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Environmental informatics

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What is environmental informatics?

Today’s environmental problems — think climate change, water quality and availability, human health, forest and wildlife conservation — are increasingly complex and involve vast amounts of data. Environmental informatics majors can help address these challenges by mastering the methods and developing the tools needed to translate complex data into usable facts and figures. You’ll develop analytical, decision-making, and data modeling skills that are critical for the job market and for pursing ongoing research to solve complex problems.

Learn more about this major and the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation.

What will I learn in this major?

Students majoring in environmental informatics take core courses in forest science, geospatial analysis, environmental economics, and natural resources policy. Additional computation courses in the following areas are also required: business analytics and database technology, systems development, programming, forest photogrammetry, data science, and statistics.    

Students have access to the Informatics Lab in Newman Library, which assists university researchers with finding, generating, processing, analyzing, and visualizing data.

Why study environmental informatics at Virginia Tech?

  • Environmental informatics majors learn about the applications of big data, geospatial technology, and remote sensing to a variety of fields related to the study and management of natural resources in areas such as land use, soil, water, fish and wildlife, and climate.
  • You can take part in an undergraduate research project such as monitoring water outputs to assess how trail and park development affect water quality or conducting an ecological assessment on a forested section of the Virginia Tech campus.
  • An overseas study trip can take you to Panama as part of the Issues in Natural Resource Conservation course, where activities include assisting local scientists with GPS mapping and wildlife inventories.
  • You’ll learn from faculty like Kelly Cobourn, who produces models used in protecting and maintaining lakes, and Quinn Thomas, who uses data to predict the future of ecosystems.
  • A variety of labs are available for faculty/student collaboration and research, including the Human Dimensions Analysis Laboratory and the Center for Environmental Analytics and Remote Sensing (CEARS) Laboratory. CEARS offers a complete suite of image processing (ENVI, ERDAS Imagine) and associated software (IDL, Absoft Fortran, Matlab, Visual Studio, Python), statistical packages, a RIEGL laser scanner, roving GPS base stations, and an electric remotely piloted vehicle capable of carrying a 12.5 kg sensor payload.
  • Students can take advantage of opportunities outside the classroom, like environmental informatics graduate Laura Puckett, who conducted research that allowed her to combine an aptitude for using quantitative tools to unlock new information about ecosystems with a passion for protecting the environment.
  • You might be interested in one of the integrated Pathways minors such as blue planet, data and decisions, ecological cities, or pathways to sustainability. The addition of a minor will give you additional expertise, allow you to pursue a passion, and help you stand out in the job market.
  • Student organizations such as the American Water Resources Association and the Society of American Foresters Student Chapter provide opportunities to make connections and get involved on campus and in the community.   

What can I do with a degree in environmental informatics?

Graduates in environmental informatics may enter the job market or pursue a graduate degree in the field. Career possibilities are listed below, and potential employers include NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Geological Survey, state agencies, environmental consulting firms, insurance companies, and nonprofit organizations.

  • Ecoinformaticist — Facilitates environmental research and management by developing ways to access and integrate databases of environmental information, and develops new algorithms that enable different environmental data sets to be combined to test ecological hypotheses.
  • Ecological forecasting specialist — Provides natural resources managers with data and information needed to respond, in advance, to future changes.
  • Ecosystems services consultant — Plans and executes environmental monitoring efforts through the design, evaluation, and installation of monitoring stations such as electronic data loggers, remote samplers, and remote communications systems.
  • Environmental data scientist Advances climate and environmental research by using integrated data products, data delivery systems, and data analysis tools.  
  • Environmental modeler — Integrates modeling and spatial analysis with the efficient processing of environmental data sets.
  • Geospatial technician — Assists researchers and other professionals who utilize data in building, maintaining, and accessing geographic information system (GIS) databases.
  • Sustainability analyst — Develops and implements policies and procedures for environmental and/or sustainability management.    
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