Welcome to
Spheres Online

the University of New Hampshire Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space electronic newsletter.

Subscribe to Spheres Online

Spheres Archives


Summer 2012
In this Issue of Spheres

Seeing the Forest
for the Trees

Tightening the Scientific
Understanding of the Belts

Big Science in a
Pintsize Package

Rock of Ages

Geospatial Science Gets
a Space of its own

News and Notes
Faculty, Staff, and Student News
From the Director

Institute for the Study of Earth,
Oceans, and Space
EOS Director: Harlan Spence
Editor: David Sims
Designer: Kristi Donahue
Circulation: Laurie Pinciak

Morse Hall, 8 College Road,
Durham, NH 03824

“Based on the growth of the geospatial science field, I’m confident that UNH’s new Geospatial Science Certificate program will be very strong.”


“ The proliferation of new datasets and how to use them to answer new questions has really driven this new science.”


Summer 2012

Geospatial Science Gets a Space of its Own
A new, comprehensive graduate certificate program brings UNH's diverse strengths in the geospatial sciences under one "roof"

FOR TEN YEARS, Michael Routhier, director of the GIS and Remote Sensing Laboratory at the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space (EOS), has taught a one-week, non-credit course on Geographical Information Systems, GIS for short. Beginning this month, he will teach a new, two-week, four-credit course that is built upon his decade-long class and represents the initial offering for UNH's new Geospatial Science Graduate Certificate program.

gis class  
Michael Routhier (left) is the certificate program coordinator and instructor for the Applied GIS for Research class.
Photo by Katelyn Dolan, UNH-EOS.

The certificate program, which was made possible by a UNH Wonder and Innovation grant, brings together a diverse but disparate variety of geospatial science classes in multiple departments across four colleges and EOS. By organizing the university's geospatial science educational resources under the program, students will be able to leverage them more effectively for future educational and career growth within the fast-growing field of geospatial science.

Indeed, the geospatial market is growing at an annual rate of 35 percent with the commercial subsection expanding by 100 percent every year. This increased use of "spatial thinking" has created a demand for educated students and professionals with relevant skills in methods and technologies that develop, analyze, and visualize geospatial data.

Says Routhier, "Based on the growth of the geospatial science field, I'm confident that UNH's new Geospatial Science Certificate program will be very strong."

Routhier notes further that by virtue of its interdisciplinary approach, the certificate program will have strong research components due to robust ties to currently existing research centers and institutes across campus. EOS, for instance, has an historical strength in geospatial science, and is the home of both the GIS Lab and NH GRANIT (New Hampshire Geographically Referenced Analysis and Information Transfer System), the statewide GIS clearinghouse.

The certificate program's inaugural class, Applied GIS for Research, which begins Monday, August 13, is a technology-driven class in that students will "have their fingers on the keyboard" doing work rather than listening primarily to lectures.

Spatial thinking

The National Research Council defines spatial thinking as that which "finds meaning in the shape, size, orientation, location, direction or trajectory, of objects, processes or phenomena, or the relative positions in space of multiple objects, processes or phenomena. Spatial thinking uses the properties of space as a vehicle for structuring problems, for finding answers, and for expressing solutions."

  gis poster
New Hampshire Land Cover Assessment map derived from satellite imagery and created with multiple geospatial data layers by New Hampshire GRANIT. The map categorizes land cover and land use into 23 targeted classes, inclusive of detailed forest and agriculture classes.
Image courtesy NH GRANIT.

One commonly used type of spatial thinking/geospatial science is GIS, which allows people to analyze the world with spatial tools, including maps that have features linked to databases. For example, GIS can be used to help make decisions such as where to do environmental mitigation planning or where best to locate a new school.

"Geospatial science takes into account more tools and technologies compared to just working with GIS," Routhier says. "Geospatial science, for instance, also includes the use and application of remote sensing and image processing–looking at different phenomena from a distance."

At EOS, Routhier notes, remote sensing is a common means of looking at the Earth from space to gather data on, for example, land use and land cover change, snow cover, phenology (the seasonal process of trees sprouting and dropping leaves), etc. "And all of these variables can play into the environmental modeling tools that we use or develop here," he says.

Another important aspect of geospatial science involves collecting data to be used in conjunction with imagery. "We have satellite images and tools to create maps," Routhier says, "but the data we overlay on top of the images for analysis have to come from somewhere. Quite often they are derived from GPS units, monitoring sensors, ground surveys, and neighborhood surveys."

Growing by leaps and bounds

The enormous growth of the geospatial industry can be attributed to technology advancements as well as the creation of new data, and a new way of looking at the world through that data.

For instance, satellite images have been publicly available since the first Landsat images were released in 1970s but these were expensive and only recently became free. And the growth in software like ArcGIS and Google Earth have also sparked an interest in new questions that can be answered by looking at our world with these new technologies.

"The proliferation of new datasets and how to use them to answer new questions has really driven this new science," he says.

Which, of course, has created a demand in the marketplace for geospatial experts.

The Geospatial Science Graduate Certificate program requires students to take five classes in total: the new Elements of Geospatial Science class; one of four GIS classes offered on campus; one of six Spatial Analysis classes, and two program-approved electives.

Students will learn the theory of the science and hands-on application of the tools and skills that are used within the industry. Routhier notes that the program is designed to be flexible enough to allow students to tailor it, through course selection, according to what their individual, professional, or educational interests are.

For more information about Applied GIS for Research (GSS 805), which will be held from 9 a.m. to 4p.m. Monday through Friday August 13-24 in Morse Hall, contact Routhier at (603) 862-1954 or mike.routhier@unh.edu. For more information about the certificate program, visit http://geospatial-science.unh.edu/Grad-Certificate.


by David Sims, Science Writer, Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space.