Last week at Columbia University, hundreds of scholars, policy makers, environmental researchers, and geographers sat down to discuss how geography can be used to solve major world problems at this year’s Geography2050 Conference. The theme for the conference, “Envisioning a Sustainable Planet”, focused on the use of GIS tools, data, and novel approaches to aid in the protection, preservation, and conservation of our planet for future generations.
GIS has long been a critical tool in the ecologists arsenal, with common uses ranging from land use analysis, pollution monitoring, among many others. At Fulcrum, we have customers who use our mobile app in the field everyday for ecological research; conducting sea turtle nest mapping, monitoring light pollution, and conducting wildlife inventories. However, actually seeing firsthand how researchers were using GIS in the field was absolutely fascinating to me.
Some of the more exciting uses of GIS tools and data I saw at the conference were:
- DigitalGlobe using satellite image data to identify and break up a human slavery ring at sea.
- The Global Environmental Facility used crowdsourced data to map out every biome on earth, and assign priorities as to which areas were most at risk in the future.
- Michael Mann used wildfire maps (and a very novel game) to demonstrate how government subsidies lead to perverse incentives for people to build and rebuild homes in fire prone areas.
- The Center for International Earth Science Information Network discussed the challenges climate change poses to the 1 billion people who live below the global poverty line.
- Dr. Gary Machlis of the National Park Service discussed the environmental, logistical, & political challenges they face managing nearly 85 million acres of park land with only a staff of 22,000 rangers.
In addition, a variety of compelling maps were shown demonstrating the scope and scale of our impact on the environment:
- The Ecological Marine Unit’s EMU Explorer visualizes global marine data such as temperature, O2, nitrates, phosphates, thickness and more.
- The Antineutrino Map (AGM2015) demonstrates the proliferation of nuclear material across the globe, and spotlights area where nuclear engineering & development is occurring.
- The Global Forest Watch Map allows you to view deforestation happening around the world by granting the public access to real-time data of tree cover gain and loss as it occurs.
This year at Geography 2050, I learned an incredible amount about environmental science, ecological concerns, and our role in preserving this planet for future generations. But after the conference, on my flight home, there was one major point I reflected on: The value of geographic education goes far beyond just maps: it gives us a deeper understanding of the world around us as well as the analytical tools needed to solve large scale, complex problems. I was honored to have attended Geography2050 this year, and look forward to contributing to the conference, as well as the tradecraft, in the future.