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Mark DeMulder Presentation at AAG
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Mark DeMulder: I'm very pleased to be here representing the Geological Survey. USGS is a very interesting organization. It's a fantastic place to work. It's an organization with a tremendous history. We're 131 years old this year. We're founded in 1879. USGS has about 10,000 employees. We have over 400 operating locations. We're in every state. And I'll show you a map in a minute that shows some of those locations.

And just as an anecdote I recently gave a short talk at a university to the geography student body. I gave my business card out. And one of the young folks who was about to graduate emailed me shortly after the presentation and said, "Hey, USGS looks interesting. I'm a biologist with an interest in geography. Any chances of a job in the USGS?" So I just very quickly went to the USA jobs website and searched under USGS. The first job that came up was for a GS-7 biologist in the US Virgin Islands and it required scuba certification. So I sent that job announcement to that young man and said, "Here's an interesting one. It might be a nice way to start a career with the Geological Survey."


So we are a very diverse organization in terms of our science disciplines and our locations. And it's really a fantastic organization and a great place to work. This is our first director, Clarence King. He actually wasn't the director for very long, you can see from 1879 to 1881. But he was the first director of US Geological Survey. And you can see what it says there was his charge when he came in. And his words are still in the Organic act, which is a part of our reason for being, the classification of the public plans and the examination of the geological structure, mineral resources and products of the national domain, pretty broad title.

The thing that probably is most significantly altered, at least in my view in our mission, is that in the mid 1990s we got a very large biological component. You might recall that under the Clinton administration there was a new federal agency formed called the National Biological Survey that polled wildlife and field biologists from Fish and Wildlife Service, from Park Service and made this new government organization. Congress hated it right from the start and they pretty quickly killed it. And they moved the National Biological Survey into the USGS. And it became the Biological Resources Division of the US Geological Survey.


So that's a pretty significant change for us. I will just say looking back at the history that our second director is someone that's actually much more well known than Clarence King; John Wesley Powell, the Civil War hero who explored the Grand Canyon. And he's the guy that started the topographic mapping program in the Geological Survey about 125 years ago.

And if you've ever visited the USGS out in Reston, our headquarters building, that is the John Wesley Powell Building. Interestingly both Powell and King led two of the four great Western surveys. If you're familiar with the history of mapping in the United States, the first two directors led two of those four expeditions.

So looking at USGS today what's interesting to know? One is that we are in the Department of the Interior. And mostly what the Department of Interior is about is land management. One out of every five acres in the United States is owned by the Department of Interior. That's organizations like the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife, Park Service, BIA; big land management agencies. And they have regulatory responsibilities associated with that land management mission.


The US Geological Survey is not a land management agency. We provide science to those land management agencies so that they can effectively carry out their mission mandate. So we are not a regulatory agency. We are an objective science agency. We're one of nine bureaus in the Department of Interior. I've mentioned some of the others. Mineral Management Service I didn't mention which does about $10 billion per year of business leasing oil and gas rights along with Mineral Management Service doing an offshore B&M, leasing rights on shore. We are very much about partnering with other agencies, those science agencies that we support and local governments, tribal governments and also the private sector.

This is an example of some of the locations that we operate out of. We're basically divided into regions. And we have science centers and operating locations scattered all across the country and in the trust territories, Guam, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, et cetera. This is an interesting graph. It's a little confusing to look at. But let me just tell you what you're looking at briefly here.


Along the bottom you see fiscal years 1999 through 2008. And then the colored chunks of the bar chart show you the percentage of employees within a given age group at USGS over those years. So take the sort of I think it's pink, purplish pinkish there, the sort of big middle chunk. Those are employees who are age 50 to 54. The block on top of that, ochre or red in color, is employees 55 to 59 and then above that 60 to 64.

The reason I show you this slide is to say that the USGS is about 10,000 people as an organization. And we have a very significant challenge ahead of us with the impending retirement of many of our employees. So filling the pipeline with new employees is something that's a huge challenge for the Geological Survey. If you look at the numbers of young employees down at the bottom of those bar charts, they're pretty small.

So we have not recruited sufficient numbers to replace all that are going to retire. And that's a challenge for the Geological Survey. It's a challenge for many of the agencies in the federal government. It's a big opportunity for people who are coming in to the earth science profession to find employment, I believe.


So our science vision is that the USGS is a world leader in the natural sciences through our scientific excellence and responsiveness to society's needs. And that last bit is really important, responsiveness to society's needs. For science's sake, it's science with a practical application that meets the needs of the nation especially with the challenges that face us today.

And this is just a quote from our president, "Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment and our quality of life than it has ever been." And I think most people would probably agree with that statement; that's very true.

[Video Start]

Speaker 1: ... a foundation of geographic knowledge...

[Video End]


Mark DeMulder: So I'm going to show this short 5-minute video and then I'll launch right into a short discussion of a mapping program. And then we'll proceed through the panel.

[Video Start]

Speaker 1: ... save lives and preserve these lands for our children. As part of the Department of the Interior, the United States Geological Survey has led the way in mapping the nation. Mapping goes hand in hand with American history, the exploration of the West and the development of our country.

Speaker 2: The government cannot do any scientific work of more value to the people at large than by causing the construction of proper topographic maps of the country.


Speaker 1: In 1884 John Wesley Powell established a program for mapping the nation and helped define the new frontier. Over the next 125 years mapping methods changed as the use and technology matured, evolving from field sketching and manual cartography to producing paper maps then modernizing to digital mapping using the latest geospatial technologies.

Speaker 3: Maps are the heart and soul of what we do here at National Geographic. We were founded in 1888 and almost from the very beginning we worked closely with the US Geological Survey for accurate and authoritative base maps of our country. Now in digital form maps are constantly changing. And that's a very exciting opportunity for us. We can take those data layers in the national map, things like roads, buildings and rivers. And we can shape them and customize them and serve various audiences on new platforms in ways that we could never have imagined even just a few years ago.


Speaker 1: Born from the digital revolution is the National Map. Today the National Map is everywhere. When you see computer simulations of the Earth's surface, you are likely looking at data from the National Map. It's fundamental data. It's familiar information we use every day and may not even know it.

Speaker 4: Today geospatial technologies are advancing the way we are thinking as human species. The USGS has done us a major service by providing a key base map which spans from sea to sea, from border to border. This will affect how we plan things. It will affect economic development. It will make our society better. It will help us manage our environment more effectively and get systems engaged. I really strongly support the National Map and the efforts that USGS is making to provide this foundation.


Speaker 1: The National Map provides foundational information nationwide. These include aerial imagery, elevation, place and feature names, water, land cover, transportation, structures and boundaries. With innovative services like the new National Map Viewer Platform, a user can visualize data they want to download or manipulate and make their own map.

Another new product built on the USGS legacy and data from the National Map is US Topo. US Topo provides updated electronic topographic maps that are available at To acquire and maintain better data, the National Map relies heavily on partnerships with federal state and local agencies along with industry. With huge challenges ahead in the areas of energy, emergency operations, human services and natural resource management, finding solutions will depend on stewardship of geospatial data.


Speaker 5: The US Environmental Protection Agency works with many different organizations to provide the nation with clean and safe water. Together we collect a vast amount of water quality data. The mapping of water data is accomplished in partnership with the US Geological Survey. This partnership led to the development of the National Hydrography Dataset that provides a common referencing system of the nation's surface waters.

The federal and state organizations who work together to develop the National Hydrography Dataset now also contribute to its improvement to the National Map's Data Stewardship Program. The US Environmental Protection Agency is one of the many organizations that benefit from the geospatial data from the National Map.

Speaker 1: The National Map of the future will offer more innovations and online capabilities, increased investment in stewardship leading to greater knowledge and easier accessibility to national geospatial information for everyone.


Speaker 6: At the USGS we are committed to forward-looking, advanced research and development of geospatial technologies. With the support of our partners, the National Map provides valuable data and services to meet the changing needs of our nation. The future holds endless possibilities for using maps and peer-referenced datasets, allowing citizens and scientists alike to explore the true nature of our planet's geography.

Speaker 1: To learn more about the National Map and how to become a valuable partner, visit

[Video End]

Mark DeMulder: OK thank you for that. Just push the button there for number 1 if that's right. OK. So great video introduction to my part of Geological Survey, the National Geospatial Program. And I'm going to take just five minutes or so. I'm going through a few PowerPoint slides that might fill in some of the gaps in what the video presented. And then we'll progress on through the rest of the panel. And by the end you will have seen all of the program elements of the geography discipline within the US Geological Survey.


So I've already introduced myself. There's my name and title. What does the National Geospatial Program in particular do for the nation? We organize, maintain and publish the geospatial baseline of the nation's topography, landscape and built environments. In other words we are the nation's civilian mapping organization.

We have a defense mapping organization. It's an organization called National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. They map the rest of the world. The Geological Survey maps the United States and its trust territories. We've been doing it for more than 125 years, as I've said. And our 21st Century version of our mapping program we've given the banner the National Map. Under that banner there are eight digital databases that are listed there on the slide. I won't read them but they are the components that you would expect to find basically in a topographic dataset. And I will say we are republishing new topographic maps in digital form at a very rapid rate and I will say more about that in a minute.


The main mechanism for users to access those digital databases of the National Map is this new viewer geoportal platform. It's called the National Map Viewer. It was first released in December 3, 2009. It has been in beta since then. Today it goes out of beta and becomes our primary mechanism for accessing the databases of the National Map.

So with this geoportal you can access, visualize and download all of the digital data that we maintain as part of the National Map. And you can access and download digital topographic maps that have been assembled. For those who want easier to use product than pulling directly from digital databases, you can get those maps also from this viewer.

Just one quick word about where the viewer came from. This is built on an effort that our partner organization NGA, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, built. And they call it Palantera within NGA. We have recorded that to our application or we use that for our application and save the taxpayer the expense of a government agency recreating a geoportal when one already existed in another agency.


I mentioned that we are redoing topographic maps. You may know that there are about 55,000 individual USGS topographic maps at a scale of 1:24,000 that cover the country. We call them either quad sheets based on the fact that they are quadrangles of 7-1/2 minute by 7-1/2 minute size or the 24,000 scale topo.

It's basically the signature product of our old mapping program. It was about a 50-year effort from about the 1930s to the mid 1990s to create all of the 1:24,000 scale paper topographic maps that we did, all 55,000. About 35 million person hours went into that effort. Since the '90s that analog database of topographic maps has been aging. And the average age of those in the warehouse today is about 30 years old. That's an old map.


So we instituted a process of creating new digital topographic maps that went operational in May of 2009. And it is based on pulling data from our digital databases of the National Map in a pretty automated fashion, assembling them so that it looks like a topographic map and publishing them in GeoPDF, making those GeoPDFs available for free over the Internet from or from the USGS Store homepage. And that's what we've been marching on with.

This is an example of what a GeoPDF map looks like. You will notice it has an image as the base, which is new. The old topo maps with very exceptions did not have an image as its base. That image is from the program that has an acronym in the first bullet there. It says, "Three-year revision cycle following NAIP." That's the National Agricultural Imagery Program and very important to our program. It's a program that collects leaf-on imagery for the conterminous 48 states on a three-year cycle. So every three years every image is updated. And our map production plan follows that native cycle. So every three years we're updating every map.


This is a screenshot of a USGS Store where you can download these data or as I said you can get them directly from Since April of 2010 we've created more than 20,000 of these new maps. They're up on this page for download for free. I'll just compare that to the best year USGS ever had when we were doing maps in an analog fashion in 1972. We had 3000 employees in the national mapping division. We created about 2500 maps that year. Since May of 2009 we've created 20,000 of these new digital maps with about 20 people. It's a far cry from our old production cycle.

Why does the data of the USGS matter? This question really is being asked in light of some of the other data portals that are out there. People say, "Well we've got Google. Why do we want the USGS national map when we've got all these other portals?" The USGS provides authoritative, accurate data upon which government decision makers can rely and emergency responders and others who are in the business of saving lives and property can rely.


And this is an example of that, our National Hydrography Dataset, which covers all the surface water network of the United States and is a very sophisticated database with flow direction encoded so you can do hydrologic modeling. And it's linked to our stream gauge network. USGS has over 7000 stream gauges that are telemetered to satellite and then brought down to servers and resting on an every 15-minute basis. So it monitors the flow, velocity and volume in the entire stream network.

So with those two pieces of capacity in place, this application has been developed which is called the Incident Command Tool. What it does is allow emergency responders to model the time interval between when a contaminant is introduced into the water network and when that contaminant will reach a drinking water intake which we have those mapped. So obviously very important in the event of a contaminant spill or even a terrorist attack. It was conducted on a water-salt network. This would be a key way of managing that. And it couldn't happen without the National Hydrography Dataset, a part of the National Map, as its base.


So where are we heading in the future? We are revitalizing the topographic mapping program. We are very interested in leveraging the nexus between the new social media that is so prevalent in everyone's lives now and the fact that geospatial capabilities are being coupled with those social media. So it offers an opportunity to really expand citizen mapping, bringing volunteers into the mapping program.

And we hope to continue to ignite a passion for mapping among our citizens. And I have Thomas Jefferson's picture up there not just because he started the Public Land Survey System in 1785 which he did but also because he said something that is absolutely true today, as true today as it was then. He said information is the currency of democracy. And we believe in the Geological Survey that geospatial information is a key component of that currency of democracy. We believe citizens who are very well aware of their geography and their environment are going to be better able to participate in our democratic system of government. So we think we have a role there to help in that.


And in closing I'll just put this up. It's an interesting cartographic curiosity no one from the USGS is allowed to offer an opinion. But if anybody else knows what this is, I'd be curious to see.

This is a map drawn by John Wesley Powell when he was a bureaucrat in Washington. It's called Arid Lands of the Western United States. And what it shows is Powell's vision for how the states of the Western United States should be formed. Each one of those colored polygons is his idea of what the state political unit boundaries should look like, interesting. And the most interesting thing is that those boundaries are actually the watershed boundaries for the Western United States. And Powell knew intrinsically that water was going to be the key resource in the West so why not make the political boundaries follow the same walls of nature that the hydrologic systems have to follow. And obviously he did not succeed in this effort. And we have our rectangular states of today. But it was an interesting idea.


Title: Mark DeMulder Presentation at AAG


Mark DeMulder, Director of the U.S. Geological Survey's National Geospatial Program (NGP) is featured as part of a panel discussion at the annual Association of American Geographer's conference in Washington DC, mid-April 2010.  The presentation includes:

  • a brief introduction to the USGS and its mapping program,
  • a history of topographic mapping
  • a video highlighting The National Map
  • and a summary of new mapping products and services from the NGP

Read more information about NGP and The National Map.

Transcript will be available soon.

Location: Washington, DC, USA

Date Taken: 4/16/2010

Length: 24:07

Video Producer: U.S. Geological Survey

Note: This video has been released into the public domain by the U.S. Geological Survey for use in its entirety. Some videos may contain pieces of copyrighted material. If you wish to use a portion of the video for any purpose, other than for resharing/reposting the video in its entirety, please contact the Video Producer/Videographer listed with this video. Please refer to the USGS Copyright section for how to credit this video.

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