GeoComputation was suggested as a name for a conference on Computational Geography in 1996. The conference hosted at The University of Leeds was a great success and led to the set up of http://www.geocomputation.org/ . Two years prior to this first GeoComputation conference, The Centre for Computational Geography (CCG) was established as an interdisciplinary centre at The University of Leeds . The original intention of setting up the centre was to develop a new computational paradigm for doing human geography, though almost immediately, the human focus was de-emphasised and the focus of the centre became based on the development of geographical analysis methods and on the dissemination of geographical information.
Post conference in 1996 there were two terms GeoComputation and Computational Geography, and attempts were made to define them. In a way, GeoComputation has superseded the older term, but are they really the same thing, or is it worth distinguishing between them? One view is that GeoComputation is a broader subject that deals with other geo sciences and the more abstract art of geometry.
This web page is a node that attempts to define and pull some definitions of the various related disciplins.
Computational Geography, GeoComputation, GeoInformatics and Geographical Information Science massively overlap if they are not the same. It can be argued that each individual term has a slightly different focus and that some are broader in scope, but essentially they are all very similar.
Computation refers to a particular paradigm based on numerical approximation rather than analytical precision. It lends itself to the development and application of data driven inductive tools, simulation and the formation of rules and experiments to examine systems in an applied scientific framework of experiment and result replicability.
Geography is a shortened amalgamation of the Greek words geo and graphein. The meaning of geo is along the lines of the Earth (world), and graphein sort of translates to writing (describing). Practical (applied) geography goes beyond written description and involves the use of enabling technology and information to help generate understanding and explanation to help us solve problems. Essentially geography involves mapping and the study of phenomenon and processes that interact on planet Earth. As such the art and science of geography overlaps with a great many other subjects.
Geography can be subdivided by application, by spatial and temporal realm and by the approach and methods employed. Human Geography focuses more on socio-economic aspects, such as, cities and society; Physical Geography focuses on more environmental aspects and is only loosely coupled with socio-economics, subjects include, soils and landform; Regional Geography focuses on particular places; Quaternary Geography focuses on the quaternary era of Earth's history; Computational Geography focuses on the development and application of a computational approach.
So, Computational Geography may involve using computation as a substitute for missing knowledge or theory and involve simulations and experiments to help understand complex system dynamics and behaviours. The following are all statements that can be used to describe GeoComputation:
...test theory by simulation, create new theory by experimentation, obtain a view of the previously invisible, explore the previously unexplorable, and model the previously unmodellable, Openshaw (2000).
...the application of a computational science paradigm to study a wide range of problems in geographical and earth systems contexts, Openshaw (2000).
...is about finding new or better solutions to existing problems via a computational route. It is also about thinking about tackling new classes of problem that previously were unthinkable or insoluble, Openshaw (2000).
All the above statements can equally be applied to define GeoInformatics and Geographic(al) Information Science. It can be argued that GeoInformatics focusses on data and information assimilation and dissemination. How information is coded, addressed, accessed, moved and interfaced. Science is more focused on explaining phenomenon and processes.
GIS has been used as an acronym of Geographic(al) Information System since the late 1970's. Such a GIS is a system for the capture, storage, manipulation, analysis, modelling and visualisation of geographical data. The human and computer parts of a GIS could be divided and the S of GIS has also stood for Software. Since the late 1990s GIS has commonly been used as an abbreviation for Geographic(al) Information Science and more recently Geographic Intelligence Services.