"Oh no. Do I need to attempt a succinct explanation of geomatics?" asks Professor David Parker of the University of Newcastle. "Well, I could say something long-winded based on the way we take measurements of the earth, but essentially we do SatNav and Google Earth – professionally. So whereas most people use Google Earth to visualise a drive along their high street, professionals can use imagery from land, air and space not only to visualise our urban infrastructure but to sense vegetation, moisture and heat loss."
Until recent times geomatics was a sort of adjunct to engineering. The Channel Tunnel, for example, wouldn't have happened without it. But as satellites have progressed, the profile of the geomatician has soared. "We can now sense the uplift around an active volcano or measure the rate of melt of the ice caps," says Parker. His science is the great hope for providing the blueprint (or greenprint) to enable us to have a truly sustainable lifestyle. Parker is loath to take any personal credit – geomatics is always a team effort – but he has brought geomaticians, engineers and geoscientists together to collaborate in a new way.
Ecologists point out that everything is interconnected, yet scientists often go about their business in a compartmentalised way. Parker and his team, however, merge data to create mind-bogglingly detailed maps that allow them to profile, for example, coastal erosion, or to treat Newcastle as an urban laboratory. Over the next two years, the School of Geomatics (ceg.ncl.ac.uk) will map all the details of the city's infrastructure. "When we've done that," says Parker, "we'll know how to change to live within our means. Enough for all, for ever – that's the aspiration."