The Role of a Geospatial Analyst
It’s estimated nearly ten thousand geospatial positions are either available right now or will be within the very near future and these numbers are expected to increase. This is an incredible statement, since most employment sectors are downsizing or eliminating positions completely. In short, a geospatial analyst assists with research, development and implementation of any number of geographical systems that allow for successful data collection for various studies and programs. By combining real-time information, latitude and longitude positioning, projections and actual results from satellites or global positioning systems, the analyst collects this information to be fed into a database for private companies, governmental agencies, including all arms of the military and others such as the FBI and NASA. An in depth knowledge of environmental modeling, environmental sciences, computer science, geography, and database design, maintenance and mining are mandatory. Most positions require a degree and many companies, since this is a relatively new employment sector, can provide on the job training and mentoring. These tools, however, won’t take the place of a degree.
Geocoding, defined as the process of adding geographic information to a file or database for use in a geographic information system (GIS), uses both “hard copies” and electronic models of maps. Anyone familiar with Google Maps or Microsoft Earth knows the power behind the science of GIS. The foundation behind the science might be zip codes or actual addresses. Needless to say, collecting and inputting this overwhelming amount of information into one database is both time consuming and is only as helpful as it is accurate. The information is used in a myriad of ways, including appraisal efforts, utility planning, marketing, habitat info gathering, transportation and many more. It’s generally presented via electronic and 3D imaging methods but is also incorporated into maps, tables and graphs.
One interesting way this new technology is being involves meteorology. An invaluable source of the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami, it can show the damage of storm systems, including major hurricanes and tornadoes, almost as soon as these events happen. Anyone who’s seen the before-and- after satellite images available after Hurricane Katrina, knows how powerful these advances are and how crucial the information can be. The nearly-mile long bridge that made travel between Ocean Springs and Biloxi, MS possible was destroyed during this powerful category four hurricane, but not until the satellite images taken before the storm and then the images immediately following this hurricane was perspective found. Casinos that dotted the beach line prior to Katrina, displayed as solid foundations, were replaced with broken dots of what once was. It was with GIS science that these images truly defined the damage. Tornadoes’ paths of destruction are easily seen through this science and environmentalists employ geospatial analysts to follow melting icebergs, deteriorating beach lines and can determine how fast oceans are warming. Just as in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when computers were becoming readily available and the internet was in its infancy, at least in terms of it becoming a household necessity, these new geographic info systems are quickly becoming the must-have positions. In fact, a recent survey of meteorology and engineering majors indicated an interest in crossovers into these new advances should the opportunity present itself. As our demand for more technology increases, so will the need for those who can incorporate these technologies into everyday living.
Unlike other databases, information stored for GIS purposes can be accessed by using any number of parameters. One database can provide information based on a few parameters, such as the number of foreclosures in any particular area within a state. That same information, with just a few modifications to the parameters, can provide locations of buried cables. This universal approach, once information has been compiled, researched and entered into the database, will be able to link with other agencies, states and even the government for even broader uses. As one might expect, trained and experienced surveyors, drafters, cartographers, geologists and engineers will be the ideal candidates for these positions. The Department of Labor anticipates a 38% increase for environmental engineers alone within the next decade. The median income is anticipated at nearly $62,000 annually, but it’s noted this might be too conservative a number until and unless the supply and demand ratios begin to merge.
Other qualifications that will define ideal candidates include attention to detail since precision and accuracy, if compromised, can result in a domino effect that will affect every inquiry made. Eyesight, coordination, and hearing are beneficial as well as a commitment to continuing education requirements will be necessary across the board in this field. Strong computer skills are a must and the ability to work outdoors in various terrains is required too.
Since satellite imageries often play key roles in effective mapping efforts, those who are adept at not only reading these images, but who can incorporate the information for even more benefits is a focus for employers, both in the private and government sectors. Notable proof of these benefits include the discovery, via GIS, of weapons of mass destruction overseas, tracking devices that are now available for pets and automobiles as well as real-time locations of airplanes at any given moment.
As anticipations grow with each new discovery, geospatial careers promise to become the gateway for highly advanced and instantly available information throughout the world.