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GPS and GIS Technology

Global Positioning Systems or GPS are used to find the exact location of things. Geographic Information Systems or GIS are used to record information on to maps. Both GPS and GIS are useful in managing land in the high country.

Who has heard of GPS?

GPS Stands for Global Positioning Systems and they are now used all over the world. A GPS unit is a receiver that picks up signals from satellites.

Global Positioning System satellites transmit signals to GPS receivers on the ground. Receivers need a clear view of the sky, so they are only used outdoors and do not work well in forests or near tall buildings.

The satellites transmit the exact time the signals are sent. By subtracting the time the signal was transmitted from the time it was received, the GPS can tell how far it is from each satellite. The GPS receiver also knows the exact position in the sky of the satellites, at the moment they sent their signals.

Watch this Youtube video to find out more about how GPS works.

Uses of GPS

GPS has many uses, for example;

  • Setting time - automatically updating cell phone times when daylight saving begins and ends
  • Disaster relief and emergency services: Depend upon GPS for location
  • Tracking a vehicle, person, a pet which has been chipped, or aircraft
  • Bus stops: to show how long the bus will take to arrive at a bus stop
  • Navigation: for example Navman the device, uses voice activation to describe a route based on the position of the receiver, the position of the destination and a street map
  • Personal Locator Beacons (PLB): used to tell search and rescue experts where someone is
  • Recreation: eg tramping, climbing, diving, sailing
  • Surveying: Surveyors use GPS locations to make maps and work out property boundaries
  • Tectonics: the movement of faults during earthquakes can be measured

How do you think GPS is used in the high country?

What is GIS

Maps have come a long way since people first began drawings to show where they were. Modern maps are made using special software that combines lots of different sorts of information. This system of modern mapping is called GIS – Geographic Information Systems. GIS is used by groups such as city councils, that need access to data and need to be able to combine different data sets together. GIS gives people a picture of data that allows them to:

  • problem solve
  • write reports
  • track changes
  • make decisions
  • plan for the future eg which areas of the high country have completed tenure review

GIS requires four things:

  1. People: people who are trained in GIS
  2. Data: geospatial information (where things are located) is entered into the GIS software
  3. Software: GIS software analyses data and presents it in different ways for the user
  4. Hardware: includes hand held devices for collecting data and computers with GIS software

Data contained in a GIS system is stored in sets of data called ‘data sets’ in a database. Data sets can be selected, combined and presented as layers:

GIS layers

Nic Donnelly from LINZ shows the GPS equipment used for finding exact locations during surveying work. Image: LEARNZ.


GPS devices are useful for activities such as tramping and climbing where it is important to know where you are. Image: LINZ.


Car navigation systems use GPS to give directions. What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a Car navigation system? Image: LINZ.


The Mackenzie District Council uses a GIS map to record different layers of information. Why might this be useful? Image: Mackenzie District Council Online Map Viewer.

If you were wanting to develop a piece of land in the high country how would you use GPS and GIS to make this easier?