Maps, Models & Geospatial Technologies in Scientific Research

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

Learn about how geospatial technologies are used in scientific research to figure out how phenomena vary across space. We will look at maps, models, and other geospatial technologies.

Geospatial Aspects of Scientific Research

Studying geospatial aspects of an issue is incredibly important. What are geospatial aspects? Well, if something is geospatial, it concerns the location of a phenomenon or feature on the surface of the earth. (Geo means earth.) Many things that scientists study are related to the location in space. To fully understand something, this is a factor that needs to be considered.

For example, if you're studying the traffic patterns in a city and trying to figure out the cause, it will be impossible to do so without considering where the traffic is most commonly located. Or for example, let's say you're interested in understanding a forest ecosystem to see how an expanding city will affect it. Knowing which animal and plant species are found in which parts of the forest is a vital step in predicting the impact the city will have. Or let's say you're studying the weather - knowing the temperatures and amounts of rainfall of every weather station in the US will not be especially useful if you don't know which number goes with which weather station, and where those weather stations are located.

All of this is geospatial data, and it's vital to a lot of scientific research. Let's look at some of the tools that are used to collect and understand geospatial data.

Geospatial Technologies

Geospatial technologies are human inventions, devices, or systems that are used to collect or understand geospatial data. Technologies that are used to collect geospatial data include remote sensing and GPS. And technologies that are used to present and understand geospatial data include maps (including Internet mapping) and models.

Remote-sensing is where data is collected at a distance. This might be using satellites in space, or planes flying over a landscape. Those satellites and planes can contain all kinds of sensors and equipment. They might take pictures of the surface of the earth, measure cloud cover, look for precipitation, measure the height of the land or sea floor, or look at how much heat is emanating from the earth for climate change studies. Whatever it is, it's about collecting data based on its location on the earth.

Satellites can collect geospatial data
Satellites can collect geospatial data

GPS (or global positioning system) are where your location can be determined precisely using nearby satellites. This is useful for hikers in the wilderness, but it's also important in scientific research. If you're collecting data in a forest, and don't know your exact location, you can quickly and easily figure it out using the GPS, and keep track of where you made each of your observations.

Maps are graphic depictions of the surface of the earth. This might be a simple map of where towns and cities are located, or a relief map showing the heights of nearby mountains, but it could also be a data map showing (for example) the crime rates in different parts of the city. Maps are incredibly useful at presenting geospatial data.

Doppler radar remote-sensed map
Doppler radar remote sensed map

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