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What is the difference between relational and spatial data?What special properties do spatial data have that require specialized techniques for spatial data analysis and modeling? Are you using spati

What is the difference between relational and spatial data?

What special properties do spatial data have that require specialized techniques for spatial data analysis and modeling? 

Are you using spatial data for anything now?

What are some of the special techniques used for spatial data? 


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In a relational database the data is stored and tabulated in an organized format of a series of data columns and rows, with the columns (attributes) containing well-defined field data, while the rows (tuples) contain the individual records.  The relational aspects of these databases are contained within the attributes, and each record has a unique attribute called a primary key, which distinguishes that record from the others (Galati, 2006). 

Spatial is the term which refers to anything which is located within a space which has physical and measurable dimensions, and spatial analysis is a type of geographical analysis of these items using mathematics and geometry.  Spatial data, also known as geospatial data, is the information about the physical object represented by numerical value in geographic information systems (GIS).  GIS systems are designed to system designed to acquire, record, store, analyze, manage and manipulate spatial or geographic data (Galati, 2006). 

Although this sounds similar to a relational database, because of the characteristics of the spatial type of data, a programmer or developer can query the database based on location rather than straight numbers or text.  An example of the differences between the two systems:

In relational databases, data of different types (numeric, text, and images) is stored, and when needed, the program queries (fetches) the data to answer a question, such as “How many people made purchases in the store on Friday?” In a GIS spatial database, the questions would be along the lines of “Where is the closest store?” or “Is the store located within the city of Miami?” with the answers showing geographical elements. The features of spatial data allow the programs and databases to be more robust and dynamic (Tjukanov, 2018). 

There are numerous uses for spatial data and GIS, with benefits including allowing law enforcement agencies to do crime mapping of individual neighborhoods, allowing fire department personnel to map areas of concern for wildfires, and allowing first responders to determine the fastest routes for quicker response times.  Spatial data allows meteorologists to track bad weather storms and to determine which areas could receive the heaviest damage from flooding or wind, and allows scientists to track the movements of people, animals, insects and reptiles.  Spatial data allows governmental officials to perform different functions in municipalities, from determining water and sewer infrastructure needs to resolving which areas or communities require different resources (Galati, 2006).    


Lance, M. (2016). "Commercial Spatial Database Management Systems include IBM DB2's Spatial Extender [42], Oracle's Spatial and Oracle Locator [66], and Microsoft's SQL Server 2008 [58]". An Efficient Query System for High-dimensional Spatio-temporal Data, 23-31.

Scott, A. (2015). "Relational Databases 101: Looking at the Whole Picture". 16-19. Retrieved August 19, 2018

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