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125th Anniversary of Topographic Mapping

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On Thursday December 3, 2009, the USGS celebrated the 125th anniversary of topographic mapping at the USGS National Center in Reston, VA.

Hear clips of the celebration in this episode of CoreCast, including the history of USGS mapping, given by Mark DeMulder, director of the National Geospacial Program. Also, Kari Craun, director of the National Geospacial Technical Operation Center, takes us on a tour of brand new USGS mapping products, including US Topo and The National Map Viewer.




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Chuck OgroskiWelcome to a very special program. Today we pay tribute to 125 years of US Geological Survey Topographic Mapping and we unveil some exciting new developments. These developments are keys to our success for the future as we continue to be responsive to the nation's needs for geospatial information. My name is Dr. Chuck Ogroski and I retired from the US Geological Survey from mapping in 2005.

Our next speaker is Mark DeMulder, who will walk us through 125 eventful years of topographic mapping at the USGS. Mark?


Mark DeMulder: Good afternoon, distinguished guests, colleagues, friends, USGS family. Now some of you may be familiar with the USGS enough to be asking yourself a question, which is, "1879, that seems like it was 130 years ago. That was the formation of the Geological Survey. So, what's this 125th anniversary all about?"


Well, I confess the US Geological Survey was in fact formed in 1879. We are 130 years old as an organization. But I did some historical research actually when I first came back to the USGS about a year and a half ago. And I found what I believe to be the birth date of the systematic topographic mapping program. So, it is from that date that we are measuring the 125 years of the Geological Survey.

And so, our second Director, Major John Wesley Powell, service in the Union Army during the Civil War, on December 5, 1884, with these bold words asked Congress for the first appropriation to do a systematic nationwide mapping effort. He said, "A 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." Powell went on to say for one-third of the US Geological Survey's budget, which at the time the one-third of the budget was $170,000, he would deliver in 16 years nationwide systematic topographic mapping.



You can recognize 16 years from 1884 isn't 1992, when we actually did finish systematic mapping. There were other pioneers along the way who kept the USGS at the forefront of the mapping sciences. We treasure our heritage and we recognize our responsibilities to build on the tremendous legacy that we have.

First, let's talk a little bit about the workforce of the Geological Survey around the turn of the century. Most of our workers were field crew, a pretty rugged, hearty-looking group. What were the characteristics that allowed them to be selected to be a USGS topographer and work in the field? Well, according to this history, the selection criteria included qualifications such as "a sturdy physique, an experience in packing loads on the back, familiarity with boats and the general habits of rough camp life, travels variously by dog team, canoe, raft, pack train and on foot." And these folks lived in these conditions for most of the year. When it would get so cold and snow so deep that they could no longer work, they'd return to the field, do their office work and then in the spring return. And they spent the bulk of their careers living in conditions very much like this.


You may know that USGS was instrumental in the development of both aerial and ground photography in the science of mapping and in the development of photogrammetry. And you also may know that the USGS was I believe one of the first organizations to design, build and fly a LIDAR sensor. We also led developments in the buggy wheel and rag technology. And I'll read again from our history, it says, "The topographer would drive over the roads with a plain table in his lap and sketch the contours. He determined his locations and distances by counting the revolutions of a rag tied to the front wheel of the buggy." This was one of our early vehicles.


So, what was the vision that Powell and Ganet laid out and where did it go over the centuries? What you see is 54,000 map sheets at a scale of 1:24,000. We estimate each map between 600 and 1000 hours to create. If you multiply those numbers out, you realize that the US Geological Survey over that 55-year period invested more than 35 million hours creating the database of topographic maps that we completed in the 1990s.


It's amazing that a government program could have that level of perseverance and stick-to-it-iveness and focus. When we think of the changes that occurred in our country between 1935 and 1990. We had several wars, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Gulf War I. We landed men on the moon. The Internet was born. And through all of that, this organization kept its focus on creating that base product for the country.

Now, obviously technology changed over those years and advanced. But the product was very similar. Thomas Jefferson more than 225 years ago said, "Information is the currency of democracy." I think those are very profound. And we in the Geological Survey believe that geographic information, that is, maps and all of their digital counterparts which describe our nation's landscape and infrastructure are an important part of the information that citizens need in order to participate in an informed way in our democratic system.

Thank you very much.



Chuck OgroskiWell, thank you, Mark.

Now, our next speaker is Kari Craun. She's the Director of the USGS National Geospatial Technical Operations Center. So, it's both personal and professional pleasure to introduce her today as she presents topographic mapping and geospatial information delivery accomplishments that stands in good stead for the future. Kari?


Kari Craun: Well, thank you and good afternoon, everyone. So, what I'm going to do here today is introduce you to new products. The US Topo and The National Map Viewer. So, what's the strategy? Topographic maps, create the next generation of USGS topographic maps using data from The National Map. Three-year revision cycle. The first year of the first three-year cycle was fiscal year '09. We produced 13,200 products. So, quite a phenomenal effort.


How did we do that? Well, clearly we're using different technology than what we've used in the past. We're deriving these maps from data in The National Map. So, this is a largely automated process. There's also roads information on here, public to main roads information taken largely from the Census Bureau's effort with some improvements. Geographic names, extremely important on a map. And it has the 1:24,000 scale layouts. So, it looks very much as that similar-looking field to the legacy USGS topographic map.

Beginning fiscal year '10, we're adding significant content and we're launching this product, rolling out this product and calling it a US Topo. So, we're going to add contours in the map produced from that national elevation data set that I talked about previously as well as hydrography information, streams, surface water information from the National Hydrography Dataset.

It is a GeoPedia format. If you're familiar with this, this is becoming a much more common digital format in the mapping community. It's a layered product. So, you have the ability here to turn on and off content if you want to customize this product to a certain extent. It's plot and print ready. We recognize it's important to many of our users still to have a hard copy product. So, this allows you to create a product, to scale and print that product.


Let me move on and talk about The National Map Viewer. This is an online interactive viewer capability. The content in the product is going to improve as the content in The National Map improves. There are some advanced features in this viewer. There is a GIS toolbox, very robust tools; the ability to add user content so your content. If you're a scientist, you have the ability to add that information in a live interactive session. Transparency settings. So, if I'm looking at, for example, land cover and I'm looking at an image, I can set the transparency of the layer on top so that I can see the layer beneath that. Again, I am really encouraging you all to go take a look at this, play with this, have fun, give us some feedback.

Thank you all very much.


Chuck Ogroski: Thank you, Kari. Well, thank you again for being here. It has been a great day. It's a great commemoration. We look forward to socializing with you and renewing all acquaintances.



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