1986 NHAP The Sky's The Limit

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Detailed Description

A 1986 short film on the National High Altitude Photography program.


Date Taken:

Length: 00:11:30

Location Taken: Sioux Falls, SD, US


These old birds are real beauties, aren’t they? Things sure have changed since their day. Not only the planes, but the benefits that flight has brought to today’s complex society. In the next few minutes, we’ll examine aerial photography and its uses. We’re going to take a look at a relatively new program – the National High Altitude Photography Program – NHAP – and its many features. 
Aerial photography, along with other forms of remote sensing, has advanced significantly over the last century. When man first viewed his environment from the gondola of a balloon, then photographed it with primitive cameras, he discovered one of the most important tools for studying his world – the aerial photograph.
Well men experimented with cameras attached to rockets, kites, and pigeons, the advent of the airplane and distant flight amplified the uses and impacts of this remote sensing tool. Military reconnaissance during the first World War was one of the earliest uses of aerial photography, as typified by this shot of battlefield trenches. Much was learned from the experiences of the Flying Ace. Along with rapid advancement in flight technology, cameras, and the way they acquired images became much more sophisticated. 
One of the first and most obvious applications of the aerial photograph was in making and verifying the maps of our nation, and later, the world. The desire for the knowledge these photos could provide spread throughout our nation. Various sources, from private individuals to state and federal government agencies, began acquiring aerial photographs. A wealth of information was accumulated over the years. However, the problem was that each agency’s aerial photography program was planned for its own specific needs. Each mission had different specifications. There was no uniformity of altitude, scale, or film and camera types. Often, several different agencies flew the same areas, while other parts of the country had no coverage. The need to eliminate these special-purpose duplications and the necessity for uniform, dependable products became obvious as the number of available photographs increased.
Responding to the needs of the user community, several federal agencies began meeting in the late 1970s. These meetings formed the groundwork and set the parameters for establishing a new program for acquiring and recording aerial photographs of the conterminous 48 states. The committee members representing the government agencies decided, let’s get together, pool our money and expertise, and come up with a standard set of specifications to get wall-to-wall coverage of the country on a logical, systematic basis. From these sessions, the NHAP program was born. 
At the outset, the committee agreed that NHAP standards must meet the users’ needs. Specifications that are strictly adhered to include cloud-free, minimal haze and shadowing coverage flown at an altitude of 40,000 feet. A precision aerial camera with a 6-inch focal length provides a 9-by-9-inch black-and-white contact photograph at a scale of 1 to 80,000. It covers about 130 square miles.
A second camera with an 8-1/4-inch focal length carries color infrared film that produces a 1-to-58,000 scale product that covers about 68 square miles.
Black-and-white photos are quad-centered. Photographic copies can be scaled to correspond with standard 1-to-24,000 or numerous other topographic map scales. A 60% overlap of photographs ensures quality stereoscopic viewing. Also, the coverage includes both leaf-off and leaf-on conditions.
NHAP I was photographed in 1-by-1-degree map grids according to agency demands. NHAP II, now underway, is planned to cover the entire lower 48 states by 1990 on a state-by-state basis. Contracted flights began acquiring the first NHAP data in 1980. By 1985, nearly the entire nation had been covered or contracted. Designated NHAP I, this coverage recorded leaf-off conditions of the vegetation. NHAP II, now underway, will record leaf-on data. 
What immediately catches one’s eye when looking at NHAP photography is its incredible clarity. The detail is truly amazing. For example, this photography is ideal for differentiating between such natural features as conifer and deciduous trees, lakes, land-to-water interface, wetlands, deserts, cropland, glaciers, and rangeland.
Such manmade structures as powerlines, roads, bridges, dams, airports, as well as the recreational, industrial, commercial, and residential areas of cities are clearly identifiable. While the color infrared photographs are most useful for analyzing crop conditions and monitoring irrigation systems, the black-and-white images are particularly suited for detecting drainage patterns and drainage basin shapes, faults, flood plains, sedimentary rock layers, and other geologic structures. The meticulous detail which is present on all NHAP photographs ensures a consistent and reliable photographic tool.
NHAP photographs are readily available. They can be ordered from two national distribution centers or from National Cartographic Information Centers and their state affiliates. With all of the advantages that NHAP offers, the sky’s the limit. One of NHAP’s many applications is in forest inventory. 
U.S. Forest Service field technician Gretchen Gengenbach is an enthusiastic NHAP user.
The biggest advantage of NHAP photography is the coverage. It covers a large area, and the photography is usually taken at the same time. We have had problems in the past where we go into a state, we want complete coverage for the entire state, and we end up piecemealing it from different agencies.
We borrow from the National Forest. We borrow from BLM.  And with NHAP, we have something available to us where we have complete coverage for an entire state, and that’s been real convenient for us.
We know when we can get the photography, where we can get the photography. We know what the quality will be. And so it’s been more efficient, more time-saving, for us. And so it benefits the average American.
NHAP is also being used extensively in soil analysis work. Soil Conservation Service
soil scientist John Groves:
When we did the 1982 National Resource Inventory, every sample point had to be visited in the field. That required quite an amount of field time and a lot of staff hours. Versus the 1987 inventory.
We’re going to be conducting it in the lab, and it’s a handful of image analysts and save quite a bit of time. And therefore, a lot of money.
You may wonder how NHAP could be of use to you. Its value has already been proven in such areas as hydrology, crop analysis, forestry, geographic information systems, mapping, and many more. The exacting standards, reliable quality, and economical cost of this data make its uses virtually limitless.

NHAP can be an effective tool in rural and urban planning, for engineering surveys, and crop analysis. It’s a valuable resource for wilderness backpackers, hunters, fishermen, and cross-country skiers. It’s also useful for transportation studies for solving boundary disputes, citing utility lines, and in many aspects of geologic research.
Many state government agencies have found NHAP data to be extremely useful and cost-effective in solving diverse environment and resource problems. According to wildlife biologist Mike Madel, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks uses NHAP color infrared photographs to delineate and manage grizzly bear habitat and populations.
We’re up on top of Pine Butte, which is a portion of the Nature Conservancy’s Pine Butte Swamp. And you can see out here, off from the top of Pine Butte, you see a large riparian area. And here you have several examples of some of the vegetation types that we actually map on the infrared photographs.
You see some shrub field down on the bottom here. We basically identify that as riparian shrub field. And we have grizzly bears using that shrub field type, both in the spring and the fall, in – both for bedding and for foraging down in those bottoms.
NHAP photography is also used on the state level by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources. According to Pennsylvania Geological Survey geologist Viktoras Skema, the Keystone State uses NHAP data to plot surface mines in its bituminous coal region.
The first phase of our project is producing coal crop maps showing mineable bituminous coals. And I use it to determine where the recent strip mining has occurred, and it’s very useful for picking out disturbed areas that have been strip-mined or recently backfilled.
NHAP photography is used by the state of Illinois in its Department of Conservation. According to the administrator of the state’s wetland program, Marvin Hubbell, NHAP photographs help protect the public interest in and natural values of Illinois wetlands.
In the past, we’ve tried to pass legislation which would provide a greater level of protection to wetlands, and that’s been unsuccessful. And the reason is because we’ve not been able to have a good communications tool to identify the various wetland types.
Because of NHAP I and the National Wetlands Inventory, to be able to provide a highly consistent way of identifying wetlands and to provide a fine distinction between their various types, we think that it’s going to allow us to do something very positive for our wetlands program.
As more people use NHAP photographs in their specialized work, and more applications for NHAP photos are developed, state and federal agencies may be encouraged to participate in the program.
In order to assure that this resource continues to be available, it will be necessary for state and federal agencies to contribute to the NHAP program. The sky truly is the limit for NHAP uses. If you presently use aerial photographs, or believe that they may be useful to you, consider the many benefits of NHAP.
For further information, call toll-free, 1-800-USA-MAPS.