Charlie Devine, University of Arizona graduate student
Charlie Devine has been involved with the GEOINT Community since 2009, when he joined the GIS department for land use management and conservation at Philmont Scout Ranch, a Boy Scout camp in New Mexico. Shortly thereafter, he received his undergraduate degree in environmental science and GIS from the University of Mary Washington. Devine would go on to work with Leidos, FEMA, NASA, and most recently Vricon before returning to academia full-time to earn his master’s degree in hydrometeorology at the University of Arizona. Devine has been a USGIF individual member since 2015.
What is the focus of your graduate research?
The hydrometeorology program is kind of a hybrid between atmospheric science and surface hydrology, so focusing on interactions between Earth’s land surface and the lower atmosphere, and how land and air affect the planet’s mass, heat, and energy balance. It’s relevant for weather forecasting and climate analysis, and it helps us better understand how we may impact our atmosphere by changing the physical characteristics of the land and vice versa.
My research looks at global snow coverage using satellite-based passive microwave remote sensing. I’m using that microwave data to retrieve “snow-water-equivalent, or SWE”—which refers to the equivalent depth of water that would be produced out of melted snow pack. Microwave data records the signal of the long-wave radiation emitted by the Earth through the snow pack, so you can determine the depth and density of snow based on the attenuation of the signal through a spectral gradient, or, in other words, the difference in how snow scatters the signal at different frequencies.
Many regions throughout the world rely on snowmelt as their primary source of water, so reduction in SWE can put stress on those populations. Additionally, having an accurate measurement of SWE enables better prediction of the timing and magnitude of flooding. I’m comparing different algorithms and retrieval methods used for various terrain and land cover types to develop a retrieval algorithm that will provide the best measurement of SWE on a global scale.
What are your plans following the completion of your master’s degree?
I’d like to work as a research scientist within a federal agency or national laboratory. I hope to build on this research and experience, and to look at dynamic interactions between humans and the environment, specifically water, and how changes to regional and global water resources may affect national security.
What is your advice for aspiring GEOINT professionals?
Get involved with a professional society or organization like USGIF. Participate in regional events and grow your network. Get actively involved in organizations too, don’t just become a member. Meet other community members, talk to them, volunteer alongside them. Also, try to continue your education for as long as possible. Whether that means taking grad classes at night, going back to school full-time, or taking online coding classes.
How do you think geospatial education could be improved?
The courses I benefitted from the most required deep critical thinking and creative problem-solving as opposed to following cut-and-dry laboratory assignments. They were difficult, but they required me to get out of my comfort zone and to approach geospatial problems differently. These courses often incorporated open-source packages, which provided me with much greater “under the hood” understanding of geospatial software. More educational programs should incorporate these. Also, geospatial programs could benefit from incorporating more foundational curriculum in coding and software development.
What intrigues you most about the future of GEOINT?
Definitely the prospect of real-time data assimilation—using GEOINT tools, platforms, and data sources to look at real-time environmental forces on human populations and vice-versa. Also, using that data to predict conflicts that arise from water complications or other natural resources. Leveraging artificial intelligence will play a role in these developments.
How has USGIF membership contributed to your professional growth?
I’ve been participating in events such as USGIF’s GEOINTeraction Tuesdays and the Foundation’s Young Professionals Group since 2011, but I wasn’t officially a USGIF member until I applied to the GEOINT Symposium Golden Ticket program. As a Young Professional Golden Ticket recipient, I was able to attend GEOINT 2016 for free and participate in special programming. USGIF membership has given me the opportunity as an early-career professional to interact with so many different people and to learn from their experiences.