Better Map Design

As I’ve said before, I’m no GIS expert. I am certainly not a beginner, but there are many things I don’t know or don’t care to know how to do. Something I really would like to learn, though, is how to make better, more beautiful maps. I have seen some really good looking maps. I wish that I had made any one of them. Today I have a couple of links that I thought looked like they might help get beyond just putting data together, and discover a little more of the art in cARTography.

The first of the links is to the Color Brewer by Cindy Brewer, Associate Professor at Pennsylvania State University. Color Brewer is an online tool that helps create color schemes for maps with classes of sequential, qualitative, and diverging data. A user just indicates the number of classes and the type of data, and a number of different choices of color schemes are presented.

Making Maps Easy to Read is a literature review and links to studies done on map usability issues by Richard Phillips, Elizabeth Noyes and others at University College London, at the Royal College of Art and at the University of Nottingham.

Stratigraphic Photogrammetry: Part 2 – A Quick Proof of Concept


I’ve been moving along, making progress on my methodology for stratigraphic photogrammetry. I don’t remember just off of the top of my head, but I think that the actual title of the paper is something like A Method for the Use of a Non-Metric Digital Camera in Stratigraphic Photogrammetry. I present the paper (which I will post here as soon as I am able, although I think that I want to have it edited by someone else before I post it here) on Wednesday morning. As part of finishing the paper, to show that my method can overcome the basic obsticles in using a non-metric camera to make metric photographs, I set up a flight-line on one of the public trails in the area and took a series of stereo photographs (digital images, actually) of a stratigraphic profile, as a proof-of-concept.

I set up on the John Wayne Trail in Eastern Ellensburg, Washington. The John Wayne Trail is a public jogging trail created along an old railroad prism and cuts. After weeks of plotting and figuring and calculation, I really didn’t know what to expect when I went out to take my images. craig2s.jpgI was pretty confident in my calculations for scale and coverage, but I really didn’t know. It turns out that my biggest problem wasn’t the photogrammetric method at all. The biggest problem was that most of the tasks of setting up a flight-line require two or three people to do them. I should have known that it would take more people. All of the things I needed to do, like pulling level lines and measuring grids, etc. are things that I have done before on monitoring projects or at the mammoth dig this summer. I really should have guessed that I wouldn’t have much luck trying to dig my toes into a slick clay slope, pull a metric tape and a level line with one hand, place a grid-corner nail with the other before hurrying to grab my hammer and try to pound the nail in before it fell. I eventually gave up trying to build a reference grid onto the wall, which would have been a necessary step if I was planning on orthorectifying my images to overcome radial distortion caused by the short focal length and cheap lense of my camera. craig3s.jpgLuckily, I was trying to create stereo images, which no longer show stereo if they are orthorectified, and so had no real need for the reference grid. Overall the images turned out even better than I expected. I couldn’t get right at the wall, so I had to pull back away from it to 10m. This put the visible stratigraphy at the very top of the image: much smaller that I had hoped for, but more than enough under the circumstances. The images do indeed show up in 3D under a stereoscope.

If you click on the thumbnails you can see bigger versions of the images, but even those are small, poor quality versions. I reduced the resolution to save bandwidth. If you have any interest in the full-resolution pictures, just drop me a note, either by e-mail, or in the comments to this post, and I will send them to you.

Stratigraphic Photogrammetry: Part 1 – Calculations for Photometrics on the Olympus C-750

For the last few months, I have been working on a methodology for using terrestrial photogrammetry techniques in capturing stratigraphic profiles. The original idea for this came on the Wenas Mammoth dig (which I wrote about on 10 August 2005), when we were not sure, at one point, if our trench, cut into a wall of loess, would survive over the weekend. At that point, we were only about halfway through our stratigraphic analysis, and a colapse of the trench over the weekend would have set us back very far. I took systematic close-up photographs of the trench wall, hoping to capture some of the features of the stratigraphy in case we lost the wall.

The trench didn’t fall over the weekend, which was a very good thing: in my ignorance, I made many mistakes taking my photographs, and they were completely unusable. Since then, I have been working on the techniques to make measureable photographs of a wall. Because I am using a digital camera to make digital images, the first step in the methodology is to calculate image size, scale, coverage, resolution and spacing for the camera. Because the focal length and sensor size, as well as the pixel resolution, of each digital camera is different, the calculations have to be made for each model of camera (although cameras with the exact same focal length, pixel resolution, and sensor size would have the same calculations). I have an Olympus C-750, which has a focal length of 7.8mm, and a sensor size of 5.67mm x 4.39mm. I am including here a table of all the different calculations for my camera, assuming a screen and print resolution of 200dpi, which would give a photo size of 8″ x 10″.

Update (11/12/05): Going out in the field today to actually try making metric photographs with my camera, using the calculations from Table 1.1 below, I realised that the calculations I made were actually for the Olympus C-140 and C-160 3.2 MP UltraZoom cameras, and that the model that I actually own is the Olympus C-150 4MP. The origianl table of calculations is of no use to me because I don’t own those cameras, but I will leave it here on the chance that someone might be able to make some use of it. I have added the calculations of the Olympus C-150, the camera that I actually own, as Table 1.2, below.


Update (11/14/05): I have posted Part 2 of my discussion of stratigraphic photogrammetry using a consumer-level digital camera.


Table 1.1 Coverage, Resolution, and Scale Calculations for the Olympus C-740/760 3.2MP Digital Cameras
Distance from Wall DV Coverage (m) DH Coverage (m) Photoscale (200dpi) Photo Resolution (mm/px) Stereo-pair H-spacing Stereo-pair V-spacing
0.50 0.28 0.37
1 /
1.4 0.18 0.15 0.11
1.00 0.56 0.74
1 /
2.8 0.36 0.30 0.22
1.50 0.84 1.11
1 /
4.3 0.54 0.45 0.33
2.00 1.13 1.48
1 /
5.7 0.72 0.60 0.44
2.50 1.41 1.85
1 /
7.1 0.90 0.75 0.55
3.00 1.69 2.22
1 /
8.5 1.08 0.90 0.66
3.50 1.97 2.58
1 /
9.9 1.26 1.05 0.77
4.00 2.25 2.95
1 /
11.4 1.44 1.20 0.88
4.50 2.53 3.32
1 /
12.8 1.62 1.35 0.99
5.00 2.81 3.69
1 /
14.2 1.80 1.50 1.10
5.50 3.10 4.06
1 /
15.6 1.98 1.65 1.21
6.00 3.38 4.43
1 /
17.0 2.16 1.80 1.32
6.50 3.66 4.80
1 /
18.5 2.34 1.95 1.43
7.00 3.94 5.17
1 /
19.9 2.52 2.10 1.54
7.50 4.22 5.54
1 /
21.3 2.70 2.25 1.65
8.00 4.50 5.91
1 /
22.7 2.88 2.40 1.76
8.50 4.78 6.28
1 /
24.1 3.06 2.55 1.87
9.00 5.07 6.65
1 /
25.6 3.25 2.70 1.98
9.50 5.35 7.02
1 /
27.0 3.43 2.85 2.09
10.00 5.63 7.38
1 /
28.4 3.61 3.00 2.20
Table 1.2 Coverage, Resolution, and Scale Calculations for the Olympus C-750 4MP Digital Camera
Distance from Wall DV Coverage (m) DH Coverage (m) Photoscale (200dpi) Photo Resolution (mm/px) Stereo-pair H-spacing Stereo-pair V-spacing
0.50 0.35 0.46
1 /
1.6 0.22 0.15 0.11
1.00 0.70 0.91
1 /
3.1 0.45 0.30 0.22
1.50 1.05 1.37
1 /
4.7 0.67 0.45 0.33
2.00 1.39 1.83
1 /
6.3 0.89 0.60 0.44
2.50 1.74 2.29
1 /
7.9 1.12 0.75 0.55
3.00 2.09 2.74
1 /
9.4 1.34 0.90 0.66
3.50 2.44 3.20
1 /
11.0 1.56 1.05 0.77
4.00 2.79 3.66
1 /
12.6 1.79 1.20 0.88
4.50 3.14 4.11
1 /
14.2 2.01 1.35 0.99
5.00 3.48 4.57
1 /
15.7 2.23 1.50 1.10
5.50 3.83 5.03
1 /
17.3 2.46 1.65 1.21
6.00 4.18 5.49
1 /
18.9 2.68 1.80 1.32
6.50 4.53 5.94
1 /
20.5 2.90 1.95 1.43
7.00 4.88 6.40
1 /
22.0 3.13 2.10 1.54
7.50 5.23 6.86
1 /
23.6 3.35 2.25 1.65
8.00 5.57 7.31
1 /
25.2 3.57 2.40 1.76
8.50 5.92 7.77
1 /
26.7 3.79 2.55 1.87
9.00 6.27 8.23
1 /
28.3 4.02 2.70 1.98
9.50 6.62 8.69
1 /
29.9 4.24 2.85 2.09
10.00 6.97 9.14
1 /
31.5 4.46 3.00 2.20

SQL for Geographers

I have friends that live for GIS. They would probably eat, drink, and breath it if they could. Although I often use GIS and GIS products in my work and studies, I am really not much of a GIS power-user. However, even I, in my not-so-powerful-but-still-adequate-for-my-needs GIS type of way, was able to recognize that the blog SQL for Geographers (which is, unsurprisingly, about using SQL with GIS) could be very useful in some circumstances. About the site, Jeremy, the site’s author, says:

“This blog is dedicated to the integration between GIS and enterprise level relational databases. I am a Geographer by trade with a strong interest in relational databases. I have been in the GIS field for 10+ years and the database field for 7. The amount of data waiting to be spatially enabled within enterprise databases is extraordinary. I hope to show in this blog working examples of database-GIS interaction. Many examples that I will show are implemented within Oracle 9.2 and ESRI’s SDE 8.3. Hopefully most of the SQL algorithms will transfer to your implementation.”

I couldn’t help wondering, though, if the site gets many visitors, being such a niche blog. I found it; maybe that answers my question.

GIS Links

Here is the second installment from my Favorites folder. This time I’m looking through the folder of GIS links. I guess it’s been quite a long time since I’ve looked through these links and cleaned them out, because there are millions of them (not really), and some of them are worthless.

As a little disclaimer, since I live and work in Washington State, a lot of my data links are for Washington State. Sorry to all of you looking for stuff on, say, Zimbabwe, or something. The links are split up by general topic, but I haven’t put them in any further order than that. Hopefully I will eventually annotate all of these, so that you don’t have to visit them to see exactly what they are, and to give you some idea how good the sites are.

Free Geospatial Data

Washington State Maps at University of Washington Libraries (09/09/05)

ArcData Downloader (09/09/05)

Washington State DOQs and DOQQs (09/12/05)

Washington DNR GIS Data (09/12/05)

Free GIS Data (09/12/05)

StreamNet Salmon and Stream Data (09/12/05)

USGS GISDATA Map Studio (09/12/05)

Landsat Imagery Data Access (09/12/05)

NGDC GLOBE Project (09/12/05)

GTOPO30 Global Topographic Data (09/12/05)

Washington State DRGs (09/12/05)

HYDRO1k North America Data Page (09/12/05)

National Atlas Raw Data (09/12/05)

Mount Saint Helens DEMs (09/12/05)

Pacific Northwest Biological Geospatial Coverages (09/12/05)

Inside Idaho GIS Data (09/12/05)

USGS Seamless Data Distribution

Guide to Mostly On-Line and Mostly Free U.S. Geospatial and Attribute Data (09/12/05)

Northwest Subbasin Geographic Data Browser Home Page (09/12/05)

UA Census 2000 TIGER/Line Files (09/12/05)

USGS Geographic Data Download (09/12/05)

3D Visualization Software (Free and Otherwise)

3DEM Downloads (09/09/05)

GIS Software (Free and Otherwise)

Map Maker – Desktop Mapping (09/12/05)

Free GIS and CAD Software (09/12/05)

GIS Knoppix (09/12/05)

FreeGIS Database (09/12/05)

Jump Unified Mapping Platform (09/12/05)

GIS Tutorials

DRG Tutorial (09/12/05)

Environmental Applications of GIS (09/12/05)

Minnesota DNR GIS/GPS Training Materials (09/12/05)

LandSat Tutorial (09/12/05)

Citizen’s Guide to Spatial Data and NSDI (09/12/05)

Mt. Rainier Challenge: Superior Overlays using 3DEM (09/12/05)

The Remote Sensing Tutorial (09/12/05)

Scale, Accuracy, and Resolution in GIS (09/12/05)

Making a Map (09/12/05)


ArcPad Evaluation (09/12/05)

ArcVoyager (09/12/05)

ArcView Tutorials

Columbia River Basin Environmental Research Project Curriculum (09/09/05)

Introduction to ArcView GIS 3.x (09/09/05)

ArcView Tips and Tutorials (09/09/05)

PASDA’s ArcView Tutorial (09/12/05)

Preparing tables for use with ArcView and ArcGIS (09/12/05)

ArcUser Magazine (09/12/05)

Terrain Modeling with ArcView GIS (09/12/05)

ArcView Scripts and Extensions

ArcView Scripts Downloads (09/09/05)

Image-Tools (v2.6) and DRG-Tools (v3.7) (09/09/05)

Minnesota DNR ArcView Extensions (09/09/05)

Impervious Surface Analysis Tool (09/09/05)

Polygon in Polygon Analysis (09/12/05)

Watershed Delineation Extension (09/12/05)

GIS Fonts (09/12/05)

ShadeMax Color System (09/12/05)

BASINS: Better Assessment Science Integrating Point & Nonpoint Sources (09/12/05)

GIS Information Portal

Web Resources Compiled For Terrain Modeling (09/12/05)

Digital Grove (09/12/05)

Open-Source GIS (09/12/05)


Global Earth Observing System of Systems

It must be going on a couple of years now that we have been getting e-mails at work talking about GEOSS, a new “system of systems” that will somehow greatly increase our knowledge about the Earth, but it wasn’t until just a few days ago that the real importance of the project hit me.  I got so excited about the whole thing that I wanted to write an article about it, but realized that I couldn’t really remember any of the specifics about the system from the few years of half-read e-mail.  An EPA document helped supply the facts that I haven’t really been paying attention to over the last couple of years.

GEOSS, which stands for Global Earth Observing System of Systems, is an attempt to “connect the dots” between thousands of individual pieces of technology that are gathering earth observations around the globe.  The global initiative is spearheaded by the United States, through the Group on Earth Observations, and supported by sixty countries, the European Commission and more than 40 international organizations.  NOAA’s Earth Observing System Web page, in speaking of GEOSS, asks us to “imagine a world in which we can forecast winter weather months in advance; predict where the next outbreak of malaria, SARS or West Nile virus is likely to hit; and, in the U.S. alone, reduce energy costs by about $1 billion annually.”

Of the system, EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt said, “Our environment knows no boundaries. We all breathe the same air and drink the same water. We all cause pollution—every one of us. And working together, we can find the solutions and affect the changes needed to protect people, promote prosperity and preserve our planet,”

I don’t think I quite understood the significance of GEOSS, and I still probably don’t realize it fully, but I see GEOSS as something like the Google of Earth data.  It is the very discontinuity of data about the Earth’s systems that causes so much contention in making policy and management decisions.  We don’t know exactly how to fix the Earth’s problems when we don’t exactly know, from our fractured data, what the Earth’s problems are, or even if it really has any.  GEOSS represents an opportunity to finally get a whole snapshot of the Earth’s health. I am so excited.


I will post more about GEOSS as I know more.