GeoCarta Has Moved

Apr 29, 2007

Artist's Maps Don't Lie

Rather than mapping geographic features, London-based artist, Christian Nold combines GPS receivers with polygraph technology to map a city's "emotions".

The San Mateo County Times profiles Mr. Nold's latest mapping effort: an emotional map of San Francisco:

First, he outfits volunteers with global positioning system devices and the sensors used in lie detector tests. Then, he sends his subjects out to wander their neighborhoods. When they return, Nold asks them to recount what they saw and felt when the polygraph recorded a quickened heartbeat or an elevated blood pressure.

He's the first to acknowledge the intimate portraits that result from his work won't help a confused tourist get from Fisherman's Wharf to Golden Gate Park.

Instead, by taking polygraph technology out of the criminal realm, his goal is to offer a commentary on the subjective nature of reality. Maps, he notes, have always been influenced by whoever makes them, citing the globes that used to show Europe as being considerably larger than Africa.

"There are different ways of mapping the city that aren't strictly about the practicalities or financial sensibilities that we usually guide our urban planning with," he said.

Mr. Nold noted that one limitation of his technology is that it cannot detect whether someone's emotional arousal is positive or negative. The artist told the Times that he has spurned most attempts to put his application to more commercial uses, though he is working with a government agency in London to gauge residents' perceptions of crime in public housing. One thing he has discovered is that people tend to respond to social interactions much more than to buildings.

Mr. Nold's mapping project in San Francisco is scheduled to last five weeks and will require 80 to 100 volunteers to map one square mile.


China Completes Altitude Survey of Famous Mountains

China's State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping (SBSM) and the Ministry of Construction have recently completed a project to determine and publish the altitude of 19 of the country's most famous mountains, People's Daily reported:

The 19 mountains, all renowned tourist destinations, include the well-known "Five Sacred Mountains" -- Mount Tai in east China's Shandong Province, Mount Heng in central China's Hunan province, Mount Hua in northwest China's Shaanxi Province, Mount Heng in north China's Shanxi province and Mount Song in central China's Henan Province.

Mount Tai, located near Confucius' birthplace and considered the holiest of the five, is 1,532.7 meters high, according to statistics released jointly by the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping (SBSM) and the Ministry of Construction on Friday.

Up until now, the height of Mount Tai appeared as 1,545 meters,1,536 meters or 1,533 meters -- depending on which textbook or tourist guide you were reading, or what TV documentary you were watching.

"Elevation data for many mountains in China are currently inconsistent and inaccurate, sometimes the difference can be as much as 100 meters," said Li Weisen, SBSM's deputy director, at a press conference in Beijing.

The project began back in July, 2006 and was completed in March.

See also: China to Crack Down on Foreign Surveyors & Mappers
China To Re-Measure Its Lowest Point
New Chinese Survey Lowers Everest's Height

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Apr 28, 2007

GPS Gadget of the Week: io-Jacket

German clothing designer Lodenfrey has taken the next step in clothing the techno crowd and produced a coat with built in GPS. This GPS Gadget of the Week, the io-Jacket includes an integrated MP3 player, a Bluetooth mobile phone interface, and 2 years of free GPS locating service from Vodafone.

GeekSugar reports that 10 of the GPS-enabled coats were auctioned on E-Bay as part of a charity fundraiser. The jackets went for around €4,700, which is equivalent to about $6,382.

Last week's GPS Gadget of the Week here.


Apr 27, 2007

Boeing Goes "Back to Basics" for Next Generation GPS

Aerospace contractor Boeing recently hosted a team from the U.S Air Force for a review of it's design for the next generation GPS satellite navigation system.

Boeing touted what it called it's "back-to-the-basics" system. The firm says that its approach will allow the Air Force to field and upgrade GPS satellites quickly and cost effectively. The firm also says it's design improves signal power and provides a more capable GPS service for both civilian and military users.

Regarding Boeing's design, Charles Toups, vice president, Boeing Navigation and Communication Systems, said, "We designed the GPS III system to be scalable so the design of the first spacecraft can gracefully grow to accommodate future capability upgrades without requiring an entirely new spacecraft design."

Chicago-based Boeing is competing with Lockheed Martin to design and build the next generation GPS satellites for the U.S. The Air Force is scheduled to award the multi-billion dollar contract for the program, called GPS III, late this year. The new satellites are scheduled to launch in 2013.

See also: Firm Completes Design of Next-Generation GPS Satellite
GPS III Bid Process About to Begin

Image: GPS Block IIF satellite, courtesy of Boeing.


Web-Based Maps No Match for Real GIS

While web-based mapping applications like Google Earth may grab the attention, they can't come close to the power of "old school" Geographic Information System programs produced by companies such as ESRI and MapInfo. So says Patrick Marshall in a recent article on Government Computer News:

To do more in-depth geospatial analysis, you’re going to need a full-fledged geographic information system, or GIS.

GIS solutions offer more than just map displays. They combine the analytical power of databases with the geographic capabilities of maps. As a result, they can produce reports that show at a glance anything from demographic trends to the most appropriate site for a new hospital.

GIS programs have long been used by engineers, transportation planners and other specialists to track and analyze geographically oriented data, from the location and age of utility lines to deforestation trends.

The snag was that buying a GIS solution meant spending many thousands of dollars on software and thousands more on high-end workstations and training. In recent years, however, GIS programs have gotten both less expensive and easier to use, encouraging broader use in government for a variety of purposes.

Among the varied uses for GIS Mr. Marshall cites are:
  • Track the incidence and location of gang crimes to help prioritize resources.
  • Analyze demographic data to select optimal sites for neighborhood service centers or new elementary schools.
  • Analyze accident data to select the best site for an emergency room.
  • Track the location of emergency-response vehicles to help speed their dispatch.

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Map Expert, Author, Philip Burden to Speak in NC

Cartographic expert Philip Burden will present his lecture "The Men Behind the Maps" tomorrow at Meredith College in Raleigh, NC. Mr. Burden, is the author of the two volume set, "The Mapping of North America." The first volume, covering the period from 1511-1670, is widely regarding the most authoritative source on North American maps of that era.

Mr. Burden has traveled all over the world researching maps for his books as well for his firm, Clive A. Burden Ltd. of the United Kingdom. During his research, he has discovered many rare maps. He recounted to the News & Observer how he once discovered a rare map of Texas made by none other than the father of Texas, Stephen F. Austin.

Mr. Burden's rare public appearance in the U.S. is sponsored by the William P. Cumming Map Society and Gallery C, of Raleigh. The lecture will begin at 4:00 p.m. with a reception afterwards. Both are free of charge but registration is required and space is limited.

Unfortunately for those of us that dream of uncovering a rare, valuable, map in a dusty chest, or at a garage sale, Mr. Burden doesn't offer much hope. He told the News & Observer, "Most of my great finds for the research of my book have occurred in the great institutions of the world, such as the British Library and the Library of Congress."

The Mapping of North America Volume I, available here

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Apr 25, 2007

Cartographer Follows Ski Trail to Dream Job

Whenever I'm skiing I always enjoy spending some time admiring the trail map of the ski slopes. I sometimes dream that I'm living in a ski village, making those trail maps, when I'm not out on the slopes, of course.

James Niehues is living my dream. The Vail Trail profiles the man who creates most of the ski trail maps for resorts in North America:

...The 61-year-old husband and grandfather is still surprised that he, who grew up on a Grand Junction farm and toiled through years in less-than-desirable occupations, discovered his dream job at the age of 40. His life and career, much like the ski runs he paints, have followed a winding path.

...His name may not be readily familiar, but Niehues' work is unmistakable. Thousands of skiers each day pick up a Niehues map to stow in their jacket pockets. Still others use the drawing to discuss the day's itinerary, to point out a favorite trail, or to mount on their walls.

That very thought is as gratifying as ever, Niehues says.

Niehues' ultimate goal is to maintain credibility and not exaggerate. Instead of measuring things like a cartographer, Niehues focuses on the visual differences and how different parts of the mountain relate to one another.

A mountain with multiple faces complicates things, Niehues says. In some instances, he must rotate the mountain in order to accurately portray every terrain feature. In the case of mountains with multiple sides reaching to one summit, two total views are sometimes necessary.

“First of all, it's a map; second, it's a piece of art," Niehues says. “I try to keep it as it's skied."

To make his maps, Mr. Niehues gathers old trail maps, topographic maps, and as many as 150 aerial photographs of the mountain. On larger projects, he sometimes ski the area to get a feel for how everything relates. Mapping a medium-sized ski area takes about a week. He doesn't see computer mapping as a much of threat, contending the quality is not as high.

See also: Making Maps the Old-Fashioned Way


Apr 23, 2007

GPS Gadget of the Week: AstroNavigator II

A belated Gadget of the Week is the VITO AstroNavigator II. According to, this shareware application allows users to bring up a map of the sky, according to their location, time, and direction of movement.

The application requires a GPS-enabled device that supports the NMEA protocol and runs Windows Mobile Pocket PC, Windows Mobile 2003, or 5.0. The software includes a free 20-minute trial, after that is $19.95.

Last week's GPS Gadget of the Week here.


Study of Geography is Becoming a Lost Art

The Rutland Herald details the sorry state of Geography education in the United States:

As teachers across the country try to help their students meet test score standards set by policies like the No Child Left Behind law, there is one subject that has been left behind: Geography.

Geography extends beyond where rivers are located to how topography impacts society. Geography is taught as a stand-alone subject in schools from Russia to France to India. But in most American public schools the study of the world is generally buried somewhere in social studies and history. How geography is covered is often left to the discretion of individual schools or teachers — to the dismay of experts.

“There are a lot of opponents to this style of teaching geography,” said Dr. Michal LeVasseur, executive director of the National Council of Geographic Education. “It will eventually be to the detriment of the youngsters in this country.”

LeVasseur is not the only one concerned about flagging geography education in an era of globalization. Sens. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., recently introduced in Congress the Teaching Geography is Fundamental Act.

If passed, the bill would authorize competitive grants through the Department of Education to improve K-12 geography curriculum, teacher training and instructional materials.

The article goes on to quote from a conducted last year by National Geographic magazine and Roper Public Affairs. Among the findings:
  • 63% of Americans, aged 18 to 24 could not correctly locate Iraq on a map.
  • 70% of the same group could not find Iran or Israel.
  • 90% couldn't find Afghanistan
  • 54% didn't know that Sudan is a country in Africa.
When it comes to their own country, the young people didn't fare much better:
  • Half could not find New York state on a map of the United States.
  • One-third could not place Louisiana, this right after Hurricane Katrina.
Dr. Michal LeVasseur said of the survey results, "It is a troubling trend.”


Apr 20, 2007

Temporary 3rd GPS Signal to be Launched

Defense contractor Lockheed Martin has been awarded a $6 million contract from the U.S. Air Force to develop a demonstration payload for a satellite that will transmit a third GPS civil signal.

More from UPI:

The third signal is meant to enhance civilian capability and is primarily designed for safety-of-life applications, such as aviation, according to Defense Department documents.

A 2001 Transportation Department report warned of the vulnerability of not only civilian transportation systems, particularly airlines, to GPS disruptions but also an increasing number of telecommunications systems including the Internet, which use the satellite timing capabilities to synchronize their networks.

Building redundancy into the system is one of the primary ways of protecting GPS from sabotage or accidental disruption.

The U.S. military has also been trying to find a way to have a separate and better-protected military GPS system.


Apr 18, 2007

China to Drive Growth in PNDs

Makers of Portable Navigation Devices (PNDs) are increasingly looking to the Chinese market to continue the growth they've enjoyed in Europe and the United States, a recent report stated.

Research and Markets says that European sales of PNDs hit approximately 8 million units in 2006, an increase 0f over 110% over 2005. The Dublin-based, international market research firm placed North American sales for the past year at about 2 million units, an increase of 125%.

However, growth rates like those won't last forever. Since the majority of these units (80%) are used for driving, news that China has now become the world’s second largest automobile market has not gone unnoticed. All of the big electronic navigation map suppliers have operations in the country, lured by the huge potential market.

Currently, there are about 8 or 9 enterprises producing some type of navigation map for the Chinese market. Research and Markets expects that the market will eventually be monopolized by 3-4 enterprises. Smaller firms will obtain the basic data from one of those big companies, reselling more specialized applications for niche markets.

The battle has begun. While the risks are big, the reward could be even bigger.

See also: Fake Maps Leave Chinese On Wrong Road


Mt. Shasta Map Takes Prize at AAG Meeting

A map created by a student at the University of Nevada, Reno, is to be honored at the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers. The map, created by Cassie Hansen, details hiking trails, lakes, streams, and roads, as well as climate data for the Mt. Shasta, region.

More from the Mount Shasta Herald:

The map, which looks 3D but is actually 2D, received rave reviews from the judges.

“Very accomplished and technically proficient,” stated one judge. “Nicely framed and balanced with the elements around the map supporting but not overcrowding the message.”

The mapping project became “part of a practicum class at HSU, which provides real life Cartographic work for students,” Cassie said. “Other projects that I have worked on in this class are book illustrations and other individual maps.”

Cassie used the California Spatial Information Library (CaSIL) to obtain “data layers” for the map, which were public information.

She used several software programs to create it, including ArcGIS, Natural Scene Designer, and Adobe Illustrator.

Ms. Hansen, who spent over 300 hundred hours on her map, has a degree in Geography and a certificate in GIS from Humboldt State University. She is currently pursing a masters in Physical Geography at the University of Nevada, Reno.

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Apr 15, 2007

Engineer to Stand Trial Over Nuclear Map, Other Data

A former engineer at a nuclear reactor is scheduled for trial this month on charges of attempting to pass secrets to the Chinese government.

More from the Albany Times Union:

Chi Mak, 66, was accused of giving sensitive information to his brother, Tai Mak, who was found with encrypted disks in his luggage as he was returning to China. The case generated local interest because among Chi Mak's possessions, federal authorities said, was a hand-drawn map of the Kesselring nuclear site in the Saratoga County town of Milton...

He has argued that the information he took was in the public domain.

Mak's attorney, Ronald Kaye, said the hand-drawn map of Kesselring was obviously for driving directions. Mak was at the site in 2005 on behalf of Power Paragon and the map included landmarks like Mak's hotel and the Albany International Airport. Kesselring officials said their security had not been breached.


Space Race Heats up as China Launches 5th Navigation Satellite

China has launched the fifth satellite in its "Compass" global satellite positioning system Saturday the government-controlled media announced. The official Xinhua news agency reported that the "Beidou" satellite was launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in southwest China's Sichuan province at 4:11 am, and entered its planned orbit.

The Chinese global positioning system is supposed to be operational over China and Asia by 2008. While the Chinese have stated they plan to expand the system to a truly global system, no timetable has been given.

At one time, it appeared Europe would be the main challenge to U.S. dominance in the global positioning field. Now however, it appears that both China and Russia may be first to boast of a rival system.

See also: China Launches 4th Navigation Satellite in Effort to Compete With U.S., Europe
GLONASS to Top U.S.'s GPS, Putin Says
Galileo to be Grounded?


Apr 14, 2007

Couple in Border Skirmish With Government Agency

Shirley-Ann Leu lives the quiet life of a retiree in Blaine, Wash. So you can imagine her surprise when a government official showed up at her home and accused the 71-year-old of violating an international treaty. Ms. Leu's offense was the construction of a retaining wall to shore up her property.

The government official was with the International Boundary Commission (IBC) which contends the wall violates the treaty that established the border between the United States and Canada.

More from the Globe and Mail:

In 1925 a treaty established the IBC on a permanent basis and included in its mandate a requirement to ensure that a "boundary vista" is maintained by keeping the border line clear. The IBC, a joint body with separate offices and staff in each country, can regulate all construction within three metres of either side the boundary.

The Leu retaining wall, which cost about $18,000 to build, is about half a metre inside the zone overseen by the IBC.

"When he told me I was violating the treaty I said, 'No, no, no, can't you see this is in the United States?' He said, 'I'm sorry, you have to move your wall back 2½ feet.' "

With the assistance of the Pacific Legal Foundation, a property rights organization, Ms. Leu and her husband have sued the IBC to block demolition of their wall. The suit also seeks a declaration that the "boundary vista" policy is unconstitutionally vague.

The Leu's also claim it is unfair for the IBC to require the demolition of the wall when the IBC claims to have seen construction start in October, 2006, but didn't tell them they were violating the boundary vista until after the wall was completed in January.

See also: Insufficient Funds Means Indiscernible Border.


Mapping a War Zone

The Defense Department recently highlighted the work of the cartographers who map Iraq for the U.S. military:

The team creates maps requested by units who need the maps for specific reasons. They may need a map outlining bodies of water, or other terrain features, or they may just need a more current map then they already have, [Sgt. Byram D.] Faulk said.

Many of the maps the team creates are pieced together from scratch using imagery and data gained from other sources. These maps may take a while to generate, but maps made from information already in their system can be finished in a day, Faulk said.

The map-making process has come a long way since its inception. Faulk said soldiers in his military occupational specialty used to draw out sketches of maps by hand, and creating a map from scratch could be a very lengthy process.

“It used to take about a month to make a map,” Faulk said, “now it takes a day.”

The team analyzes the land, combining their expertise, along with intelligence reports, to outline areas on their maps that may pose a threat.


GPS Gadget of the Week: mySKY Personal Planetarium

Stargazing has never been easier than with the mySKY Personal Planetarium, by Meade. As reported by the High Tech Lounge, this week's GPS Gadget of the Week combines a telescope with GPS functionality to make stargazing easier. GPS auto alignment and a database with more than 30.000 sky targets, allows the user to point the device at the heavens and instantly identify planets, stars and constellations.

For the purist, the mySKY can be used as an old fashioned telescope, letting the user search the skies themselves. The device, which also boasts multimedia capabilities such as text, audio and video presentations, will run about $400 when it becomes available in May.

Last week's GPS Gadget of the Week here.


Apr 13, 2007

Author to Appear in Prince George, B.C.

Katherine Gordon, author of, "Made to Measure: A History of Land Surveying in British Columbia" will be among four authors who will read from their work at Books and Company, in Prince George, next Wednesday, at 7:30 p.m. According to the Prince George Citizen, the event is part of the B.C. Book Prizes on Tour's Northern Leg, sponsored by Alcan. Ms. Gordon's book is shortlisted for the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize.


Sales of GPS "Gadgets" Replacing PNDs in Korea

GPS enabled mobile phones, PDAs and other electronics devices are increasingly popular in Korea, gaining market share at the expense of traditional, stand alone GPS devices. That is according to a report in the Korea Times:

``Monthly sales of products with GPS functions have increased by 15 percent this year. Especially, the growth is prominent in mobile phones and PDAs that are replacing traditional navigation systems,’’ said Mun Young-ku, IT manager of Auction, a major Internet shopping site.

The GPS navigation systems get signals from three satellites in earth orbit, and calculates a user’s position through trigonometry. To make it readily available to more drivers and ``digital nomads,’’ electronics makers are now offering navigation applications on phones and PDAs. The GPS phones are also a great help for cyclists and hikers as they can be carried at all times while walking or riding bicycles.

See also: So Long to Stand-Alone GPS Units?
Continued Growth in GPS Forecast
GPS Everywhere

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Apr 12, 2007

Corps Changes Mind; Posts Wolf Creek Dam Maps Online

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has reversed its position and posted online, maps depicting areas that would flood in the event of a failure of the troubled Wolf Creek Dam. Local news organizations had sought copies of the maps for publication. Previously, the Corps had denied those requests, citing concerns they could be used by terrorists.

The maps depict areas in Kentucky and Tennessee that would be flooded in the event of a failure of the dam. The Corps had restricted public access to the maps, making them available only at their Nashville, TN, office and at selected public libraries. While the public could view the maps, photos or other copies were prohibited.

Now the maps are available at the Corps' website here. The maps are organized by county. Once a county has been selected, an index map appears where specific maps can be selected. The inundation maps are aerial photographs, overlayed with a color-code which depicts three different levels of flooding. The maps are in the familiar Adobe Acrobat PDF format.

The Corps has significantly lowered the water level behind the leaking Wolf Creek Dam to lessen the pressure on it. A study showed that a catastrophic failure would cause more than $3 billion in damage and could kill as many as 237 people.

See also: Citing Terrorism, Corps Continues Restrictions on Flood Maps.

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Six Northern Nations to Map the Arctic

Geologists from the six countries that border the Arctic have begun a major cooperative project to compile geological maps of the region with an eye towards discovering its geological resources.

More from the BBC:

Russia, Sweden, Finland, America, Canada and Norway have begun the survey, and scientists from a number of other countries will also be taking part.

Maps detailing the region’s bedrock and other geophysical features will provide researchers with information on local geological resources.

Petroleum experts, for instance, have suggested up to 25 per cent of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas resources lie in the Arctic.

Spelling corrected 04/13/07.

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Apr 11, 2007

Map Error Allows Beauty Shop in Middle of Residential Street

The City of Collinsville, Illinois is being threatened by lawsuits after discovering an error in their zoning map.

More from the Belleville News-Democrat:

...the developer sought zoning information about 102 Gaylord Drive before buying it, and was told that it was commercial. The developer later was issued a building permit.

The problem: The zoning map was in error, and the building was in a residential zone.

Now the residents of Gaylord Drive are asking the City Council to stop the construction of a beauty salon in the middle of their residential street.

The would-be salon owner is threatening to sue if construction is not allowed to proceed. The neighbors are threatening to sue if construction isn't halted permanently.

I predict that the ultimate winners will be......The Lawyers.


Apr 7, 2007

Taiwan to Capture One-Half of GPS Market This Year

Increased global demand for portable navigation devices (PND) combined with a projected shipment growth will result in Taiwanese suppliers of GPS products increasing their share of the global GPS market to more than 50% this year. That, according to a report issued by the Market Intelligence Center (MIC) and posted by on the Technology Marketing Corporation's website. MIC, which is funded by the Taiwanese government, predicts that demand for PNDs will increase to 16 million units in 2007.

Few of Taiwan's GPS manufacturers are household names, since most of them make only the "insides" of the GPS units. Garmin manufacturers it's units in Taiwan, though since its headquarters in in the U.S. that somehow doesn't count? One Taiwanese exception is MiTAC, which has been promoting its own "Mio" brand PND. The company hopes to become the world's No. 2 GPS supplier this year.

See also: Continued Growth in GPS Forecast

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GPS Gadget of the Week: Easter Egg Hunt

Stacy Hindt says the traditional Easter egg hunt is boring. So the Maryland mom, and geocaching enthusiast, has added a modern touch: GPS.

The Cecil Whig has more on this week's GPS Gadget of the Week:

The treasure map is a set of coordinates. The treasure, or geocache in this case, is a candy-filled Easter egg.
Hindt will use global positioning satellite technology to lead searchers to the eggs with prizes inside.

“Actually there will be plastic containers hidden. The GPS will get them within walking distance then they’ve kind of got to look really good,” Hindt said.
Ms. Hindt's kids, ages 8 and 3, will be using their own GPS units to locate their Easter baskets. Anyone else in the Elkton, MD, area is invited to her 23-acre farm to join fun.

Last week's GPS Gadget of the Week here.


Apr 6, 2007

Firm Completes Design of Next-Generation GPS Satellite

Lockheed Martin has completed a review of its design for the U.S. Air Force's next generation GPS satellite, known as GPS Block III. The review involved over 100 government officials, including representatives from the Defense Department, Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration, at a five-day meeting at the firm's Valley Forge, PA, headquaters.

During the review, the Lockheed Martin team detailed its planned architecture and design approach for the system and summarized results of risk reduction efforts. The review also featured an extensive exhibit hall with demonstrations of key technologies and displays summarizing performance, mission scenarios, and user benefits.

Joanne Maguire, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space Systems pronounced the review a sucess, saying, "We are extremely pleased with the government participation and the successful outcome of this important review and stand ready to proceed with the next development phase of the GPS III program."

The review was part of a $49 million design contract to design the next generation GPS satellite system awarded to the firm. Of course the real prize is the multi-billion dollar contract to actually build the system. The firm is competing against Boeing for that contact, which is expected to be awarded to one of the two defense contractors late this year.

See also: GPS III Bid Process About to Begin.


Historic Map Exhibit to Open April 15

Princeton University Library's Department of Rare Books and Special Collections is set to open an exhibit of historic maps of Africa, April 15. The show, "To the Mountains of the Moon: Mapping African Exploration, 1541-1880," will display examples of historic maps and European explorers' narratives from the library's collection.

The exhibition will feature historically significant maps of Africa by major cartographers such as Sebastian Müenster, Abraham Ortelius, Willem Janszoon Blaeu and Vincenzo Coronelli. The show will have a particular focus on the journeys of missionary David Livingstone, adventurer Sir Richard Francis Burton and journalist Henry Morton Stanley. "Behind each map is a great story. The exhibition documents what the men encountered on their incredible travels," said John Delaney, curator of the library's Historic Maps Collection. "On display are these explorers' published narratives, open to their own maps, illustrated with their own drawings and captioned in their own words."

Mr. Delaney expressed admiration for the cartographers who made the maps stating, "The exhibition demonstrates how improving or correcting maps of Africa was not possible without the efforts of adventurers who were willing to risk their lives in the field to prove each geographic fact."

The opening of the exhibit will be preceded by a lecture by geophysicist and expedition leader Pasquale Scaturro, at 4 p.m. in 101 Friend Center. Mr. Scaturro will speak on, "The Exploration of the Great Rivers of Africa." Mr. Scaturro organized and led the historic Nile First Descent Expedition, which traversed 3,260 miles from the mountains of Ethiopia to the Mediterranean Sea from December 2003 to April 2004.

The exhibition is open to the public and will run until Sunday, Oct. 21, in the main exhibition gallery of Firestone Library. Best of all, it's free.

See also: Ancient African Maps Posted Online.


Apr 4, 2007

County Stops Selling GIS Data; Cites Security Risk

Santa Clara County, California, has stopped selling GIS data, citing concerns the information could end up in the hands of terrorists. But the plaintiffs in a lawsuit over the high costs of that data claim the security concerns are nothing more than a convenient cover.

More from the San Jose Mercury News:

The lawsuit brought by the First Amendment Coalition alleges the county overcharges for the mapping information - which shows the location of property lines, roads, water and sewer lines and more...

At the old price of $150,000 for the data necessary to create a map of the entire county, only a telecommunications company and some other government entities have bought and used the data and its accompanying code.
The News says that after Santa Clara County was sued, officials asked the state and federal offices of Homeland Security to evaluate the information in question. Those agencies ruled that some of data - including some the county has already sold - is "protected," which restricts who can view it.

See also: Connecticut Cities Differ On Providing GIS Data

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GPS Outage Due to Solar Flare; Are More to Come?

An unprecedented solar eruption last December caused large numbers of GPS receivers to stop tracking the signal, and may foreshadow worse outages in the future. That was the finding of the Space Weather Enterprise Forum at its first meeting today in Washington, D.C.

On December 5 and 6, forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), observed two powerful solar flares. These solar flares injected high-energy electrons into the solar upper atmosphere which produced radio waves that spread to Earth, covering a broad frequency range. Those radio waves acted as noise that degraded the signal used by GPS and other navigational systems.

This phenomenon has been experienced before, though at much lower levels. Studies at Cornell University led to the prediction that large solar radio bursts would disturb GPS receiver operation for some users.

However, the disruptions experienced in December were worse than had been anticipated. “...December's solar flare produced as much as 10 times more radio noise than the previous record,” reported Dr. Dale Gary, from the New Jersey Institute of Technology. “Measurements with NJIT’s solar radiotelescope confirmed, at its peak, the burst produced 20,000 times more radio emission than the entire rest of the Sun. This was enough to swamp GPS receivers over the entire sunlit side of Earth.”

The concern is that December's solar flare occurred during the solar minimum, a time of lesser solar disruption. If that event could cause such widespread outages, what could a solar flare do if it came during the solar maximum, a time when solar activity is at its peak? “In December, we found the effect on GPS receivers were more profound and wide spread than we expected,” Dr. Paul Kintner, a professor at Cornell University, reported, “Now we are concerned more severe consequences will occur during the next solar maximum.”

The National Space Weather Program, a multi-agency task force will continue studying the matter, with the ultimate goal of being able to predict such events in the future. However, right now it's not known if December's event was a one time occurrence, or an indication of future solar activity that could prove to be a major disruption to GPS and other navigational systems. Dr. Anthea Coster, from MIT observed, "...the size and timing of this burst were completely unexpected and the largest ever detected. We do not know how often we can expect solar radio bursts of this size or even larger.”

Pictured is an eruptive prominence, previously captured by the Extreme ultraviolet Imaging Telescope on board the SOHO spacecraft. (Courtesy of SOHO, a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA)


Apr 2, 2007

FEMA Calls on the Gulf Coast to Adhere to New Maps

Less than two weeks after the City of Biloxi, Mississippi, voted to ignore its latest flood maps, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) again called on cities along the gulf coast to adhere to the higher elevation requirements of its "advisory" flood maps.

In a statement released in Biloxi, FEMA said, "...these maps are provided to help state and local officials and homeowners identify existing and increased flood hazards. FEMA continues to encourage communities to use the ABFEs [newer maps] because they more accurately reflect the flood risk than the effective Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) which are 25 years old."

Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, FEMA accelerated work on updating and digitizing flood maps along the gulf coast. As a temporary measure, the agency issued Advisory Base Flood Elevation maps (ABFEs) of the region. Those maps called for new construction along the gulf to be substantially higher than what was previously allowed, in some cases as much as 25 feet higher. Many communities have chosen to ignore the newer maps, allowing construction to proceed using the outdated flood maps in effect prior to Katrina.

Legally, FEMA cannot require cities to adhere to the "advisory" maps, but has strongly urged them to do so.

The agency plans to release preliminary versions of the "official" flood maps in late summer. Then will come a series of community meetings, followed by a 90-day appeal and protest period. After that, local communities have six months to adopt the new maps. This process has led to a situation where citizens are racing to rebuild at the lower elevation to save money. Cities along the gulf coast are allowing the rebuilding to proceed, knowing full well that the homes and businesses being built are in serious danger of being destroyed by another hurricane, and lives being lost.

See also: Biloxi Miss. Votes to Ignore Latest Flood Map
Mississippi Communities Continue To Resist Adhering To New Flood Maps
Gulf Coast Reacts To New Flood Maps

Photo: Marina in Biloxi, MS, destroyed by Hurricane Katrina (Courtesy FEMA).


Test Your Geographic IQ

A post by Catholicgauze sent me wandering over to the website of the National Geographic Bee. What a spelling bee is to English, the Geography Bee is to anyone who enjoys geography, maps, and stuff like that.

At the website, I stumbled upon some sample questions, which I'm sharing for those brave enough to test their geographic IQ:

  1. Which state has a climate suitable for growing citrus fruits—California or Maine?
  2. Which country has the world's largest Muslim population—Indonesia or Mexico?
  3. The North Atlantic current brings warm waters from the tropics to the west coast of which continent?
  4. What is the term for a part of an ocean or sea that cuts far into the bordering landmass and may contain one or more bays?
  5. The port of Rotterdam is built on the delta of which major European river?
  6. Which Canadian province produces more than half of the country's manufactured goods?
  7. To visit the ruins of Persepolis, an ancient ceremonial capital of Persia, you would have to travel to what present-day country?
Modesty prevents me from saying how many I got right.


Apr 1, 2007

Insufficient Funds Means Indiscernible Border

While the United States makes plans to mark its southern border with a massive fence, it's northern border is becoming overgrown and imperceivable due to a lack of funds for upkeep, the Boston Globe reports.

The International Boundary Commission, a joint project of the U.S. and Canada, is obligated by treaty to keep the 5,525-mile border cleared and prominently marked. However, hundreds of miles of the frontier are fading into obscurity, due to a lack of funding. The two governments are supposed to split the cost of boundary maintenance. Canada is chipping in $2 million a year. The U.S. has been chipping in around $1.4 million.

With the commission falling behind in its efforts to keep the mandated 20-foot-wide swath clearly marked, our neighbors to the north have sent a note, politely asking the U.S. to increase it's contribution to the effort. A State Department spokesman was noncommittal, telling the Globe, "We are looking at the budget situation closely."


Sierra Club Sues to Block Flood Map

The Sierra Club has filed a lawsuit challenging a portion of the new Harris County (Houston) Flood Map, an action officials warn could delay adopting the maps countywide.

More from the Houston Chronicle:

If the new maps are delayed, flood-control officials say, developers will be able to build in flood-prone areas based on outdated, 30-year-old flood plain information. Flood officials want to adopt the new maps, then revise the one for the Cypress Creek area.

The Sierra Club has brought its lawsuit because it also is concerned about development in flood-prone areas. It alleges that even the proposed Cypress Creek flood map might allow development on 5,000 acres of wetlands in the Katy Prairie, home to one of North America's largest flocks of wintering migratory waterfowl.

Heather Saucier, a spokeswoman for the Harris County Flood Control District, which helped develop the maps, called the lawsuit "a disgrace to taxpayers." Her colleague, Fred Garcia, said the lawsuit is "frivolous" because the district and FEMA will issue a corrected map of Cypress Creek shortly.

The map that the Sierra Club opposes designates more land around the creek as flood-prone than the existing 1985 map, which means development restrictions are stricter, Garcia said.

After Tropical Storm Allison struck the area, FEMA and the Harris County Flood Control District each chipped in $15 million to redraw the area's flood maps.

See also: Waterfront Property May Be Closer Than You Think.

Photo: Relief efforts following Tropical Storm Allison; Courtesy of FEMA.

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