I realize this is a sort of a subjective question, but I've seen other subjective questions on the site, so I thought it I'd put it out there. A colleague recently had a request for "geospatial data" with a grant that they were submitting, and were confused by exactly what was being asked for. My explanation was that they were asking for any GIS data related to the project area. My explanation seemed to work, but I wanted to put it to the community at large for a more defined definition.

How would you define "geospatial data" to a non-GIS professional?

3 Answers 3


Geospatial, geographic and spatial are used interchangeably to mean data with a spatial component, probably on the surface of the earth. The reasoning behind the portmanteau geospatial is that spatial alone is too generic: any three dimensional space qualifies, and geographic is too specific: you could use the same methods for manipulating martian data. Geospatial was born as a compromise.

In this case, it means any data which has an explicitly geographic component, ranging from vector and raster data to tabular data with site locations.


I usually say "Information that has position - perhaps an address, perhaps coordinates like you would get from a GPS"

It's not exact nor is it complete but I find it's usually all a non-professional can handle before they stop listening to you.

The explanation usually gets them to ask a question too, which helps with understanding. If they ask how an address can be a position then you can expound on things a bit. I usually try to point out that because we've included 'address', almost all data can be related to an address and therefore almost all data qualifies as geospatial in some way.

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    almost right :) It is "information that knows where it is on Earth...". As worded right now it also includes CAD data, which is spatial but not geo-spatial. Aug 4, 2010 at 20:56
  • @matt, it doesn't have to be on Earth, it could be on the Moon or Mars too :) Aug 5, 2010 at 1:24
  • That fine a distinction is lost on most people, in my opinion. Also, even CAD data with a local reference is a lot closer to 'Information that has position' than, say, the contents of your dictionary.
    – dmbrubac
    Aug 5, 2010 at 1:28

Geospatial data is data that includes location as one of its attributes.

Not necessarily on the surface of the earth (could be above, as in weather, or below, as in ground water)

a simple list of counties and their estimated populations is NOT geospatial data, unless it includes the location of each county. E. g., if it includes the state and country the county is in, then it would be geospatial.

CAD data isn't always, but can be geospatial, if it includes the proper coordinate system/projection.

  • Sorry - I intended that the counties/populations list would be implicitly located within a state and country. Heh - you can tell I'm in local gov't. Aug 5, 2010 at 0:41
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    What I would say is, if it includes enough information for someone to find its location in 3 dimensional space, then it's geospatial data. Specific coordinates (as in GIS data) are not necessarily required. Some might disagree with that, but that's my view.
    – Don Meltz
    Aug 5, 2010 at 2:09

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