The invention of computerized Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in the 1960s revolutionized how we collect, map and analyze spatial data and understand how Earth is evolving. With significant technological advances, increased computer processing power and data storage, advances in the accessibility to the internet and the use of mobile “smart” phones, the volume, velocity and variety of geo-data we generate are growing exponentially. Since the 1970s, millions of snapshots of Earth have been captured by sensors on board satellites that image Earth in various spatial, spectral and temporal resolutions. In the past, expensive satellite imagery and limited computational power only allowed analysis of small geographical areas, for example, counting building footprints in a small neighborhood or the volume of live vegetation in a single agriculture field. This model is being replaced thanks to the availability of publicly available and free satellite data that capture every location on earth every few days and in a spatial resolution of up to a few meters. These satellites capture many of the physical, economic and social characteristics of Earth, providing a unique asset for social scientists who seek to understand social processes – also in areas where traditional data is less available. In this talk I will discuss the concept of geospatial data science and will highlight some of the new advancements in the use of big geodata, in general, and satellite imagery in particular for social science. I will demonstrate the potential of recent innovations in remotely sensed observations and data analysis for understanding some of the most fundamental social and economic processes on Earth.
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