“I want to be a computer scientist, but I am also interested in its applications to help planet Earth.”

“I want to study natural science but I can’t be both geographer and natural scientist at the same time!”

If you think that any interest you have in the geographical science cannot be combined with your interest in the ‘natural’ sciences, mathematics, computing, etc., you should think again.

Being a professional geographer is a way of seeing the world around us. This way of seeing leads to a way of doing things. In this, “other” disciplines offer many tools that can combine with the geographical perspective to empower you to have an interesting (and lucrative) career. In turn, it can help nurture planet Earth.

Your interest in computers and computer programming can help you carve out a career in geographical applications of computer science. An interesting and exciting field of geography now is GeoInformatics.

GeoInformatics includes:

  • Remote Sensing (RS) – satellites collect vast amounts of data about Earth that show us what is happening on Earth. These particularly address the first of the four geography questions that I have often written about in this column: “Where is something?”India’s ISRO is one of the world leaders in satellite technology and deployment. They have place many Indian (and foreign) satellites in orbit. The CARTOSAT and other series of satellites of India are doing tremendous work collecting geographical data. Check out the website of the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) here.Explore the site and you will see the many ways in which geography, mathematics, physics, computer science etc. come together. Also, look at the list of their products and services. Every one of those is an area you could explore for a career.

    Why is a good geography education important in this? We need geographers to interpret and make sense of the data, and to guide the process of what data we need to gather in the first place.

Image courtesy: National Remote Sensing Center, India (Click on image to see larger version)

  • Geographical Information Systems (GIS) – computer-based systems with which you can create maps to interpret data about places. Data about places is geographical information.This field particularly applies to the fourth of the geography questions: “What if?” For example, what if we position a dam at this point along a river? Or further away? How can we organize our city in sustainable ways? A GIS is useful in helping us answer these questions. Bengaluru’s master plan is designed using a GIS among other tools.Regional planning is a very important field of geography and GIS is one of the most powerful tools for this. Many universities in India offer undergraduate and graduate courses in GIS. Check them out.
  • Computer-based simulations and modeling. This is an area of great potential for someone with a good geography education combined with technical skills from a variety of disciplines. Understanding how Earth works is an ongoing challenge. We are only now beginning to understand the answers to many questions, thanks to the integration of disciplines in our research. This is called inter-disciplinaryComputer technologies have advanced in leaps and bounds. India is one of the few countries in the world that has super-computers. These can make billions of calculations per second! India not only has super-computers, but makes them. Read about India’s exciting super-computing project here.These computers help us process the vast amounts of information about Earth so we can understand how things work. This particularly addresses these geography questions: “Where is something?”, “Why is it there?”, and “So what?”

    If you are interested in designing computer-based games, you can combine your skills from geography and gaming to create specific kinds of games to help educate people about sustainable life on Earth. Look around and see if you can find such games; there are many.

Part of Indore. (Image courtesy: National Remote Sensing Center, India) (Click on image to see larger version)

Satellite data can be processed in a simulation/modeling app and integrated with a GIS to produce maps that can tell us vital things about Earth. However, we need a geographer to interpret what it all means.

Look at this simulation from NASA, for example.  This is an animation of the 2017 hurricane season over the Atlantic Ocean. It beautifully demonstrates how hurricanes work as a part of the Earth system. Such a simulation can be made and understood only with inter-disciplinary research. In this case, physics, computer science, meteorology, mathematics, and of course, geography to name a few.

As you contemplate careers, consider developing inter-disciplinary skills. Don’t be stuck with only one discipline. No matter what you wish to pursue in your future studies (arts, humanities, sciences, mathematics, geography, …), always try to combine your choice with one or more other disciplines. I just happen to talk about geography, but this applies to all disciplines.

Things you can explore:

  1. Course offerings at ISRO’s Indian Institute of Remote Sensing. This is a prestigious organization and well-respected in the world.
  2. Institutions where you can get a degree or certificate in GIS in India here.
  3. Courses at the Indian Institute of Surveying and Mapping (IISM), another Government of India undertaking. This is part of the Survey of India, established in 1767. They are the official map-makers for India.
  4. State of super-computing in India.  Note: a teraflop written as TFlop/s = a unit of computing speed equal to one million million (10 to the power of 12) floating-point operations per second
  5. The fascinating story of how India developed its own super-computer technology.

Join us for International Geography Youth Summit – 2018 (IGYS-2018), Bengaluru, 20-22 July 2018

A version of this article appeared in Deccan Herald Student Edition.

Featured image, courtesy: National Remote Sensing Centre.


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