What is the Science of Geography?

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Geography is about more than just maps. Image by fangol

Geography is about more than just maps. Image by fangol

So What Do Geographers Do?

If you want to know what geography is, you need to check out what geographers are doing. While delving into the subject I discovered, as one might expect, that what geographers were studying very much depended on their geographic location. By way of example:

  • In Chile, geographers were studying territorial and regional instability, transnational corporations and social disruption, rural and urban ethnic segregation, labor migrations patterns, life quality in middle sized cities, and sustainability;
  • In Australia, a geographer named Clive Forster was studying ‘The Challenge of Change: Australian Cities and Urban Planning in the New Millennium.
  • Vietnamese geographer Van, Ha Duong Xuan Bao was studying the Impact of Urban Development on Surface Temperatures Using Remote Sensing in Ho Chi Minh City.

There is an exploding geographic field known as Geomatics, which includes the following two trends:

  • Geographers are endeavoring to find new ways of extracting more information from map data e.g. trend-surface mapping, and object information from aerial images.
  • Geomatics includes investigations into the capabilities for geographic technologies in many related fields e.g. business- demographic and market analysis.

This return to a focus on map making and analysis, always a key skill of the geographer, is welcome.

New Trends in Geography

The return to a focus on maps and numbers also heralds a new breadth of incoming expertise from computer scientists, professional cartographers, surveyors, mathematicians, physicists, engineers and the like. They are all contributing to the rapid growth of spatial analysis, using what is termed Geographic Information Systems or GIS.

Add Global Positioning Systems or GPS and vector magnetometers to the mix, plus compasses available on smartphones for getting a direction from a stationary point, and we now find, as Jessica Leber points out in the MIT Technology Review, a growing field in indoor mapping endeavors where GPS signals don’t normally reach.

So, what is this funny animal called the science of geography? Needless to say it’s a far cry from just coloring simple maps and learning about far away places.

Resources:

Gibson, J. It’s Not Your Mother’s Geography Anymore. (2011). Suite101. Accessed February 24, 2013.

Gibson, J. About Geography and Gaia, and Climate Change: Who is Watching the Earth. Geography and All Things Gaia. Accessed February 24, 2013.

Leber, J. Startup Uses a Smartphone Compass to Track People Indoors. (2012). MIT Technology Review. Accessed February 24, 2013.

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