Environmental Informatics: GIS and Modeling


Environmental research, impact assessment, planning and management have grown increasingly reliant on computer-based approaches in the past few decades. Geographic information systems (GIS), remote sensing, dynamic-simulation modeling and statistics, for example, are utilized in a variety of scientific and professional endeavors, ranging from forestry, landscape mapping and watershed ecology to archaeology, pollution detection and geology.

As a result, the need for professionals trained in technical and applied aspects of these approaches has risen dramatically. Environmental informatics, also called eco-informatics, addresses this need by focusing on analytical and computer-based methods in the study and management of natural resources and the environment.

"The School of Natural Resources and Environment's interdisciplinary orientation enhances the breadth of this academic plan by linking the application of environmental informatics across fields as diverse as social sciences, policy analysis, business, sustainable systems, and terrestrial/aquatic ecosystem management,"  says Associate Professor Bill Currie. Faculty in this field of study encourage students to pursue either a MS thesis, MS project, or a course-only degree by taking advantage of the wide array of relevant courses available at SNRE.

What you will study

The Environmental Informatics curriculum emphasizes not only the methods and skills of using computational and analytical techniques to solve environmental problems, but also the science and societal issues behind those problems.

This field of study is particularly distinctive because it combines GIS with quantitative methods and modeling for natural-resource applications. As a student, you will work alongside professors who are at the forefront of research in these areas.

In your coursework, you will learn about sampling, statistics and probability, as well as important functions encountered in biology, matrices, and spatial and temporal processes. Combined lecture and laboratory venues will acquaint you with remote-sensing physical principles, different types of sensors, image-analysis methods and applications of remote sensing to the identification and solution of environmental problems. You also will learn how to plan, design and execute a GIS project for natural-resource management and become proficient in the use of mapping software.

Other courses will focus on modeling spatial patterns of landscape change or specific physiological processes governing ecosystem response to environmental change. Hands-on labs and field trips will reinforce classroom learning.

Launching your career

Through the Environmental Informatics plan, you can prepare for a wide range of careers in academic research or professional environmental management. Recently, a Department of Labor study cited geo-technologies as one of three major areas where future job growth will outstrip demand.

Graduates have used the knowledge and skills they acquired to procure positions as remote-sensing specialists, area foresters or refuge managers with the government. Others have become environmental consultants with private firms, nonprofit organizations and major research universities. In addition, environmental informatics can enhance the skill set of mid-career professionals because it represents an emerging set of tools that facilitate study and management of trans-disciplinary problems.

For more information on Environmental Informatics, visit the EI track careers page or contact snre.admissions@umich.edu .