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Topology revisited: representing spatial relations

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Topology is a central, defining feature of geographical information systems (GIS). The advantages of topological data structures are that data storage for polygons is reduced because boundaries between adjacent polygons are not stored twice, explicit adjacency relations are maintained, and data entry and map production is improved by providing a rigorous, automated method to handle artifacts of digitizing. However, what explains the resurgence of non-topological data structures and why do contemporary desktop GIS packages support them? The historical development of geographical data structures is examined to provide a context for identifying the advantages and disadvantages of topological and non-topological data structures. Although explicit storage of adjacent features increases performance of adjacency analyses, it is not required to conduct these operations. Non-topological data structures can represent features that conform to planar graph theory (i.e. non-overlapping, space-filling polygons). A data structure that can represent proximal and directional spatial relations, in addition to topological relationships is described. This extension allows a broader set of functional relationships and connections between geographical features to be explicitly represented.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2001

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