Buffer Analysis


Buffer analysis is a key function in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) used to display and identify features that fall within a certain distance, specified by the user, from a particular feature or location. This function is performed by generating a zone (buffer) around a map feature to assess and identify what is found therein.

What is Buffer Analysis?

Buffer analysis is a spatial analysis tool widely recognized in GIS and used for a variety of purposes, from environmental research to planning and decision-making in both public and private sectors. The buffer analysis function uses geographic data to create new areas (buffers) around a specified point, line or polygon on a map by a certain distance.

It could be likened to drawing a kind of 'safety zone' around a feature, within which all entities come under the influence or effect of that feature. The buffer could be used to identify areas of potential impact, assess nearness to certain features, or explain spatial patterns. For example, a city-planner might use buffer analysis to identify all properties within a 1,000-meter distance of a proposed new road.

Buffer analysis also facilitates quantitative analysis as it allows for the evaluation of the number of features falling within the buffer zones. This process is especially suitable where distance is a critical factor.


What types of buffers can be created in buffer analysis?

There are different types of buffers that could be created based on the need and these include:
  • Point buffers created around a selected point
  • Line buffers created around a line feature, and
  • Area buffers created around an area such as a lake or a park.

Each of these will have different appearances and uses.

What is the significance of the distance parameter in buffer analysis?

The distance parameter is used to define the extent of the buffer around the designated feature. Deciding the distance is crucial as it determines what falls in and out of range.

What are some practical applications of buffer analysis?

Buffer analysis is used in a variety of fields including:
  • Architecture and Planning: Buffer zones are created to determine the area impacted by a new development or proposed change in land use.
  • Environmental Science: Buffers are created around habitats to identify areas that require protection.
  • Public Safety: Police might create buffers around crime scenes to identify possible areas of interest.
  • Transport Planning: Buffers are created around roads or railways to manage noise or pollution impacts.

How accurate is buffer analysis?

While buffer analysis is a powerful tool, its accuracy hinges on the quality of the original spatial data and the appropriateness of the distance parameter. The accuracy of buffer analysis is proportional to the precision of these parameters.

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