New Keck site demonstrates advances in digital mapping

6/28/2010 - By: Natalie Savidge

Zachary Newell, the lead developer for the “Keck” Web site at the University of Nevada, Reno Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, in concert with Tod Colegrove, head of the DeLaMare and Ansari Map Library, announced the release of an enhanced version of the W.M. Keck Earth Sciences and Mining Research Center, “The Nevada Geospatial Data Gateway,” a digital map data depository for Nevada.

For more than 20 years, map makers have been meeting annually to discuss advancement of spatial data and technology within the state at the Nevada Geographic Information Society (NGIS) Conference. Newell and Colegrove unveiled their new map product, to the Nevada State Mapping Advisory Committee at the 20th Annual NGIS Conference in Las Vegas at their annual June meeting. The poster presentation authored by Newell, Colegrove and Xian Wang of the Nevada Department of Transportation was selected best of show at the conference in the artistic/innovative category.

The Keck site has undergone a complete redesign to enhance usability and functionality and, according to Colegrove, the plan is for it to become “a geographic gateway.”
The site abandons the standard practice for governments and institutions who share new geographic information system (GIS) data to use a one-to-one approach, matching a separate data set to a specific resource – typically a Web front-end to a FTP site; with an end result of creating multiple data “silos” across the Web.

“This is a denser, richer, faster, more-versatile interface that users can customize and add any images to at any time,” Newell said. “In the past, you could only request one map at a time. Now you can click on a location to bring up or overlay multiple maps.”

Nearly all of the data sets on the site are built around the United States Geological Survey’s 24k Quadrangle Index. Under the old system, one quadrangle could only be related to one piece of aerial photography on the site. The new site represents a different model centered on the inherent one-to-many relationship of the Keck GIS data sets. It takes all of the overlapping data sets and relates them by using the USGS 24k Index. This approach allows almost any piece of information about features within the quadrangle to be easily obtained and available to the public.

In addition, this model combines ArcGIS Server and Google maps, providing visitors with an intuitive way to access the data. Best of all, it is fast, returning results typically five to six times faster than comparable searches performed on data.gov.

“Essentially, the new site will allow a visitor to click on a location using Google maps and pull up all the data we have for that area,” Newell said. “It simplifies the process of discovering and using the information. It’s groundbreaking work that needs to be done, which no one else is doing.”

Throughout the past 10 years, the site has served hundreds-of-thousands of end-users, providing Nevada GIS data to students, faculty and industry professionals in construction, mineral exploration, environmental studies, hydrology, agriculture and seismology. The new site offers available data sets for aerial photography, remote-sensing imagery, geoscience databases and maps such as topographic, geologic, geoscience, satellite, infrared, soil, historic and more.

“In a month, we are seeing nearly 120,000 downloads from our site; 30,000 downloads from China,” Newell said. “The new site uses the same design that many Web 2.0 tools like Facebook and Flickr use, and will take a wide range of geographic data produced by state agencies and institutions and relate it to other geographic data. In fact, the interface for accessing the underlying data could serve as a model for other states and map libraries around the country and will hopefully become the ‘place to go for maps.’”

Throughout the summer, Colegrove will use the Keck mapping program to digitize and catalog nearly 200,000 maps of the Ansari Map Library, housed in the DeLaMare Library. He said that the new map product provides a good opportunity for the University to tap into more collaborative projects and partnerships with federal, state and local agencies, as well as the private sector.

“It's clear that the redesigned Keck site is being enthusiastically embraced; beyond the ease of use of the resource, and beyond simplicity of ongoing maintenance, positioning the site as a gateway of state-specific geographic data is exactly what the community needs,” Colegrove said. “We are eagerly looking forward to the opportunities that the centrality of this resource to the larger geographic community across the state will offer to the students, faculty and staff of the university; leapfrogging research opportunities across multiple disciplines even as it brings them together on common ground. And for the students involved, this provides exactly the practical, hands-on type of experience that makes the difference to a prospective employer.”

Over the last several years, the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology has also undertaken the digital conversion of paper documents into scanned images and plans to continue the conversion project with assistance from the Keck Center. The University’s Nevada Seismological Laboratory and the U.S. Geologic Survey will work with the libraries as they continue to map fault lines throughout the state. Future options for the Keck Center to work with agencies for geothermal mapping are also planned.


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