Meet Emily Gottesfeld – Younger Geospatial Professional

As a field technician and Lead Field Surveyor for Quantum Spatial Emily Gottesfeld has accumulated an amazing set of geospatial skills.

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Meet Emily Gottesfeld

Please provide a recap of your post high school education and training. Do you have any licenses or certifications? Are you a member of any organizations?

I have a BA in Geology from Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA and a MS in Geology (Physical Volcanology) from the University of Oregon in Eugene, OR.  I am a member of OGUG (the Oregon GNSS Users Group) and COGS (Central Oregon Geoscience Society).

When did you become interested in the surveying profession and what are some of the things that made it a career that you wanted to pursue?

I kind of fell into surveying without intending to, actually.  While in grad school I took some GIS classes and a remote sensing class for outside credits because they sounded interesting.  I found I really enjoyed them, and when a job posting for a field tech with Watershed Sciences (now Quantum Spatial) was forwarded to me by four different people, and was also sent out over the Geology department listserv, I thought, “What the heck, this could be fun!” and I applied.  That was ten years ago and I’ve never regretted that decision.  At the time I still wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting into, but it turned out to be a lot of fieldwork that was heavily weighted toward using Trimble GPS equipment and providing ground support and ground truthing for LiDAR flights and data processing.  In those ten years the company has continued to branch out into different types of specialized survey, and I’ve enjoyed learning how to use a variety of surveying equipment and different survey methods.

Can you provide a timeline with description of the positions you have held in the surveying profession to date?

January 2009 – present: Remote Sensing Field Technician for Quantum Spatial, Inc. (formerly Watershed Sciences, Inc.).  In March 2018 I was promoted to Lead Field Surveyor. In addition to my role on the survey side of things, I also track maintenance for our fleet of field vehicles and am on the field safety team.

photo of Meet Emily Gottesfeld

Emily Gottesfeld on Horseback

Please describe some of the technology that you have become skilled in using and any challenges associated with using it on a daily basis.

I started out using Trimble R7 GPS base stations and Trimble R8 rovers in 2009.  A few years later we upgraded all our equipment to be GNSS capable.  I’ve become really good at troubleshooting issues with this equipment, mainly connectivity issues with the Trimble TDL450 RTK radio either not “talking” to the base or not broadcasting to the rover (or the rover not recognizing the radio signal).  Most of this is done by digging through the survey style settings in the TSC3 survey controller (basically a pocket PC specific to Trimble).  Of course, now that RTNs are widespread and readily available in most areas, we’re relying less and less on static base stations and radios for RTK collection.

More recently I have become acquainted with using total stations, most frequently a Trimble S7 robotic station and a Nikon manual station, though I have used manual Trimble stations as well.

About three years ago Quantum Spatial started offering products created with LG360 cameras mounted on a backpack or drone.  The setup includes a GPS tracker, and the camera and GPS are synced using a smartphone.  This technology can be used to create a virtual walk-through of something; in our case so far we’ve used it to map out streams and drainages for water and sewer districts such that their engineers can do a virtual walk-through of their stream and drainage network and pinpoint areas of concern (bank destabilization or failure, blockages, illegal dumping, etc.).  But to create all this imagery people need to strap on the backpack and walk/wade (or kayak, or fly with a drone) each stream segment.  This setup was developed in our Portland, OR office and I was the first field employee to be trained on it and am now the one who trains others.  It requires a huge amount of bushwhacking through all sorts of overgrown vegetation, navigating slippery stream beds, avoiding falling into deeper pools, etc.  It’s quite challenging, but fun to see the final product (think of it as Google Street View for streams (or whatever else a client wants mapped)).

With bathymetric LiDAR systems becoming more and more mainstream we have been doing an increasing amount of shallow water mapping in the past few years.  This includes stream networks and near-shore ocean or lake environments.  As with any other type of aerial data collection, ground-truthing is important for accuracy, so I find myself wading into the water with a Trimble rover and collecting GPS points on the submerged surface (this includes anything from slippery boat ramps to rocky glacial streams).

One of the biggest challenges I face in the field can be the driving.  In order to reach some survey sites I’ve had to navigate some very poorly maintained roads.  On a few occasions I’ve had to saw through small logs or drag fallen trees out of the road, and on others I’ve found myself committed to continuing down a deteriorating path and just hoping I’ll find a way out at the other end.  Most of the time I work alone, so there’s the added risk of nobody else being there if something goes wrong.  But we do carry emergency kits with satellite phones and SPOT locator beacons in each field rig, and we have trackers on our vehicles and a check-in policy.

photo of Emily Gottesfeld in the Field

Emily Gottesfeld in the Field

One particularly challenging project in Alaska was accessible only by float plane and helicopter, and that remains one of the highlights of my field career.  Another included a week of camping at a (quite luxurious) base camp in a remote area near Mount Spurr, where I was not allowed to wander around without a rifle-toting bear guard following me.  Yet another required over a week of trailer camping on Alaska’s north slope (there is not enough DEET in the world to overcome those mosquitoes).  And one, in the British Virgin Islands, required me to “borrow” (with help from a local surveyor) the ladder from the tiny island’s only fire truck in order to climb to the top of the fire station and set up a GPS base on the roof.

As a field surveyor I rarely find myself doing office work.  But over the years I’ve learned to use some LiDAR and orthophoto processing and rectification software and I find that quite interesting as well, though I prefer fieldwork to office work.  I particularly love orthorectification, basically stitching aerial photos together to create a fluid picture of the entire mapped area, as it’s like a challenging but fun puzzle.  This is mostly done now with automated software, but occasionally a particularly difficult area might need to be done by hand.  I’ve also learned a bit about processing and finalizing GPS static and RTK data using OPUS.

Photo of Emily Gottesfeld at Alaska Base Camp

Emily Gottesfeld at Alaska Base Camp

Do you think this will be a long term career for you? Why or why not?

Though I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I started my job, I’ve found that I really enjoy surveying.  I like working outdoors, traveling around the country, learning how to use and troubleshoot equipment and training others do so.  I do plan to continue a career in surveying and am considering working toward a PLS, or at least becoming an official LSIT.  I have more than enough practical fieldwork experience, but I need to focus more on the classroom and land law side of things.

What are a couple of ideas that could attract more young people to the surveying profession?

I think that being able to work outside and away (at least sometimes) from an office/desk is already a huge draw for many people.  Toward the end of my time as an undergrad, GIS was only just becoming a popular subject and course that was offered.  If I’d had an opportunity to take a GIS course sooner, I may have been drawn to surveying earlier than I was.  Drones are becoming more and more accessible and specialized as well, and I think there are many people out there who would love to fly drones and be able to call it work.

Any further thoughts or comments, perhaps how you see all of this technology changing the world?

Even in just ten years of working in the survey profession I’ve seen a shift in the technology used and what it’s capable of.  We are able to map an area in detail, often to within an accuracy of a few centimeters.  LiDAR in particular has helped locate geologic features and ancient ruins that were overgrown or simply invisible to the naked eye.  Knowing the locations of old fault lines and landslides, for example, can help a lot with risk mitigation in certain areas.  Mapping near-shore morphology of hurricane-prone areas can help agencies like NOAA better understand and model what may happen when the next hurricane hits.  Similarly, shoreline mapping of tsunami-prone areas aids in better modeling of tsunami inundation zones and evacuation routes.  Mapping of powerline corridors in remote and rugged places can help identify areas of concern (vegetation overgrowth, structural stability of transmission towers).  Much of what we do at Quantum is to help mitigate risks.  I feel fortunate to work in and grow with such a fascinating and exciting field!

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