Happy Belated Veterans Day: GIs and GPS

By Joe Summerlin

A few years ago, I found myself trekking along Town Branch Creek in Bolivar, Missouri noting areas that were impaired, taking photos, and storing waypoints on my smartphone. I mused at how easy it was to load information and tell a story about this little watershed from a device that fit firmly in the palm of my hand. Then it dawned on me. Just fifteen years earlier, I had witnessed the birth of handheld GPS devices in the U.S. Army. I then thought, “I am getting old. Maybe some of the younger generation would like to know about the predecessor to devices they take for granted today.” This blog will discuss the capabilities of handheld GPS devices in the early 1990’s, specifically the Precision Lightweight GPS Receiver (PLGR.)

The PLGR or “plugger” was one of the first mass produced handheld GPS devices used by conventional forces in the U.S. Army. It saw its first real combat test in 1991 during the Gulf War. The concept was simple: use existing military and secure government satellites to orient a soldier on the battlefield. At the time there were 24 satellites in orbit and this puppy needed three for accurate lat/long data or four for lat/long plus elevation data.

Many of the negative characteristics of the design of this beast were made by engineers to ensure longevity and meet the requirements set by U.S. Army leaders. Note the lack of a full color display. This was designed on purpose using liquid crystal displays to ensure an ambient light source would not give away the positions of soldiers on the field. This also made it incredibly difficult to read where you were. The display was also compatible with night vision goggles. Unfortunately, I always peeked under my goggles and pushed the “light” button or used a red-filtered lens and shined it on the display.

The PLGR was bulky, boxy and not a product to sell to the masses. The buttons were clunky and there were only twelve. In order to store a waypoint you had to arrow through a bunch of poorly written menus. Sometimes when you wanted to store a waypoint, you would find yourself scrolling through a menu for 10 minutes. When you did actually store a waypoint, you would have to clunk your way back to the main menu by using a series of guesses, some luck, and maybe some sort of magic ritual. My secret was to hit the power button and wait for the 7 minute reboot.

I haven’t even touched on the size of this monster. Hand held – yes, only if you had Shaquille O’Neal-sized hands. The PLGR weighed a mere 2.75 pounds or about the equivalent of one canteen of water.

The PLGR was large for two reasons. First, micro technology was not as advanced, and second, soldiers lose small items. It used 634 AA batteries (maybe it just seemed like it did) and the battery life was about 2 hours. We learned to conserve battery power by turning it off and using the maps in our pockets. Only when we were lost (which never happened because we are the U.S. Army) did we pull it out to get our bearings.

Well, there you have it, the smartphone’s grandpappy. Next time you are in the car listening to that speak n’ spell voice demanding “TURN RIGHT,” just think to yourself, if it weren’t for the military and those veterans that tested and used this stuff I might have just made a left turn at Albuquerque.

 

Joe Summerlin is an Environmental Scientist in EPA Region 7 who works with the Agency’s NEPA program. He served in the U.S. Army for 14 years as a Cavalry Scout and a CH-47D Chinook  helicopter pilot.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Greetings from Liberia

By Jeffery Robichaud

We have been lucky to have some great interns work for our Water Monitoring group over the years, and I know that the staff definitely miss them when the leave and head back to school.  I just received an email from our 2011-2012 intern, Andy, who graduated from KU this Spring and headed off to Africa as a member of the Peace Corps.  He just got back from Liberia a little earlier than he had expected.

Hello!

I hope the past four months have been well for you all, and I bet that sampling this summer was interesting. I heard it has been extremely dry here in the Midwest. Unfortunately the ankle injury that had me in a boot this spring did not heal as the doctors had thought, and I have recently been sent home from Africa back to Kansas to see an orthopedic surgeon. I had a great time during my short stay in the Peace Corps as a physics instructor and hope to re-join once my ankle is fully recovered.
I have been wanting to send you all an email, but there is little to no internet access where I was at in Africa. The living conditions were very basic, and after drinking filtered and bleached rain water for four months, I really appreciate the water quality we have here in America!
These are some of the pictures I have taken in Liberia, West Africa. I thought you all would find the first picture extremely interesting – it is the Republic of Liberia Environmental Protection Agency HQ in the capital city! A nice green building.

I’ve asked Andy to help out with a blog post or two about his experiences in Liberia and with EPA as an intern.  And the picture of Liberia’s EPA building makes me again appreciate our new EPA office, although I am quite partial to this color green (Go Seahawks!)

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.  Much to the chagrin of all the Chiefs fans in the office, he roots for the Seahawks.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

The Water Quality Portal

By Jeffery Robichaud

For more years than I can count, accessing water quality data has been  a somewhat arduous task.  Many different organizations have data.  Unfortunately this data is usually in different formats and requires different methods to access.  It is tough for a scientist to get the information they need, let alone for a school kid wanting to find out information about the creek down the hill.

It hasn’t received a lot of publicity but the US Geological Survey and the United States Environmental Protection Agency through a partnership with the National Water Quality Monitoring Council have brought the two biggest sources of water quality data, EPA’s Storage and Retrieval (STORET) system and USGS’s National Water Information System (NWIS) together into one place, the Water Quality Portal.  In November of last year the system provided access to over 200 million records at over 5 million locations throughout the US.

Map of Water Quality Portal Results Coverage by County

At the portal you can browse for data based on numerous queries, download data in multiple formats (including kml for use in Google Earth), and even take advantage of web services using  RESTlike (REpresentational State Transfer) techniques,  so that your own applications can consume the data. 

Go ahead and give the Water Quality Portal a test drive.  It even provides a link to show you how to upload your own water quality data  using EPA’s WQXWeb template.  Next week I hope to show you  a similar effort we have going on in the Kansas City area.

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.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Beyond The Plains – Modeling Non-Point Source Pollution in The Utrata Watershed In Poland

By Walt Foster

Being in the middle of the United States, one would think there were few opportunities to get involved with activities beyond our country’s borders.  But with the breakup of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s I had an opportunity to assist EPA’s Office of International Affairs because of our region’s particular expertise with spatial science and agricultural. 

 In cooperation with Iowa State University, and funded by a grant from the Marie Curie Foundation, I worked on a project in the Utrata watershed outside Warsaw, Poland. The project involved development of a modeling methodology to support agricultural watershed management which could be adapted to other rural watersheds throughout Poland.

 

 

We used the Agricultural Non-Point Source Pollution (AGNPS) model, a cell-based runoff model widely used in the U.S. to predict the effects of various land management strategies on nutrient and sediment runoff in small to medium sized agricultural watersheds.      

The inputs to the model included such information as topography, soils, hydrography, and land use, while outputs were predicted nutrient and sediment loads.  This model allowed identification of locations where a high potential for non-point source runoff existed, as well as the ability to model the results if various land management practices were employed to reduce runoff.   

At the time this was particularly challenging as data was much more difficult to come by than it is today, processing was more difficult because of hardware and software limitations.  

The completed model ultimately enabled watershed managers in Poland to rapidly target non-point source problem areas and evaluate land management practices for their potential impact on these target areas. The model also encouraged the development of water policy that supported sustainable development in rural areas of Poland.

Over the last twenty years the tools, techniques, and information have improved, but the experiences in both the U.S. and Western European have continued to show that that a management approach that integrates social, economic, and environmental processes at the watershed scale is often the most effective approach to dealing with water quality issues.  You can order a free copy of EPA’s Handbook for Developing Watershed Plans to Restore and Protect Our Waters from the National Service Center for Environmental Publications (NSCEP). Contact NSCEP at 800-490-9198 or by e-mail, nscep@bps-lmit.com. You can also download the Handbook here.

Walt Foster has been with the GIS program in EPA Region 7 since its inception except for an hiatus during which he served as the NEPA section chief and worked with EPA’s Office of International Affairs on environmental projects in eastern Europe.  More recently he worked on a series of projects with a number of cooperating agencies and NGOs designed to characterize the ecological state of Region 7 and identify priority ecological resources for regional programs to use in their planning and response activities.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.