GeoCarta Has Moved

Dec 31, 2006

GPS Device of the Year

I'm old enough to remember when one of the few civilian uses for Global Positioning System equipment was high order control surveys. These days, the technology has become ubiquitous.

A reminder of just how commonplace this once space-age technology has become is over at Engadget. The hugely popular technology blog is asking its readers to submit their nominations for "GPS Device of the Year."

You can nominate your own favorite GPS gadget here.


Dec 30, 2006

Mapping Continental Drift

In the middle of the last century, two cartographers working at Columbia University made discoveries that rewrote geophysics. Sunday's New York Times Magazine tells the story of Marie Tharp and Bruce Heezen.

In 1948, Ms. Tharp was hired by the geology department at Columbia University where she met Bruce Heezen, a graduate student from Iowa. Mr. Heezen gave Ms. Tharp a stack of soundings of the floor of the Atlantic Ocean and told her, “Here, do something with these.”

Ms. Tharp and an assistant methodically plotted the measurements by hand on huge sheets of paper. As the map of the ocean floor took shape, Ms. Tharp noticed something fascinating. In plotting an under sea mountain range, known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, there appeared valley running right down the middle of it. This “rift valley” was a huge discovery. The valley marked a seam in the crust of the planet, At the seam, huge continent-size plates rose from the interior of the earth to the surface in what geologists refer to as “drift,” and moved outward in both directions.

The discovery of this rift valley was very unpopular among geophysicists of the day, who contended that the Earth's surface was static. Mr. Heezen himself remained unconvinced for some time, dismissing it as, “Girl talk.”

But Ms. Tharp persevered, making a believer out of Mr. Heezen. Over the span of twenty years, Mr. Heezen and Ms. Tharp would map the floors of all of the world’s oceans, discovering rift valleys in every one and convincing the scientific community of the reality of continental drift.

Bruce Heezen died in 1977 on a research vessel off the coast of Iceland. Marie Tharp passed away earlier this year.


Dec 28, 2006

Air Force Considers Outsiders for GPS Work

The United States Air Force is considering hiring outside consultants to oversee systems integration of its next-generation navigational satellites. Today's Wall Street Journal, quoting "industry and government officials" reports that the Air Force is considering retaining an outside consultant in hopes that the new approach could help it avoid costly troubles that plagued previous efforts.

The project involves setting up a next-generation U.S. Global Positioning System. This newer GPS system, called "GPS III" would feature stronger signals and be more jam-resistant. The ultimate costs for such a system could run as high $100 million for 24 satellites.

Hiring a separate project manager would be a implicit acknowledgment by the Air Force that it lacks the necessary expertise to oversee the project. Traditionally, the military has retained primary responsibility and control over systems engineering and integration. Such a management contract could offer a lucrative opportunity for private-sector contractors. However, such a move involves a considerable potential for conflicts of interest.

Currently Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. are competing to build the new satellites and would be expected to compete for the systems integration contract as well. The Air Force is concerned about the potential for conflict of interest if either company were awarded the integration contract.

Production of the GPS III satellites is scheduled for 2008. However, the next generation spacecraft may not go into orbit until 2013.

Complete article from The Wall Street Journal (Subscription required).