The concept of studying individual aspects of the earth – atmosphere, geosphere or biosphere – is changing as the focus shifts to the links between them. Today, research is gravitating towards integration and the new trend is to study the ‘earth science systems’ as a whole. Spatial data, which includes all maps that are being generated, is an integral part of any study related to the earth. Many linkages, which are inherent in numerical data, become obvious only when it is mapped and given a spatial dimension.
The detailed study of any phenomenon requires a thorough understanding of its constituent parts and the connections between them. For example, take a climatic region; within it, there will be several crops grown and for each crop area there will be a combination of factors (soil, water, fertility etc.), which affect the rate of production. If there is a change in any one factor, it will have a cascading affect not only on the other factors but also on the entire agricultural system. It is in the understanding of these linkages between different regions, areas and characteristics that the new frontiers of research lie.
Maps and by extension geographical information system (GIS) have become indispensable tools in current research studies since every phenomenon on earth has a spatial dimension. To meet the growing demand, an enormous amount of spatial data is being generated today. The challenge in the coming years will be to customise maps and other spatial information to suit the various users.