2003 Recipient - Roger F. Tomlinson
A Geographic Visionary
ROGER TOMLINSON was a freshly minted geographer in his twenties when he came up with a concept
that would revolutionize his field. It was the early 1960s, and he was working at an aerial
surveying and mapping company in Ottawa, involved in a project to find a site for a pulp and
paper mill in Kenya. The job required manual analysis of reams of maps at different scales,
a time-consuming and expensive endeavour. After he was told twice to sharpen his pencil on
cost estimates for the project, Tomlinson thought that if there were a way of entering maps
into a computer, it might crunch the information more effectively and cheaply. Soon after,
he began developing the world’s first geographic information system (GIS).
|Photo: Colin Rowe|
GIS is a computer system for integrating, analyzing and displaying data about Earth from
maps, charts or related statistics. The technology is used all over the world for national
defence, pollution monitoring, policing, school-bus routing and forestry management, among
countless other applications. For
his singular vision and achievement in the field of geography, Tomlinson has been awarded
the RCGS Gold Medal.
The widespread use of GIS shows that "geography is becoming a vital component of just
about every job you can think of," says Tomlinson, who likens the impact of GIS on geography
to that of the microscope on biology. "We’ve got a tool that allows us to describe the
world with much greater facility than we ever have before. And, by definition, that’s going
to change what we understand about it."
— Monique Roy-Sole