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Reflections on National Topographic Mapping
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MS: Wow! I want to thank Mark and the others associated with thisóI actually even have notes! For those of you who know me, thatís not always the case. But this is such an incredible experience that Iím going to have this afternoon. Mark called me six weeks ago or so and said, Weíre holding a celebration and weíd like you to come and present an external view. And I was flabbergasted by that. The USGS topographic map is a tool that we use in all parts of our lives. Those of us whoíve been involved in geography or in geology, it is the essential tool.

Weíve seen today the history and the evolution of these products. 55,000 standardized products across the country. So you could have asked thousands of different people to do this! So I was, Iím absolutely flabbergasted that I was the one who was asked. It was also very brave of Mark to ask me to do this, because he knows that Iíve spent a good part of my life, in fact, the last two decades, coming to Washington quite frequently and being critical of the federal governmentís approach to many of these problems. So again, Iím flattered and a little bit overwhelmed to be the one to do this.

So, over the last month, what have I done. I went back and I thought about it. I thought about my own personal career. And as I scanned some old slides and put, you know, 35 millimeter slides, and I started to reflect on some things that Iíve written and students that Iíve worked with. It dawned on me, I got no career without you guys! [laughter] Sandy and I have made lasting friendships with the folks, many folks, that have worked and continue to work in this building. Through what I believe and I hope have been innovative uses of your maps and data, I have been able to have an exciting academic career.

Iíve supported dozens and trained dozens of graduate students, and in many ways I think Iíve made an impact on my adopted state of South Carolina by utilizing the resources that youíve given me. So, thank you. So, whatís my goal now, as sort of the wrap-up guy? Well, I thought about it, and I said, how can anyone reflect on the utilization of 7 Ĺ minute topographic quadrangles and the resultant digital data? You know, everybody has a personal story. So what I decided to do is give you my personal story through an example of my own personal applications and experiences.

And then, I think that my job is also to provide a friendly, and I think constructive, assessment of your plans. Now youíve got to remember that Kari just exposed some of these products and Iíve got maybe a week that Iíve been exposed to them, and I didnít have timeóMark Damerwitz was anxious to get my presentation at 9 oíclock this morning, so I wasnít able to modify it one more time after a wonderful discussion that I had with Larry Sugarbaker this morning, because lots of the kinds of criticisms that Iíve thought about over the last month, were answered this morning. So I feel really good about this and I hope everyone has a good time doing this.

So, what do I want to do? Itís my personal history and itís sort of the transition from paper to digits. What are you doing now? What are your plans for the future? What have experts recommended to you? What should you be doing, right? And what are your users wanting you to do? How should you be evaluated in terms of these new products? Whatís the institutional setting and constraints that you have? And hey, what about parcels? So, personal history. This marks my 40th year of doing GIS stuff. So, back at Ohio State in the late 60ís, those were, that was GIS as I invented it.

Fortunately, I mean a real honor in my life was in 1989 to be named to the first mapping science committee. Mapping science committee of the National Research Council was really a national mapping division advisory committee. So from the very inception of that committee, Iíve been involved with it. And probably over the last 20 years, half the years Iíve been involved with that committee. Weíve generated a lot of reports about the national mapping program. Many of these I was very honored to be part of. We think that these helped give you guidance so that when we see a product like the new national map viewer that we just saw, you know, we hope that the advice, and Iím sure, and I know, that the advice that weíve given you in these reports you listened to. And thatís the important thing.

And this parcel data stuff. Maybe weíll talk about that a little bit too. So what, Iím now part of this national geospatial advisory committee. Itís a Department of Interior FACA, or Federal Advisory Committee. And one of the things that weíve done in our first two years, we sort of been in business for about two years, is we wrote a paper, and I was asked to chair a writing committee to talk about the changing geospatial landscape. Stuff is happening every day, right? There are things that I would consider some kind of recent shock waves.

These personal navigation systems that we talked a little bit about. You know, thatís a commodity. Thatís less than a hundred dollars. Theyíre ubiquitous. Navtech sold its street centerline file for $8.1 billion, right? Google Earth, I had the great honor of bringing Mike Jones to the mapping science committee right after Google Earth arrived, and it just knocked everybodyís socks off, right? And so weíre going to get back to that one, right? We now, through Google Earth, maybe we have a hundred million users of GIS-related things, and that thingís on an i-phone, right?

Iím going to skipówell, Zillo is, you now, 80 million property out there on a website that you can figure out the value of your property as well as your neighbor or your former wife oróOpen Street Map is something thatís incredible, right? There are volunteer geographic information. And location-based services are incredible. In that paper in the committee identified major changes that have taken place in all of these areas, right? Thatís an ftp, you know what I mean, itís a pdf file that you can download from NGACA [ph]. I encourage you to take a look at it. I think itís a good thing.

Soooo, has USGS been listening? Well, this USGS Twitter thing, you know? So USGS is using Twitter to enable or, you now, tweets from people out there sensing whatís going on out on the ground. This is wonderful stuff. But, you know, I got parcels on my i-phone now, so Iím pretty happy. So, personal journey. 1963, Iím a geography student at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and thatís the first time I learned about topographic quads. You know, itís the key to understanding geography. Where are settlements? Why doóhow do settlements relate to transportation, to hydrography?

Why donít we have a road through those mountains? All of those fundamental essence of a community, as the Undersecretary spoke, you know, she always got a quad first, right? You got to get to know the lay of the land. Thereís nothing like it. In fact I took these pictures last week. We still have cabinets full of these quads. Thatís the Harrisburg quad, if you arenít familiar with it. Certainly the Grand Canyon is a fantastic quadrangle, right? And I, you know, itís just overwhelming to think about the technology at the time to create that, right?

And I donít know why it is, but you know, you always had to put four quadrangles together, right? To get, to make a study area, right? But Iím an urban and economic geographer, which is sort of interesting why you asked me to do this. But I was, you know, I remember looking at photo revisions of urban features, you know. And Iím saying, boy, thatís going to be difficult to keep up with. You know? And thatís true, right? And thatís sort of the big challenge that you have. So in terms of my own personal life, after learning about topographic quadrangles, I was at the University of South Carolina, late 70s, and we needed to create a coastal zone management plan.

Senator Hollings, if you remember, was a real fan of USGS and the Department of Commerce, also, but he was a big fan of mapping and technology. And so we got involved in this whole concept that the coastal zone should have a management plan. And after many failed attempts by local governments and the state government to do it, I said, You know, the USGS guys have a land use and land cover program. Why donít we utilize that to create our coastal zone management plan? We did it. And we actually measured and took a total inventory of the land use characteristics along our coastal zone. Thatís 1978.

This one here, the US, GIS world claims success. One of the things that Iím most proud of and the impact on our state has been something that we call our South Carolina infrastructure and economic development program. And you guys came out with something called 1 to 100,000digital line graphs. And I said to my folks in economic development, you know, thereís a lot of information there, and we could build an information system on the basis of that USGS data thatís consistent across our state. Okay? So we did it, right?

We built multiple layers of data utilizing the resources that you provided for us. And some of those we just directly took. Highways and interstates. But we also generated, because they were a digital product, we generated hundreds of maps like this. Paper maps. We took them out to the different water and sewer districts, gave them colored pencils, and then we developed the tools to convert them to digital data. And as a result, I donít think thereís another state that has statewide water and sewer lines, okay? And we generated a location of all of our sites and buildings.

And if you donít think things like sewer lines are important, look at the location of our major employers in relation to the sewer lines. So you provided us the base to add our own content. Thatís what that new viewer is as well. Right? It allows us to do those things. I will jump through some of these things. But, you know, I checked last week, and I went to our Department of Commerce web site and itís still there, a GIS site selection program that we started in the mid 1980ís, okay, fundamentally from the data that you provided us.

1988ís another kind of interesting date. I had a graduate student who was interested, you know, this landsat, satellite stuff, was kind of coming around. And I said, well, we got, you know, we have representation of wetlands on the 1 to 100,000digital line graphs vector data on the left, rastor [ph] data on the right. And this is a little bit of history here. In order to do this, we called this the ESRI, Erdes [ph] live link, he drove to Atlanta, hooked up a cable between two different computers, right? But rastor vector integration was possible, right? We brought those two domains together. You provided us the tools to do that.

In 1992, I was involved with our Department of Energy Savannah River site. The Savannah River site is a major facility in our state. It only covers 16 quadrangles, right? 16 quadrangles. And they needed a data integration tool, some standardization. And in fact it was mandated by the Department of Energy. A very data-rich environment. So, and we got quite a bit of notoriety. This is the cover of Photogometric [ph] Engineering Remote Sensing that talked about our project. What was the base for the environmental issues there? We took the one to 24,000K digital line-graph base.

We were able to create many layers of that, including integrating the hypsography [ph] across the site, generating slope and aspect. It was, and, you know, we did it cross-platform. Savannah River site was the second largest MacIntosh installation in the world. So who knew? But we made it work, okay, again, building on the resources that you gave us. Again, some kind of mid 90s, we started thinking about the internet. And we went ahead and we scanned all the topographic quadrangles because they were so important, and we put them up on a website so that they would be accessible to people.

Now, this is a little bit about what am I doing now, you know. So, that was sort of my personal history. This is what Iím doing on campus right now, just to give you a little idea of how, where are we going to go in the future. You know, I use lidar [ph] data to extract the height of buildings on campus. Iím extracting individual rooms in buildings and building an emergency alert, an emergency notification system for our law enforcement people. We deal with four-inch pixels now, right. Four-inch data. Routinely, our county is doing it every year. Every year doing it.

So, whatís this kind of transition, right? So, as I say, many of our favorite, our closest friends, were part of this kind of digital transformation, right, as you go from paper to digital products. There are the rastor images and the digital line graph thing. I had fun putting this one together. Allen, you like that one? How many commercial products have been derived from your data and an enlightened public policy by our Office of Management and Budget that make sure that that data is put into the public domain? Look at them all, right?

Whether youíre talking about personal navigation systems or general mapping systems, however you want to do that, your data is the foundation for that. Itís also kind of interesting the National Geographic has taken your product. Theyíre a great partner of yours. Theyíve taken that and if we go to something, the ESRI software, and we look at your data, itís actually National Geographic has done some value added for that. But thatís a partnership. Thatís the right thing to do. So instead of going out like this, we have people going around and taking, you know, all kinds of little private devices.

We also have to be aware in todayís world that there is, there are these Goggle people, right, and the Google people, you got to love them, right? And you got to embrace them and youíve got to work with them in things. As well as Microsoft, right? In fact, I was working on some other things. We had a meeting, it was a National Geospatial Advisory Committee meeting, yesterday morning. And it could be that Google and Microsoft will actually compete with each other to come out with the first version of imagery for the nation. Because they see the necessity for doing it.

And theyíre going to partner with states and with you guys. One of the things I learned this morning, you know, that we may have a partnership between the USGS and Microsoft to get imagery completed on a routine basis. Thatís an enlightened way for our democracy and our economy to work. So a lot of, I particularly like this way that your quads are used now. This is the pedometer site. Itís a little masha [ph] on top of Google map, but you know your view is there, right? So we can zoom right in, right? And we can measure the heights and things.

Google has its own way of taking your terrain data and shading it so itís sort of interesting and you can do some kinds of comparisons of that stuff. The digital line graphs, they are in some way a reverse engineering of the topographic quadrangle, right? We extract the individual layers that make up the photographic product, and we create those as individualóoop, I didnít, donít catch that spelling thereóand there are, I thank Steve Gupta for this slide. A huge triumph, right, with a cooperative program between the Census Bureau and the USGS.

Really an alliance that Erick Anderson and Bob Marks, who unfortunately recently deceased, they saw a vision. Weíre going to take these digital line graphs that USGS has and weíre going to create a national view for the Census Bureau. A set of street center lines that weíre going to use. That is a hugeóand if we look at all of the companies that have spun off from just that activity, okay, it is an incredible impact on our economy. So what are you doing now? I say itís a little bit of self promotion, and I think itís a question. Does the nation need a national map?

I tell you, if I could edit this slide after my talk this morning with some of you people, I would say, yes, right, the nation does need a national map, okay? There are some things that you do, are doing that are being done so well that you donít want to break them. The national hydrographic data set, NHD as itís widely known, is widely used by your scientific community. They know how to do this. They know how to access that data. They use it routinely. You work very well. Youíve developed a data model in concert with the users at the state level.

I absolutely applaud you for that. Youíve got too many viewers, but we just saw a new one that hopefully will replace many of those. Some things just donít work very well right now, but I will tell you, I will tell you in my field testing of the new viewer, and Iíve got some slides on it, Iím very excited for you and Iím very excited about the performance of it. And as we were discussing in a discussion this morning, I hope youíre overwhelmed. I hope that your servers come to a halt because people love the viewer so much. Thatís a good thing, right?

So youíve got to work on this documentation thing. When I find a quick start document thatís six pages long, I got to think about it. [laughter] So, this orthophoto quad is, and I learned a little bit more about it right now from what Kariís discussion. And also Keith Clark, whoís a good friend of mine, says heís writing a whole book about orthophoto quad, so he might think a little bit more about them than I do. You know, I think itís up for grabs, right? So youíll find out whether thatís, whether thatís a useful product. [laughter]

Now, a recent book that I think everyone should read is What Would Google Do? Okay? And thereís a few things that are very important here. Your worst customer is your best friend. Okay? Your best customer should be your partner. And I learned again this morning some wonderful partnerships that you have. Back with Census to, you know, in a sense, youíre now going to ingest Censusís roads. Youíre working closely with FEMA to coordinate the elevation data. I absolutely applaud you. Youíre working with Department of Homeland Security on a number of other issues, right?

So, but theyíre also saying, be a platform. Thereís another one down here that I think is sort of neat. Do what you do best and link to the rest, right? So concentrate on those things that are your domain. So hereís the new viewer, and I really, you know, I got my hands on it last week, and yes, it performs. Itís all that geo cache, you know, the caching of the rastor data. It does perform well. And , it is a platform. Just like Google says. Make it a platform. Allow people to build on that. Okay? There are links that work that go directly back out to commercial software like Arcmap and ArcGIS and Google Earth. There are parameters for doing the services and letting you add your own services on top of that.

The link to Google Earth is right there, so you can mix and match the resources that you think are best for your own purposes. Now, Iím, you know, as I say, Iíve been part of this process that has given you advice over 20 years. And Iím not going to read these things, but, you know, hereís a bunch of reports, right? Hereís a bunch of reports, including this one, which I was very closely involved with, the 2003 Review of the National Map. What I saw, what I have seen in the new viewer, I think is a direct response to criticisms that we gave you. And you listened. And thatís great news.

We went to Congress. They wanted to know whether things were working out well, and in 2007 there was more analysis by the National Research Council on what you should be doing. But more important than that is you are listening to your users. This document may be the best thing youíve ever done! This is this survey, National Map Customer Requirements. I applaud you for this, right? I absolutely applaud you. Because, and you point out in your own document that the reality is that existing maps do not make good spatial data.

Right? You got little examples like this, where boundaries donít fit. Youíve got hydro features that donít match the contour lines. Youíve got labels that are in the wrong place and theyíre obliterating certain things, right? So in your own words, youíre saying the digital age has fundamentally changed mapping. Right? Spatial analysis has moved from tabletop exercises to fully automated things. Maps are created today to convey results of analysis. The role of the USGS as the primary producer has shifted toward geospatial services. Yes.

Iím not going toóI think Iíll just skip this one. So you did a customer survey, right? You, the customer, you asked people which of these things they wanted, okay? What do they want? They want feature download. They want feature service. They want viewers. Okay? Okay? They told you that theyíre not so fond of your viewers, and they love the Google map viewer. They told you that they want transportation, hydro, elevation, orthoimagery, and they actually also said they want parcels. [laughter] So this is just some, these are just someóIíll just skip through these things, okay.

So, sort of the big picture here is that the findings of the national map thing, okay, say that the national map is a geospatial base data for framework for the nation. Customers of these geospatial services will use nationally consistent base data with their own services to create products, right? Disaster response maps. Tasks orders. Trail maps. Mortgage foreclosure, four class maps. Flood inundation. These are all partnerships that youíre working toward. We want you to improve the elevation data, right? We want, we need lidar, we need it implemented, and youíre working closely with FEMA to do it correctly.

Why is that important? Do hydro, do this. This is, Iím on the board of Earth Sciences and Resources, and we just heard about this report that was published by the national, by our board last week. Landscapes on the edge, right? We need to understand these fundamental processes that are changing the landscape, right, and we need the data. Actually, the new administration likes evidence-based decision making. Thatís the term, folks. Evidence-based decision making. And they have, theyíre very fond of a sense of place, too.

Sense of place, evidence-based things. So we need your data to support good science. How should you be evaluated? Well again, I point to your own documents. Not what others are saying, but what youíre saying about yourself and what your challenges are. You wish to be, by 2015, you want to be the preferred place to come. You want to be a successful national map that provides those base map services that other people can build on, right? Iím going to skip that. Now, in that, and so hereís sort of my wrap up, Iím almost wrapped up hereóthe performance measures.

In your own documents, you set out standards for yourself. Guidelines. Deadlines. Okay, okay? The bottom one here is interesting. Multiple resolution data integration method developed within three years. I didnít tell you to do that. You told yourself that you want those standards. So youíve set out not only some goals, but you set some performance measures there. I applaud you for that. And thereís a lot of those. Iím not going to go into them. Now, let me talk a little bit about your role in sort of a larger institutional setting.

I am a critic of what goes on in Washington, okay? Why am I a critic? Because I want it to be better than it is. Itís important for us in society to have good geographical data and to have it integrated and not duplicate effort. So, we want a national spatial data infrastructure that serves all levels of government and is a solid foundation for lots of good decision making. OMB circular A-16 designates certain responsibilities, okay? And they give you the responsibility for orthoimagery, for earth cover, for elevation, whatever that means in the world of lidar, and hydrography. Thatís what your users want. Thatís what OMB says you should be doing, okay?

And there you are, in all of those things. Thatís you, okay? As I say, Iíve been coming here a long time, right? Executive Order 12906 is famous for everybody, right? 1994, President Clinton said this, you know? Within six months, and within nine months, we will get things done, you know? Itís frustrating to us on the outside about why we canít accomplish these things. I hope that the national map thing is a good way [unint]. [laughter] Do I have a second? Give me one minute to talk about parcels. The FGDC annual report highlighted parcels.

Thatís like a victory for us, okay? And the quote there, by someone whoís in the audience here, is that land parcel data are essential to such functions as the management of emergency situation, domestic energy resources, management of public and private lands, etc. Thereís an interesting slide. Let me see, it looks like parcels on the top of that one too. [laughter] Now, this is what is possible. And this is the challenge I want to give you. This is the national, the old national map viewer. Thatís NC1 map, one of your great partners. Those are parcels in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, and York County, South Carolina.

Displayed and served up by local government through your resources. Itís possible! It is possible. Now, you see this one? I love this one. Iím walking down the street in Dijon, France, and I said to my wife, Look at that! Thatís the Institute Geographic Nationale. Do you see the logo on their door? Do you see the nice looking people? Maybe you need a better marketing plan! [laughter] Thatís all Iím saying. So, letís wrap it up. Be proud of your past accomplishments, you know. Itís, the tool, the topographic map is a tool that has allowed us to settle the country, utilize our resources, react to disasters, and just basically understand the lay of the land of our country.

It would not be possible without it. I am overwhelmed by this opportunity. I hope that that serves some purpose. [applause]


Title: Reflections on National Topographic Mapping


On December 3, 2009, more than 300 people gathered at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) headquarters in Reston, Virginia, to celebrate the 125th anniversary of USGS topographic mapping. The ceremony opened with a special production by Duke Ellington School of the Arts Concert Chorale, and continued with presentations featuring discussions:

  • on the benefits of topographic maps,
  • the history of USGS topographic mapping,
  • the announcement of the new USGS digital topographic map product (US Topo)
  • the introduction of the new National Map Viewer  
  • advise on future directions from Dr. David Cowan
  • and concluded with some special award presentations and a display of historic pictures and artifacts

Location: Reston, VA, USA

Date Taken: 12/3/2009

Length: 30:09

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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