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Using Geomatics to Describe our Profession and Industry in Canada

Over forty years, the writer has witnessed a series of transitions and changes in terminology related to changes in the technology. In the sixties, at the federal level, the Surveys and Mapping branch was part of the Department of Energy Mines and Resources. CGIS technology supported the Canada Land Inventory. In the universities, geography included techniques courses in quantitative methods, cartography and remote sensing, while surveying was part of the Faculty of Engineering.

At the Nova Scotia Land Survey Institute, they had added new programs in cartography, photogrammetry and planning to complement their land surveying program. In the 1980’s, they also added advanced diploma programs in remote sensing and GIS. These changes resulted in its renaming to the Institute to the College of Geographic Sciences (COGS)

By the 1990’s, surveying had been redefined as geomatics engineering. Geography departments were exploring the term ‘Geographic Information Science’. At the community college we appropriated the term ‘Geomatics’ to refer to a suite of technologies consisting of GIS, GPS and remote sensing, hence ‘Applied Geomatics’ research refers to research into and with these technologies. Meanwhile at COGS, ‘Marine Geomatics’ references hydrographic surveying.

Today in Canadian universities, survey engineering has been replaced by geomatics engineering (e.g. University of Calgary, Laval University, University of Toronto, UNB) while the discipline of Geography has accepted the term ‘Geographic Information Science’. In the community colleges, the emphasis is upon the technology, sometimes GIS, with other technologies, remote sensing and GPS. Geomatics seems to be defined more akin to ‘Informatics’.

Geomatics operates under two sets of definitions. In one case, it is a replacement for ‘Survey’ in survey engineering which reflects a broadening of technologies. The second context is within the world of geographic sciences, here geomatics equates to a range of technologies. In Canada, there is support for the bilingual geomatiques, whereas in the United States the recent trend has been the term ‘Geographic Information Science’.

We know for certain that regardless of current terminology there will be evolution in the technologies and the software in which operating on a wide range of platforms. My view is the terms ‘Geomatics Engineer’ or ‘Geographic Scientist’ are both perfectly acceptable and compatible. The differences are as likely more related to ‘Engineer’ and ‘Scientist’, than ‘Geomatics’ or ‘Geographic’. Acceptance of the term Geomatics will be for the engineers to decide. Similarly, the term ‘Geographic’ will be determined by other disciplinary scientists.

There are two important points within this discussion. For future students, it is important that the educational institutions are clear in their definitions and explanation of programs. For the Canadian industry, it is important that they describe their business in clear, unambiguous terminology and clearly describe the services that they can offer. From a business perspective, companies operating in the global market must decide on which term is most suitable and most accurately describes their offerings. Are they conducting land surveys or GIS application development or using LIDAR for forest inventory?

Post secondary educational institutions change their programs in response to the perceived needs of the market – often done quite slowly. Businesses need to define themselves in relation to the same market – often more rapidly, but also in response to the global market demand. If the language is not universal then this may limit their business opportunities.

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