned up and suitable classifications converted to polygons. Then they did some spatial selections and some density mapping.

A figure from the paper: enter image description here

As you can see, I'm seeking problems that use non-geographical data but still have a spatial element. The GIS aspect can be anything: cartography, visualisation, analysis, etc.

Scientific papers/studies are of particular interest, but not mandatory.

  • 1
    I don't have any references to papers, but the PDF Liberation project has used spatial databases to analyze and extract data from complex government documents.
    – scruss
    Jan 5, 2015 at 12:43
  • 2
    Does architecture count? We had a client use our software to model the Louvre. Jan 5, 2015 at 14:43
  • We've had people ask about non-geographic uses at the Esri UC a few times. One was for mapping surface temperatures on a...seal? A marine mammal anyway.
    – mkennedy
    Jan 5, 2015 at 16:53

3 Answers 3


Very interesting question! Found a couple more examples and included a brief quote and their citation (quite fun to see how GIS software can be used in completely nongeographical applications):


    "...original specimens of Recent teeth can often be optically sectioned in reflective light mode. High-resolution digital elevation models (DEMs) of tooth crowns are produced from the image stacks using the 3Dview version of the NIH-Image software (MacOS). Digital elevation models can be transferred to Geographic Information System (GIS) software as well as interpreted by surface rendering computer programs."


    (Jernvall, J., Selänne, L., 1999. Laser confocal microscopy and geographic information systems in the study of dental morphology. Palaeontologia Electronica 2, 18 pages.)

  • New Tool for CSI? Geographic Software Maps Distinctive Features inside Bones

    "This is the first time anyone has used GIS software to map bone microstructure.

    ...allows us to visualize, analyze, and compare the distribution of microscopic features that reflect the development and maintenance of bones, which we can relate to skeletal health and disease – for example, bone fragility in osteoporosis."


    (The Ohio State University - Research and Innovation Communications, 2012)

  • Microbial Ecology of Aerial Plant Surfaces

    "To focus on spatial (specifically veinal) relationships between the fungal cells and the plant surface, we use site-specific mapping of the leaf landscape facilitated by Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software."

    (Mark J. Bailey. Microbial Ecology of Aerial Plant Surfaces. CABI, 1 Jan 2006 - Science - 315 pages.)

  • Thanks for the excellent answer, that's just the kind of thing I was looking for! The really interesting thing is that this seemingly sporadic cross-domain use seems to have been going on for years, but I've never heard any mention of it before. Jan 5, 2015 at 16:01
  • Most welcome buddy! You're right about using GIS software in other applications being very quiet (almost secretive). But it's great to see how other disciplines can use each others dedicated softwares and still obtain comprehensive results! Hope this becomes more common as GIS software is very much focused on spatial analysis (even if it can be used for microscopic distances).
    – Joseph
    Jan 5, 2015 at 16:11
  • 1
    @Joseph An interesting answer. It just goes to show that what we consider to be the unique field of GIS, many other researchers simply consider to be the combination of the fields of computational geometry and computer vision and graphics. Jan 19, 2015 at 17:11

There are other applications in processing microscope images like the one from your example. A well known geospatial image processing software called eCognition was developed originally by Definiens - a company who does a lot of image processing in the medical and life science domain. See this older press release:


You might find examples for applications in medical science on the company website.

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