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Mark DeMulder Presentation at the ESRI User's Conference
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Mark DeMulder Presentation at the ESRI User’s Conference

Mark DeMulder: I'm Mark DeMulder. I've been at the USGS since 1993. I had a little hiatus. I left in 2006, went to work for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, that complex of buildings across the street from ours in Reston, and then came back to USGS in 2008 and the job I have there now is the Director of the National Geospatial Program.

Very, very happy to be back at the USGS. And actually, as I look out at the room here, it's nice to see that there are familiar faces in the audience, but it's also nice to see that there's a bunch of you I don't know. So I'm meeting new people for the first time here, and we're all part of the same family at USGS and so I'm very happy to know you. And I hope I get the chance to say hello to you personally during the time that I'm here at the conference.

Just a couple of things I think I'd like to share with you about the USGS before I launch into my own part in USGS, the National Geospatial Program, and that is that--I'll tell you just one personal experience I had when I first came to work for the USGS in 1993.

I was pretty young--I think I was 35--and I came in as a supervisor of a section. And there was a guy in my section named Clement Bounds. I don't know if anybody remembers Clement Bounds. He was a cartographer, started in the Eastern Mapping Center and then he came to work in headquarters. And he retired shortly after I came in as the section chief, and so me as the new supervisor was the guy that was asked to say a few words at his retirement lunch at that restaurant in Vienna that I don't know the name of, but you guys probably know what I'm talking about.

Audience 1: Probably Marco Polo?

Mark DeMulder: Yeah, Marco Polo. Where the retirees all used to go.


Mark DeMulder: And so I'm standing out there to say a few words about Clement Bounds, and I could honestly say--I was born in 1957. I said, at that time, "Clem came to work for the USGS before I was born." And it was true.

And that's the thing that just struck me about USGS when I first came in here in '93. I came from the Department of Defense, and people come and go all the time in the Defense agencies I worked for. People come to the USGS and they stay, and they stay, and they stay. And that's a good thing.


Mark DeMulder: People stay because they're passionate about the work that they're doing. They feel like they're making a contribution to something important. And so we have a lot of people who come here and stay here for their whole careers.

I'm a little bit of an exception in that I came from somewhere else and I left for a while and then came back, but let me tell you, after being out in another agency, which is a very good agency--I love NGA. It's a great agency, but it's not home, and USGS is home for me.

So I'm very happy to be back here and very happy to be part of the National Geospatial Program. That's the mapping program, for those of you who don't know the latest lingo. We used to be called the National Mapping Division. We were the Topographic Branch at one point way back when. Now really we are the Geospatial Program.

So let me just tell you a few things about us and give you an update on what's new with us.

So what do we do? We organize, maintain and publish the geospatial baseline, the nation's topography, natural landscape and built environment, and we do that through The National Map. You guys have all heard that term probably. It's a term that we adopted into the modern USGS in 2001. We published a study that we did that was looking at the future of our mapping program and we called it The National Map, the nation's topographic map for the 21st century.

We didn't come up with the words 'The National Map'. Those are the words that John Wesley Powell used when he described his intent to do a systematic nationwide mapping program in 189...6? Is that right? One-hundred and twenty--no, it must've been 4. I don't know, a long time ago.


We're celebrating 125--it was 125 years ago from 2009, so it was '84. 1884. December 5th, 2009 was the 125th anniversary of our topographic mapping program. If you were in the USGS headquarters building at that time, you might remember a large exhibit down our hallway. If you were not at the USGS in December, that exhibit has traveled to a couple of other places. It's gone around to Rolla and I think it's either on its way to Denver or recently has been in Denver.

Mark Newell: Eros.

Mark DeMulder: Is that right, Mark?

Mark Newell: It's on its way to Eros.

Mark DeMulder: Eros. OK. But it's going to Denver, too?

Mark Newell: Yes.

Audience 3: It's there. It's there.

Mark DeMulder: OK. What is The National Map? It's a collection of digital databases, and those digital databases are organized around themes, and you could see what those themes are here. No surprise. They are the kinds of things you would expect to see on a USGS topographic map.

So we've been sort of about this business of making the 21st century National Map since about 2001, and we really concentrated first on making GIS-ready databases like the NHD, like NED, like the other, the orthoimagery database, etcetera that are really there to serve the professional, scientific GIS users largely.

We said in the report that we published back in 2001 that we would also meet the needs of another community, the community that relies on maps, a finished product to pull down either off a shelf or, today, to download from their computer to take out into the field and use or can use on a mobile device or whatever. We didn't concentrate on that customer group adequately until about November of 2008, about a month after I came back to USGS.

And I'll tell you a quick story. I came back to the USGS because Mark Myers contacted me--he was the director at the time--and said, "Look, I would like you to come back and take over the National Mapping Program. But if you do that, I want you to make some maps." And so I said, "OK. I will."

And we set about that process in November of 2008. And I'll probably have a slide on this later but I'll just spill the beans now and tell you that since we began production of our GeoPDF electronic topographic maps in about June of 2009, so 13 months ago, we have published 25,333 new USGS topographic quadrangle maps. That's almost half of the entire inventory.

And just for comparison, in the past, the best year the USGS Mapping Program ever had was 1972, and in 1972 we published 2,500 new quadrangle maps. So we've exceeded that by an order of 10 with--and in 1972 we had 3,000 people in the National Mapping Division. Today we have less than 300, and we have about 25 making these map products.

So, one thing I want to just quickly say is it's not--as I said, there's two communities that we're trying to support: the professional, scientific GIS user and the less sophisticated, non-professional map user. In many cases, those lines blur and it's hard to make that distinction, but I just want to be clear about that.

As well as making these GeoPDF maps available for free over the internet off the USGS Store pages, we also have the new National Map Viewer, and this is a picture of it on the screen here. It's much, much better than the old viewer. If you used our old National Map Viewer, I'm sorry.


Mark DeMulder: We can do better, and we did. And this is much better.

If you haven't used this viewer, I encourage you to go out and experience it. It relies on cache data, it's very fast, it's high-quality photography backing it up. And if you're a scientist and you want to make your data viewable in The National Map, it couldn't be easier. All you have to do is make your data available as an OGC-compliant service and we can run it directly into The National Map. Roger Sayre here demonstrated that with his ecosystem mapping for a group of us out in Denver not that long ago.

So I'll get back to the topographic map piece. We're on a three-year cycle. We're about halfway through the first three-year cycle and about halfway through the number of maps that we're doing. If you're familiar with NAIP, the National Agricultural Imagery Program, that's what that acronym in the first bullet there stands for. That's a very successful orthoimagery collection program that does and determines for 48 states, and we follow that cycle, so we're always using the most current imagery. I'm going to skip this one since I talked about it already.

One of the questions that I always get from not USGS audiences, but when I talk to others, they say, "Why do we need a mapping program? We got Google Earth, we got Microsoft thing, we got Rand McNally." And so one way I try to turn that question around is to say to folks, well--so we're the federal government, right? In some cases, the federal government is called upon to intervene in your lives, whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. We intervene through taxes, we intervene through regulations and law.

We also intervene in good ways. When there's a disaster FEMA response. And response in a very helpful way. When we're trying to protect the security of the citizens in the U.S., we work closely with Homeland Security, with the Department of Defense. That's a good way that the federal government intervenes in your lives.

When the federal government is called to intervene in the lives of citizens, is it preferable that the federal government makes its decisions about those interventions based on authoritative government relied-upon data or would citizens prefer that they just go out to the internet and grab whatever is the latest available through the commercial marketplace?

And I have yet to have an audience tell me they'd prefer the latter rather than the former. They want the federal government to make decisions about their lives based on reliable data. So that's one reason we need a nationwide mapping program, so that those geospatial decisions that need to get made can be made on reliable data.

This is an example of one case in point--and you're probably all very familiar with this, especially the folks from Water, from the NHD Program--there's a little application that Homeland Security developed here that is able to plot the time interval between when a contaminant is added to a stream segment and when that contaminant reaches the nearest drinking water intake.

Pretty important information for emergency responders. That's based on using the NHD, it's based on using some other data that USGS and its partners provide. And that's the kind of information that I believe our citizens really expect their government to have authoritative data to rely on.

So where are we headed in the future? We're in the midst of a historic revitalization on the Topographic Mapping Program. From the late '90s to the mid-2000s, it was a period of uncertainty for our Topographic Mapping Program, our National Mapping Program. We focused very heavily on the professional GIS users.

We kind of lost touch with the map user, the general public, and we're trying to address that now with our GeoPDF electronic topographic maps. But we are not by any means stepping away from our responsibility to support the professional, and especially the scientific, users of geospatial information.

When we talk about topographic maps or we talk about NHD, it's not an either/or. We're doing both, and both are very different communities. The NHD users are professional hydrologic modelers and people in the water community. The topo maps--you know, my brother uses topo maps and he's not a geographer. But we have that responsibility.

One of the things that's going to be interesting for us in the very near future, in the next couple of years, is to see what we can make of all the social media that's out there, and the fact that social media and geospatial technology have become kind of one thing, and the opportunity to use massive numbers of volunteers.

I mean, we have like 3,500 volunteers in our National Map Corps. That's a pretty small number. Open Street Map has 200,000 registered volunteers in the United States. I can envision a time when there are, if we make the right tools available and make it enticing enough, when we have hundreds and hundreds, if not millions, of volunteers participating in the development of The National Map, from school kids on up.

And I do hope that the USGS can continue to ignite a passion among the citizenry for mapping. I mean, there's a certain number of people that just love maps, and they have looked at the USGS as the source for that, and I hope we can continue that.

And Jennifer is standing up, so I'm sure my time is up. I'll just finish and tell you why I have this picture of Thomas Jefferson. That's his quote: "Information is the currency of democracy." I love that as a quote, and I'll tell you that I think it's very relevant to what we do in the U.S. Geological Survey.

We produce--especially in the mapping program, we produce information more than knowledge.

Those of you in the other science disciplines, you kind of carry it often a step further. In my program, we're really an information provider. But what we believe is that, as Jefferson said, being the currency of democracy, in order for the citizens to be informed and participate in our democratic system in the most effective way possible, we think there's a piece of that being informed that involves understanding the geography of their country.

And it's our job to help make sure they can do that. So from the mapping program all the way to the science publications that we put out, we participate in that, I think, very noble cause.

And so with that, I'll close. And most of you have probably seen this map. I got it from Jeff Simley over here. It's a very interesting map. If you don't recognize it, I'll just tell you that's the John Wesley Powell map of the area of lands of the Western United States.

Now it was his proposal to Congress and to the administration as to how the West ought to be politically divided so that the states—


Mark DeMulder: --the Western United States follow the same laws of nature that the watersheds do, and the state boundaries and watershed boundaries are coincident.

So with that, thank you for your time.


Mark DeMulder: It's good to be here and—



Title: Mark DeMulder Presentation at the ESRI User's Conference


Mark DeMulder, Director of the U.S. Geological Survey's National Geospatial Program (NGP) gives a briefing at the USGS All-Hands meeting during the ESRI UC on July 14, 2010. The presentation includes:

  • personal background and information on the USGS mapping program (“What We Do”),
  • an update on the USGS mapping program (the new National Map Viewer and the US Topo)
  • Federal mapping programs and environmental response (“Why Our Data Matters”)
  • Future directions of the USGS mapping program

Read more information about NGP and The National Map.

Location: San Diego, CA, USA

Date Taken: 7/14/2010

Length: 15:37

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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Tags: ESRI ESRIUsersConference MarkDeMulder NGP NationalMap Presentation TopographicMapping UC USGS mapping program


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