Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What Will Space Do to Geography?

The recent news about water ice on Mars is a neat scientific discovery. The geographer in me is thrilled at the new opportunities for study. This brave new frontier (space) is slowly becoming more and more of interest to scientists. As science and people reach out into the heavens, geographers must think about where their place is among the stars. If they do not then geography will forever be imprisoned on Earth.

Geographers must ask themselves how will space impact geography.

Geotechnology Adjusts to New Mapping Demands

For millennium people have been mapping the Earth's surface. For the last one hundred years or so humans have been travelling in the air and under the sea while the charts they used merely added new data layers to old maps. Space travel past the solar system will require three-dimensional maps to be used since travel will be in volumetric space. Star Trek-style paper star charts will not do. Computers and handheld devices will be able to compute travel and display data on maps. Right now GPS units form the foundation of what is needed to be developed.

Physical Geographers Need to Be Appreciated Or They Will Leave

For the decades there have been those who constantly mention the importance of physical geographers. Environmental issues have helped boost the prominence of physical geographers but still the human and technical geographers do not give fair representation to their physical brethren at geography conferences and meetings.

Meanwhile those studying the landforms of other planets are geologists. Geological groups have space branches that encourage and fund studies. Sometimes geomorphologists (physical geographers) get involved with these studies but they are quickly absorbed into the geology lobby. Unless geographers appreciate physical geographers and groups like the Association of American Geographers feature space studies then geography will be forever imprisoned on Earth without the best and brightest physical geographers.

New Terminology Is Needed

Geographers will use terms like "earth and "terra" to convey the ground or features on the ground. These words will be used less and less in geographical studies as extraterrestrial studies become more common. The word "Geography" meaning "to write about the Earth" will likely remain because of tradition though there will always be a place for "selenography" and "areography."

Before Copernicus proved the Earth was not the center of everything astronomy was a subfield of geography. Since then there has been a noticeable spilt with the two fields going their separate ways. There will always be things worthy of study here on planet Earth. Yet, if geography wishes to grow and learn new things then it must prepare for the next age of exploration and discovery.


Anonymous said...

Geographers must also start thinking about how space travel with effect geopolitics. Despite space's 3 dimensional nature, space does have its own "chokepoints, lanes of travel, and even locations that are optimal for space port activities.

These features are the results of orbits, gravity wells, asteroid belts, and planets. Space travel will require spacecraft to move from orbital point to orbital point for reasons of fuel efficiency.

For a good introduction to "Astropolitics" I recommend Chapter 5 of "Geopolitics: Geography and Strategy - edited by Colin Grey and Geoffrey Sloan.


Catholicgauze said...

A very neat find and recommendation! Thanks anonymous, I'll be sure to check it out!