Remote Sensing Scientist or Technologist
A remote sensing scientist or technologist could…
|Analyze data from airplane-mounted sensors to determine the boundaries of a drought zone.||Find urban heat islands, places in cities with higher temperatures, using remote temperature sensors.|
|Use drifting buoys equipped with GPS sensors to map ocean currents all over the world.||Evaluate climate changes by creating annual maps of thawing land using satellite data.|
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|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)||Decline Slowly or Moderately (-3% to -9%)|
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.
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.
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...
Do you have a specific question about a career as a Remote Sensing Scientist or Technologist that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
- Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society: Tutorials and Documents
- Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry Society
- BLS. (2016). Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), 2016 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved July 1, 2017.
- NIH Office of Science Education. (n.d.). LifeWorks. Retrieved March 20, 2014.
- O*Net Online. (2016). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved July 1, 2017.
- Racette, P. (2010, October 21). An interview with Alberto Moreira, president of GRSS. earthzine.org. Retrieved June 3, 2011.
- Information Week. (2015, September 3). Data, Analytics Help Fight Forest Fires. Retrieved June 28, 2019, from https://www.informationweek.com/government/big-data-analytics/data-analytics-help-fight-forest-fires/a/d-id/1322022
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration. (2009, September 23). Science for a hungry world: Part 1. Retrieved June 26, 2011, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1RJ6AqWAOEg
- MnEnergyCareers. (2011). Remote sensing scientists and technologists. iSeekSolutions. Retrieved June 3, 2011, from https://careerwise.minnstate.edu/guide/energy/index.html
- Crosby, O. (2005). Geography jobs. Occupational Outlook Quarterly. Retrieved June 3, 2011.
We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of:
- Northrop Grumman
- Motorola Solutions Foundation
Explore Our Science Videos
Vibration & Sound: Make Sprinkles Dance
Gel Electrophoresis and Forensic Science: Biotechnology Science Fair Project
Two-Stage Balloon Rocket Introduction