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.    

The Virginia Tech Drone Park is the tallest in the U.S., at 85 feet high, and covers the approximate area of a football field.

Why study environmental informatics at Virginia Tech?

  • Students learn about the application of big data, geospatial technology, and remote sensing to a variety of fields related to the study and management of natural resources: land use, soil, water, fish and wildlife, climate, etc.
  • Overseas study can take you to Panama as part of the Issues in Sustainability and Natural Resource Management course, where activities include assisting local scientists with Global Positioning System (GPS) mapping and wildlife inventories.
  • Research opportunities for undergraduates are available through programs such as the Conservation Management Institute’s Undergraduate Research Fellows. Recent projects involve carbon density and wildlife viability, American chestnut growth, amphibian fungi, and the spread of walnut tree blight.
  • The Virginia Tech Drone Park is available for learning and operating Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) without any special certification or training requirements.
  • 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) Lab, which houses numerous computer workstations. CEARS also offers a high-end, large-format printer, 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 also have access to the Informatics Lab in Newman Library, which assists university researchers with finding, generating, processing, analyzing, and visualizing data.    

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 datasets to be combined to test ecological hypotheses.
  • Ecological forecasting specialist — Provides natural resource 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 datasets.
  • 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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