A Road Map for a Road Map: New NAS Study on Spatial Science

By Jeffery Robichaud

The National Academy of Science’s Committee on Spatial Data Enabling USG Strategic Science in the 21st Century (whew a mouthful) just released a report entitled Advancing Strategic Science: A Spatial Data Infrastructure Road Map for the U.S. Geological Survey.  I don’t know any of the professors that were on the committee, so I’m not sure if the use of “Road Map” is tongue in cheek but it certainly sounds like the groan-eliciting plays-on-words that I am known for. 

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) plays an important role in geospatial activities across the country, and at EPA we rely heavily on their work, especially GIS professional fan favorites such as the National Hydrography Dataset, the National Land-Cover Dataset, and the National Elevation Dataset.  We work closely with USGS both at the national level as well as here at the regional level.   Because of this relationship and some of our overlapping goals, I was interested to read the report and understand what we at EPA could take away.  Like all National Academy of Science works, this one will take several reads to fully sink in, but I did glean some overarching themes which resonated with me especially for geospatial activities within the public sector.

The importance of quick and meaningful data sharing and data discovery – In a world as fast as ours, decisions must get made all day, every day based on the information one has in hand.  It shouldn’t be surprising then that getting data into the hands of decision makers (either through sharing or ease of discovery) will lead us to more informed and hopefully better decisions, especially in emergency situations.     

Maintaining data over the long haul – All technology, including GIS, seems to move at such a rapid clip, that we as a society seem to love and covet the next big thing.  However, data doesn’t go bad…unless we let it by not maintaining the systems and the access to historical information.    

The importance of partners – It can’t be stressed enough that going it alone on a project may not yield the best results.  Strong partnerships can bring more resources to bear, tap into numerous specific and unique talents not accessible to a sole entity, and aid in the discovery of new markets for data and information.  

I encourage you to read the report as it is a thoughtful catalogue of the spatial data infrastructure challenges facing USGS as they move forward.   And please feel free to post your thoughts below, especially as the relate to road maps for infrastructure of environmental data.     

About the Author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.

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