What is spatial science?

Spatial science careers are all about measuring the physical fabric of the Earth – its contours, its slopes, its caverns, its heights, its depths, its rivers, its oceans, its cities, its deserts, its mountains, its twists, edges, curves and geological composition.

This is the realm of land surveyors, cartographers and hydrographers. These jobs certainly aren’t your average nine-to-five occupations. You’ll be working out and about, using your scientific knowledge and operating complex devices to discover the secrets of the Earth.

What do spatial scientists do, and what does it take to become one?

The hard work of spatial scientists is incredibly important to a range of different industries. It’s not just about messing around with cool pieces of equipment and creating pretty maps and digital images.

The application of spatial research and data collection has a major influence on transport planning, construction, town planning, agriculture, aquaculture, property management, land management, the distribution of utilities and the extraction, processing and production of energy and raw materials.

If you pursue a career in this area, you will be using high-tech equipment to measure the Earth, collecting and analysing data, before presenting it in an accessible format.

Scientists from all kinds of academic backgrounds can get involved with this line of work. However, the complexity and technical nature of the work means that obtaining a degree in a subject, such as geography, environmental geoscience, maths, physics, engineering, geology, surveying, archaeology, marine science or urban planning, is pretty much essential for entry into these careers.

Many people who work in this industry work for private cartographic, hydrographic and land surveying companies. However, some people work for national mapping agencies or government departments, such as Ordnance Survey, the Ministry of Defence (MOD), and the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO).

Others work in academic positions, and some spatial scientists even work on a freelance basis, providing services for a range of clients.

What options do I have within spatial science?

Land surveying is all about measuring the distance between different points on the Earth in order to establish the topography of a land area, or to determine property boundaries for private ownership or political reasons.

Essentially, you’ll be working out in the field, utilising a series of high-tech instruments to take accurate readings and measurements. You might be conducting geodetic surveys (topographical surveys determining the shape of the land) or cadastral surveys (measuring the boundaries and the size of properties and political territories).

You’ll then be processing the data that you’ve accumulated and presenting it to your clients. The information that is amassed is vital to construction projects, the planning of transport routes and the delineation of political boundaries.

Hydrographic surveyors use modern technologies, such as Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and sonar, to quantify the depth and composition of the Earth’s marine environments. The data they collect can then be manifested in the form of 2D charts and 3D digital maps.

This vital information can be used by energy companies looking for oil and gas deposits, government agencies that wish to monitor and develop the UK’s waterways, and marine transport organisations that utilise navigational charts.

For the most part, you’ll be working out in the field; either offshore, charting the world’s vast oceans, or inland, surveying canals, lakes and rivers.

Cartography (i.e. mapmaking) is a very rare industry for people to get into. However, it is entirely possible. Although much of the world has already been mapped out, many parts are not depicted at useable scales. Moreover, the world‘s landscape and travel routes change frequently and thus many maps become obsolete. Cartographers are therefore still very much needed.

Cartography is essentially the art, science and technology of making maps. These guys might simply reproduce and update old maps, or they might use state-of-the-art surveying techniques to analyse and record topography and geographical information, before using this data to help them produce maps for the internet, computer systems and traditional paper formats.

To work in modern cartography, you need good design skills, I.T. skills and knowledge of specialist technologies, such as GIS, photogrammetry and 3D visualisation. These kind of skills can be developed on specific cartography related degrees and training courses.

Think you know the lay of the land? Want to explore the unknown depths? A career in spatial sciences might be just what you fancy.

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