Technology: Ecoinformatics and Geographic Information Systems
Ecoinformatics is designed to collect information, but then you have to integrate it somehow. That’s where Geographic Information Systems comes in.
Student Profile: Aaron Hall
Aaron Hall was well on his way to earning a computer science degree at RIT when a rude awakening changed the course of his life.
“The thought of a career spending 40 hours a week indoors on a computer was killing me inside,” he says. “I love being outside working with my hands.”
Aaron switched his major to Environmental Science. Working with Professor Paul Shipman, he put on his hiking boots and slogged through swamps gathering data. With Professor Karl Korfmacher, Aaron analyzed the data through Geographic Information Systems mapping.
“It was a great combination of lab work and field work, which is what I was looking for,” he says.
Aaron graduated with an MS in Environmental Science, and found himself with a wide range of employment options. For his first job, he’s heading off to Alaska, where he’ll work on remediating abandoned lots in Fairbanks and on Geographic Information Systems mapping in Denali.
Alaska is Aaron’s first-choice destination, at least for now. Not only is his girlfriend attending graduate school in Fairbanks, Aaron himself loves to hike, fish, canoe, snow shoe, and cross-country ski.
His advice to prospective students: “If you love being outdoors, don’t get a desk job. Choose a major that’s something you really want to do.”
Ecoinformatics and Geographic Information Systems are leading-edge technologies transforming the ways data are collected and analyzed. At RIT, students gain the extra advantage of combining the two in a multi-disciplinary approach that significantly advances the state of the art in environmental research.
Ecoinformatics: It wasn’t until the microscope was invented that scientists discovered the world of cells and microscopic organisms. Ecoinformatics will likely be viewed by history as an equally significant development, this time opening our worldview of the environmental macroscope. Before ecoinformatics, researchers were limited to the snapshot views they could gain by physically observing animals in the field. Ecoinformatics uses advanced technologies—weatherproofed sensors, wireless data networks and advanced computation methodologies—to observe animals behaving naturally in the wild and to effectively manage the enormous datasets that result from these technology-based observations. Never before have scientists been able to so closely observe ecology in action—with RIT pilot projects breaking new ground in this advancing field.
GIS: How much of a territorial range must be protected for the spotted turtle? Where should lead abatement funding be directed in the inner city? How sound are the evacuation plans for the neighborhoods around a particular nuclear power plant? Geographic Information Systems is the modeling tool that helps answer such questions, and many more. Researchers start with a geographic parameter, and then layer onto it whatever data sets will give insight into the problem under consideration. For example, one RIT student helped an inner-city Rochester neighborhood target lead abatement funding by mapping the age, market value and other characteristics of housing stock. Other students have delineated wetlands to gain insight into the functioning of a threatened ecosystem. Geographic Information Systems is cutting-edge technology very much in demand on today’s job market.