A remote sensing scientist examines a complex graph on a computer monitor

A remote sensing scientist or technologist could…


Analyze data from airplane-mounted sensors to determine the boundaries of a drought zone. Remote sensing equipment mounted inside the cockpit of a plane Find urban heat islands, places in cities with higher temperatures, using remote temperature sensors. Aerial photo of a city color-coded by temperature
Use drifting buoys equipped with GPS sensors to map ocean currents all over the world. A GPS buoy floating in the ocean Evaluate climate changes by creating annual maps of thawing land using satellite data. Map of Alaska color-coded blue for frozen areas and red for thawed areas
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Key Facts & Information

Overview Have you ever climbed up high in a tree and then looked at your surroundings? You can learn a lot about your neighborhood by looking down on it. You can see who has a garden, who has a pool, who needs to water their plants, and how your neighbors live. Remote sensing scientists or technologists do a similar thing, except on a larger scale. These professionals apply the principles and methods of remote sensing (using sensors) to analyze data and solve regional, national, and global problems in areas such as natural resource management, urban planning, and climate and weather prediction. Because remote sensing scientists or technologists use a variety of tools, including radio detection and ranging (radar) and light detection and ranging (lidar), to collect data and then store the data in databases, they must be familiar with several different kinds of technologies.
Key Requirements Analytical skills, detail-oriented work habits, accurate decision-making abilities, good problem-solving skills, pattern-recognition skills
Minimum Degree Bachelor's degree
Subjects to Study in High School Biology, chemistry, physics, geometry, algebra II, calculus; if available, computer science, statistics
Median Salary
Remote Sensing Scientist or Technologist
  $96,070
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
  $49,630
Min Wage
  $15,080
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Little or No Change (-2% to 2%) In Demand!
Interview
  • Dr. Alberto Moreira is a remote sensing scientist who believes that the Earth is dynamic and fragile and that we all have the responsibility of keeping it healthy. In this interview, he discusses in detail the work that he is doing imaging the globe with radar.
  • Cameron Tongier of the US Fish and Wildlife Service Fire Management Branch spoke about the long arc of data analysis that leads up to daily situation reports for wildfire managers.
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

In addition to university course work, remote sensing scientists or technologists must attend seminars, conferences, and meetings in order to stay abreast of technological advances in the field.

Education and Training

The minimum degree required to gain a position as a remote sensing scientist and technologist is a bachelor's degree in geography, cartography, civil engineering, or related field. Many remote sensing scientists and technologists often have a graduate degree. Candidates must have a PhD in order to teach at the university level. Many remote sensing specialists have degrees in the natural sciences, including forestry, biology, and geology. They often take courses in remote sensing or mapping while earning these degrees.

Because remote sensing scientists and technologists work with analyzing and modeling large amounts of data, it is useful for them to take classes in statistics, geometry, and matrix algebra.

Nature of the Work

The Earth, our home, is an amazing system. It has a temperature, mountains, blowing wind, and flowing water. Capturing information about these and other global features can help scientists get a present-day picture about the Earth and help make decisions about our future. But how do scientists gather information? They use sensors, devices that detect and measure physical quantities and then convert them into signals that can be read by an instrument or observer. Remote sensing scientists or technologists oversee the collection of this information and interpret the data. They work with databases to store these large amounts of data and then share the data in reports or in maps.

In this video from NASA, you can learn about how remote-sensing technologies are used to track the global capacity for food production. This video is the first in a six-part series about the applications of remote-sensing techniques.

When a government, business, or other client needs a map, remote sensing scientists or technologists analyze the type of information that the map should include and then decide what type of sensors to use to get that information. The amount of detail required determines what equipment is needed, such as the size of the camera and the type of vehicle that will carry it. In addition to seeing how things look, remote sensing scientists or technologists might need to measure temperature, moisture in the air, and other phenomena. For example, in order to determine the abundance of plant life, remote sensing scientists or technologists use sensors to measure and extract data about chlorophyll levels.

When data comes from satellites, remote sensing scientists and technologists run the information through a series of computer programs to create images and maps. They might use different colors to show where interesting features are, such as different types of forests and crops. They can study the different wavelengths of light shown in satellite images and use that information to assess the condition of the forests. With satellites, large areas of land are visible at once and remote sensing scientists or technologists can create land-cover maps that show thousands of square miles. They provide a broad overview of the Earth's landscapes.

In addition to making maps, remote sensing scientists or technologists perform research. Every day they collect data about the Earth and its atmosphere using sensors on ocean buoys, weather satellites, and seismic registers. They employ various tools like radio detection and ranging (radar) and light detection and ranging (lidar) placed in satellites, airplanes, and balloons to gather data. With this data and mathematical models, remote sensing scientists or technologists attempt to accurately predict weather, hydrology, and climate.

Work Environment

Remote sensing scientists or technologists usually work in clean, well-lit, and well-ventilated offices. They rely on computers and their work often involves long hours in front of a computer screen using a keyboard and a mouse. Remote sensing scientists or technologists generally work 40 hours a week. Longer hours and workweeks are not uncommon.

Remote sensing scientists or technologists work in a variety of industries including the private sector, the military, and the federal government.

On the Job

  • Analyze data acquired from aircraft, satellites, or ground-based platforms using statistical analysis software, image analysis software, or geographic information systems (GIS).
  • Manage or analyze data obtained from remote-sensing systems to obtain meaningful results.
  • Process aerial and satellite imagery to create products such as land-cover maps.
  • Develop and build databases for remote sensing and related geo-spatial project information.
  • Monitor quality of remote-sensing data collection operations to determine if procedural or equipment changes are necessary.
  • Attend meetings or seminars and read current literature to maintain knowledge of developments in the field of remote sensing.
  • Prepare and deliver reports and presentations of geo-spatial project information.
  • Conduct research into the application and enhancement of remote-sensing technology.
  • Discuss project goals, equipment requirements, and methodologies with colleagues and team members.
  • Integrate other geo-spatial data sources into projects.
  • Organize and maintain geo-spatial data and associated documentation.
  • Design and implement strategies for collection, analysis, or display of geographic data.
  • Participate in fieldwork as required.
  • Collect supporting data, such as climatic and field survey data, to corroborate remote-sensing data analyses.
  • Develop new analytical techniques or sensor systems.
  • Train technicians in the use of remote-sensing technology.
  • Direct all activity associated with implementation, operation, or enhancement of remote-sensing hardware or software.
  • Compile and format image data to increase its usefulness.
  • Recommend new remote-sensing hardware or software acquisitions.
  • Direct installation and testing of new remote-sensing hardware or software.
  • Set up or maintain remote-sensing data collection systems.
  • Develop automated routines to correct for the presence of image-distorting artifacts such as ground vegetation.

Companies That Hire Remote Sensing Scientist or Technologists

Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...

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If you've ever so much as watched a news clip about a hurricane, you probably know that hurricanes draw their power from warm ocean waters. If that is true, does it mean that hurricanes actually cool the ocean down when they pass through? Can the amount of cooling be measured? Is it proportional to the strength of the hurricane? Find out using data that you can collect yourself using online archives. This project shows you how. Read more
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We've all heard that hurricanes draw their immense power from warm ocean waters. Of course, many factors contribute to the formation and growth of a hurricane, but can we expect to find that the warmer the water, the stronger the hurricane will be? This project shows you how to use online data archives to investigate this question. Read more
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Harmful algal blooms occur when algae, which form the base of the ocean food web, grow in massive numbers and produce toxic or harmful effects on people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and birds. In this project you will learn how to use archived data from continuous monitoring stations on the Chesapeake Bay to study how water quality measurements (dissolved oxygen (DO), salinity, temperature, pH, turbidity, and total chlorophyll) change before, during, and after harmful algal blooms. Read more
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Minerals are sometimes precious, like diamonds. But most minerals are very common, like sodium, which is found in salt. How are minerals found and identified? How are our mineral resources distributed? Visit the USGS Mineral Resource Program to find mineral resources in your state. How are satellite images used to identify potential mineral sources? You can also find out how minerals are identified using spectroscopy. How are potentially harmful minerals, like mercury, dealt with? Visit the… Read more
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When an earthquake occurs, seismic shock waves travel out through the earth from the source of the event. The shock waves travel through the earth or along the Earth's surface, and can be recorded at remote monitoring stations. Some of the waves that travel through the earth are blocked or refracted by the Earth's liquid core, which means that monitoring stations located certain distances from the earthquake do not detect these waves. This creates a "seismic shadow" that you can use to… Read more
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As you move up or down in altitude or elevation, the temperature and pressure will change. This is particularly striking if you live near a mountain range. During the summer, at low altitudes you may have temperatures in the 80's or 90's and still be able to see snow on mountain peaks at high altitude. You can test the effect of altitude by comparing temperature data from weather stations at high and low altitudes. You can test the effect of elevation by making your own weather balloon and… Read more
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Today it is widely accepted that the Earth's crust consists of a series of huge plates that slowly move. The low parts of the plates are beneath the world's oceans, and the high parts of the plates are landmasses. New plate material is generated at deep sea ocean ridges in a process called sea-floor spreading. Material from plates is also recycled at trenches, where dense, oceanic crust dives back (subducts) underneath an adjacent plate towards the upper mantle. Figure 1 shows a map of the… Read more

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Additional Information

Sources

Additional Support

We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of:

  • Northrop Grumman
  • Motorola Solutions Foundation
Free science fair projects.