Geomatics and Topography

Geomatics and Topography

earth mapping

Another area of science that deals almost exclusively with geomatics is the study of topography, which is the study of the surface of the Earth as well as other planets, moon, asteroids, etc. In this post we’re going to go over some reasons why geomatics is a vitally important field of study in modern science.

Basics of Topography

Topography deals primarily with the study of the Earth’s surface shape and features, but also extends to other planets and objects in space. The primary study of topography is three dimensional quality data points of items on the surface and various landforms.

The Moon Landing

It’s been over 40 years since we landed on the moon, but even back in the 1960s we used the study of geomatics extensively before our initial landing. In order to assure a safe and secure landing area for our astronauts on the moon, we studied the moon’s surface with incredible depth in order to find a proper landing location and develop a spacecraft that was able to successfully make the landing. The first moon landing decided to land in the Sea of Tranquility, a lunar mare on the Moon’s surface, and the Apollo 11 spacecraft was specifically built to land in this location.

Asteroid Observation

We know that there are thousands of asteroids orbiting the Earth and the other planets. In fact, that is what gives Saturn the ring that we are all familiar with. There are so many asteroid surrounded Saturn that it literally looks like a continuous belt around the planet. Earth has much fewer asteroids orbiting it, but there are still quite a few and scientists use geomatics to measure their size, shape, and the features of their surface. By measuring the size and shape of different asteroids, we can study their orbit pattern and how likely they are to break through the Earth’s atmosphere. This is an area of great study for many astronomers.

Rescue Missions

Geomatics technology also plays a pivotal when rescue crews go into mountain ranges to save lost or stranded hikers. For example, consider a skier who was skiing through the slopes of the Rocky Mountain Range in Colorado but gets caught in an avalanche. He gets completely buried in snow and needs rescue crews to save him immediately. This is a matter of life and death because if an avalanche covers you, you have a very short period of time to make it out alive.

The same geomatic technology that allows us to measure the depth of the ocean floor now comes to rescue us at some of the world’s tallest peaks. Using data that has been retrieved from topographical studies of various mountain regions, rescue teams will be able to determine which way the snow of the avalanche has fallen and pinpoint the trapped skier’s location. This technology will also allow them to determine where they can safely land their rescue chopper and where they will need to bring their crew.

As you can see, not only do the most advanced scientists use geomatic technology but so do the rescue safety mission crews in mountain ranges across the globe.

Geomatics Technology in Oceanography

Geomatics Technology in Oceanography

Ocean Mapping

Ever wonder how we know how deep the oceans are on planet Earth? We certainly have not been to the depths of all of the Earth oceans. In fact, many scientists say that we know more about outer space than we do about the bottom of the ocean floor. This shows the continued importance of the scientific study of Earth’s oceans. There are literally thousands of life forms at the bottom of oceans floors that we are still to this day discovering through research and geomatic technology. Even in the past 10 years we have discovered countless new organisms with spectacular features about them.

Oceanography is another modern-day science that employs the technologies of geomatics. Much like topography measures the physical structures of those things above Earth’s surface, geomatic engineers use tools to measure the structures and depths of Earth’s oceans.

Some of the first attempts to measure the ocean floor were done by a process called depth sounding. The way this worked was fisherman on ships would take long pre-measured ropes with weights on the bottom and see how long it took them to reach the ocean floor. They would then measure the depth and move to a new location.

This was an extremely time consuming and costly way of mapping the ocean’s floor because it only allows you to measure a single location at a time. Think about the time commitment that this process involved. You measure one specific location, then move 30 or so yards and measure another location. This process could take weeks, months, years, or even decades to complete a major project. Not to mention the time restraints involved, this method was often prone to inaccurate measurements and ineffective map making.

Luckily today we have modern geomatic technologies that assist us in our quest for mapping the ocean floor. Most modern topography maps of the ocean floor are produced using sonar technologies. Sonar stands for Sound Navigation and Ranging and was developed in the 20th century and later used in oceanography. This process works by sending down a sound wave to the ocean floor and waiting for the sound wave to return. Scientists can measure, based on the speed of sound and the time that it took the “ping” to return, how deep the ocean is in any given spot.

Other new geomatic developments include the use of GPS technologies for measuring the ocean floor. Unlike traditional sonar technologies, today’s GPS technologies can utilize multi-beam pingers that allow scientists to measure wide swaths of the ocean floor at many different angles. This allows scientists to see the ocean floor like never before: in full-scale 3D models. Before they just had static maps with inaccurate measurements about the ocean’s depth. Today, we have  scaled models with laser accurate measurements.

As you can see, geomatic technology permeates our life, whether it be the study of the Earth’s surface or the oceans below us. Knowing the depths and heights of Earth allows us to be better scientists and understand global phenomena like climate change and global warming better. Perhaps one day you’ll become a geomatic scientist.

Shuttle Radar 3D Mapping

Shuttle Radar 3D Mapping

3D mapping

As you may know, cartography is a major part of Geomatics. Geomatic engineers work tirelessly collecting and storing data about Earth geographic and spatially referenced information.

Today, we’d like to step back a few years to talk about a Space Shuttle mission that examined many of Earth topographic landscape from outer space.

On February 11, 2000 the Space Shuttle Endeavor ventured into the atmosphere on a topography mission to obtain digital versions of Earth’s elevation. This was the shuttle’s 14th trip outside the atmosphere, so the craft was well broken in for the 11 day mission.

At the time, the information the Endeavor mission sought to obtain was the most advanced information of the day, but has since been outdone by the ASTER GDEM project in 2009. The Endeavor planned an 11-day mission across the entire globe taking high-resolution digital pictures to create a word wide model of digital elevation maps.

This project is especially relevant to geomatic engineers because we have ever since poured ourselves over this data and this images. We have used these images for air navigations systems, urban planning, oceanography, and coastal zone management and mapping. From this mission alone we were able to map out all of America’s coastal waters with detailed depth and longitudinal analysis. We found many islands that were never even known to be in existence, and discovered new ways to measure coastal regions.

Many people today in times of economic duress try to say that these programs are unnecessary, and that we should be focusing on creating jobs for people down on Earth, not shipping people into space, but nothing could be further from the truth.

It is true that these programs are expensive. Space shuttles cost billions and billions of dollars to make, and people argue that this money could be spent on jobs programs on the ground, but what they often fail to realize is that these NASA programs spur innovation and bring about technological changes that may not otherwise exist. Putting a man on the moon brought about a new wave of digital innovation that would become the bedrock of America’s economy for years to come. This is why world leaders like Canada and the United States should fund NASA programs that explore the mapping of the globe.

People use technologies that have come from these missions every day. One of the benefits of this particular mission was for Global Positioning Systems or GPS’s. How many times do you use the GPS application on your smart phone? Well, you can thank a large part of that application’s success to space exploration missions like the Endeavor.  Without them, we could be quite literally lost as a result of poor GPS functionalities in our phones and other electronic devices.

Geomatic engineers will keep working with government agencies to bring about the best and newest data relating to Earth’s geographic information, whether it be measuring the depths of the deepest ocean, the center of the Earth’s crust, or the tallest mountain, geomatics has the tools to measure it.

What is Geomatics?

“Geomatics” is a technology and service sector focusing on the acquisition, storage, analysis, dissemination and management of geographically referenced information for improved decision-making.