Sunday, September 12, 2010

The USGS and The National Map

The other day I was looking for a good topographical map of where I live and I stumbled upon a project being done by the US Geological Survey (USGS) where they are trying to digitize and make freely available all of the USGS topo maps. Normally these maps are only found in libraries or in specialty map stores so they are not freely available, and a good topo map runs about $15 (or $25 for a tear-proof and water-proof copy). So when I came across The National Map project I was very excited because this represents the first time that such a wealth of survey data has been made available for anyone and everyone to use. It is essentially following up the mindset NOAA which releases all of their data for anyone to download and look at.

To give you an idea of what this means, up until now all map data for the US has been dispensed to the public through commercial ventures such as Rand McNally or National Geographic or other companies that make road atlases, or government organizations such as the Forest Service which provides maps of all of the forests, parks and wilderness areas. In addition to that there is the BLM which maintained and distributed their own maps. But now through the National Map project the idea is to centralize and make freely available all of the road and topo maps in the US in digital form. Previously the de facto source map for the US was Google Earth (with the associated Google Maps). When I say Google maintained the de facto source map for the US, I mean that if you went to the official USGS website and tried to look something up on a map they would display a map with the "Powered by Google" down in the corner. So even the USGS uses Google Maps for their stuff (to be fair, Google Maps gets their data from the USGS, but I still find it odd that the USGS uses Google to present their data). With the new project anyone will be able to go in and access the data and will be able to form their own map for free (when I say anyone, that means anyone that can understand and navigate through all of the data).

Essentially what this will do for maps in the US, is what NOAA has already done for weather.


  1. Quantumleap42 ,

    That is funny that Google's information comes from USGS and yet USGS's website said "Powered by Google." But I guess having compiled the maps is different than being able to display them on the web in a user friendly way.

  2. QL42,

    Cool stuff. Now, whenever I have an attack of insomnia, I would be exploring The National Map!


  3. I've always wondered where Google gets all of the data to make their maps. Of course some of the maps are simply images from satellites or planes, but for all of the rest Google maps is apparently just an excellent interface to the USGS's data.

  4. The best way to get USGS maps of your area is to use a program called USAPHOTOMAPS by JDMCox. Its freeware, but he takes donations. It also does aerial imagry, though not as up to date as Google, and you can plug your GPS into it.


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