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human geography

DOD wants to use satellites to look inside other cultures

For those of you who didn't sit through a college class on the subject, human geography is a social science that examines human activities and behavior in the context of location.

It's had quite a history, including some controversial offshoots where different practitioners used the science to promote everything from Marxism to feminism.

When I took the course,  I found the field interesting, if a bit static. But the integration of computers and graphical information systems is giving the old methods a radical boost in performance and usefulness. And government is interested.

In fact, the U.S. Special Operations Command is awarding a contract to GeoEye Analytics for a special Human Geography Information System that uses a unique satellite constellation for collecting data in areas not commercially available.

A human geography information system uses satellite imagery as the baseline and overlays the satellite maps with datasets and other detailed information covering history, culture, education, economy, religion, weather and political landscapes,.  In addition, a good human geography system can map and even predict stresses that may change the dynamics of a target area as it relates to regional security.

In this case, the contract requires the contractor to provide "geospatially referenced, rectified, socio-cultural data on a number of countries for which there is a critical need but non-existent data. The data will produce in-depth secondary database research as well as initialize primary field research within respective countries."

The  Special Operations Forces are specifically looking for data on political parties, schools, religious institutions, tourist areas, airfields, military installations and embassies. The military is also interested in Internet cafe locations, business conducting mining and mineral surveys, smuggling routes, human trafficking information and other areas of interest, "to be determined."

These datasets, in conjunction with the detailed satellite images, will presumably help the Special Forces Command plan missions. Having pinpoint, up-to-date topographical information overlaid with “human” data about an area can be a huge advantage for troops trying to head into unfamiliar territory.

And although it's not dissimilar to what geographers in 1854 did when mapping cholera outbreaks in London, the addition of satellites and powerful computing and analytics provides a 21st century version of a time-honored scientific discipline. 

Posted by John Breeden II on Oct 17, 2013 at 12:30 PM


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