School of Engineering

Staff Profile

Dr David Fairbairn

Senior Lecturer in Geomatics



Being fascinated both by the look and the value of maps, I have wide-ranging interests in cartography, from assessing map use strategies in navigation to quantifying the information content of historic mapping. 21st century cartography is redefining this ancient art/science and opening up significant opportunities in geospatial data handling. My recent projects on crowdsourcing and VGI, generalisation, the role of geo-visualisation in decision-making, and education in geomatics reflect this.

Please note that I have been retired since 30th September 2019, but still retain interest outside the classroom in the discipline of cartography.


I was a member of staff at Newcastle University from 1978 to 2019 and thus accumulated considerable experience in teaching and researching in subject areas which changed beyond recognition during that period.  My teaching always focussed on mapping and the handling of geospatial data.  The nature of the discipline of cartography, which covers a vast range of human activity and enquiry, including measurement science, data processing, information technology, image analysis, graphic production, socio-economic and environmental applications, institutional policy, aesthetics, history, and culture, remains an essential adjunct to the Newcastle approach to the subject of 'geospatial engineering'.  It is this area of the School's activity to which I contributed.  My specific research interests were therefore highly varied during my period as an active academic.


I was Degree Programme Director for the two undergraduate degree courses in Geomatics (including the only undergraduate GIS degree in the UK) from the mid 1990s to 2015, acting also as Admissions Tutor for these programmes. I supervised a significant number of postgraduate research students in a range of projects and retain some duties in this activity post-retirement.


My qualifications include an undergraduate BA degree in Geography from University College London; a postgraduate Diploma in Cartography from ITC, The Netherlands; and an MSc (obtained by research) and a PhD, both from Newcastle University. 


I am a Fellow of the British Cartographic Society, and was also recognised by the International Cartographic Association as an Honorary Fellow in 2015. I have had significant administrative and outreach roles with each of these organisations, and retain responsibility for the monthly ICA column in the GIM International journal.

Industrial experience 

I have previously been employed both in academia (as a Research Associate at Reading University) and in the commercial world (as an Atlas Editor for George Philip Ltd.).




Research Interests

Map and image data extraction (LIDAR, landscape analysis, historic maps and images)
Spatial data handling (map use, mobile technologies)
Practical map making ('crowdsourcing', generalisation, geo-visualization)
Policy issues (opensource methods, SDIs)
Theoretical cartography (information content, map complexity)

Other Expertise

Educational issues in cartography and geomatics
Environmental satellite remote sensing

Current Work

Issues related to volunteer greographic information and crowdsourced data
Geovisualization and risk in engineering practice

Research Roles

Coordinator of Newcastle University / Northumberland National Park Authority research liaison

Postgraduate Supervision

Current supervisor for 2 PhD research postgraduates
Successful research students recently:

Kaizer Moreri (Botswana)(2018): The role of volunteered geographic information in land administration systems in developing countries

Mustafa Hameed (Iraq)(2018): Assessing the role of volunteered geographic information in enhancing Iraqi land administration systems

Maythm Al-Bakri (Iraq)(2012): Developing Tools and Models for Evaluating Geospatial Data Integration of Official and VGI Data Sources

Khalid Al-Haidan (Bahrain)(2009): Towards a national spatial data infrastructure for the Kingdom of Bahrain

Miao Wang (China)(2008): Real-time dynamic simulation of special event crowd by integrating ABM and GIS
Gobe Hobona (Botswana/UK)(2007): Web-based discovery and dissemination of multidimensional geographic information
Sirivilai Teerarojanarat (Thailand)(2007): Micro-simulation urban land use change modelling : the case of Ladprao, Bankok, Thailand
Wiske Rotinsulu (Indonesia)(2007): Modelling spatial distributions of tropical palms of Sulawesi, Indonesia : an integration of GIS and statistical approaches
Nosakhare Erharuyi (Nigeria)(2006): A task level adaptation approach in mobile GIS for disaster response decision support
Henny Mehner (Germany/UK)(2005): The potential of high spatial resolution remote sensing for mapping upland vegetation using advanced classification methods

Esteem Indicators

Chair, Commission on Education and Training, International Cartographic Association
Honorary Fellowship of the International Cartographic Association

Main supervisor of internationally-sponsored PhD students
Referee for international research council applications
Invited keynote presentations and chairing of sessions at international conferences
Secretary/Treasurer of GISRUK (premier UK GIS research body)


Capita/Ministry of Defence, Review of educational provision £18,000 2017

JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee)
SAW-GEO OGC Collision project £97,000 2006/8
Newcastle City Council
Metadatabases and knowledge engineering in a local authority £56,000 2004/05
JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee)
eMapScholar £48,000 2001/2
Joint Research Centre, European Union
MURBANDY (Monitoring URBAN DYnamics) 47,700 ECUs (euros) 1999

Industrial Relevance

Map production
Cartographic design and editing


Undergraduate Teaching

module CEG1605 Tutorial Study Skills for Earth Scientists

module CEG1702/1710 Introduction to GIS

module CEG1711 Tutorial Study Skills for Geomatics

module CEG1714 GIS Fieldcourse


module CEG2704 Geographic Information Systems

module CEG2720 Practice and Research Geomatics

module CEG2718 Applied Geospatial Data Handling


module CEG3799 Research Project