Yes, you!

student-s

 

I am constantly amazed at the wealth of information we have at our fingertips today. The internet makes research as simple as clicking. It’s not like in my childhood when you immediately went to the World Book Encyclopedia or the Encyclopedia Britannica to do research for a school project. If you needed additional information, you went to the local library. Our resources were miniscule compared to the seemingly unlimited sources we have today. Today you can even contact experts via email and read about their research.

With all this information, it seems like we should be able to solve many of our problems in a snap. Say there’s an environmental problem that concerns you. Without leaving your home or library you can access the U.S. Geological Survey map for that area, aerial photos, zoning information, plant lists, property owners, businesses, and environmental data like water and air quality and whether there are any Superfund sites nearby. The wonderful thing is that you don’t need to have a Ph.D. or be a top level scientist working for a big company to help solve problems. You can be you. You can make a difference in your local community! And, you may be able to help solve a national problem.

Many times problem solvers are people who put the pieces of the puzzle together in a new way. They apply new approaches. They see things others don’t. They make new connections. So be creative! You can make a difference. You are our future.

Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created. Nancy is currently the Web Content Coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic Region.

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.

Drinking Water Week 2013: What’s in YOUR Water?

By Lisa Donahue

I like to go camping in the summer with my kids. We make sure the hiking boots fit and pile all the gear and food in the car, with a plan to explore the wild lands of Pennsylvania.  We camp in state parks or private campgrounds. We have snacks to eat, and marshmallows to toast, but… what about water?

Do we drink straight from a stream? Certainly not! Streams can contain harmful bacteria and other pollutants.Do I buy bottled water to bring?  Or fill up our water bottles at the camp ground?

Taking a hike at Worlds End State Park

Taking a hike at Worlds End State Park

I think about drinking water all the time – it’s my job.  I’m part of the EPA team in the Mid Atlantic Region that administers and enforces the Safe Drinking Water Act, the law that says we should all have safe water to drink.

Public Water Systems regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act have to conduct tests to make sure the water they supply to customers and visitors isn’t contaminated.  Campgrounds and state parks are likely to be regulated as public water systems.  They are often in sparsely populated areas and use their own wells or other water sources to provide water to the campers and visitors.

How do I find out whether or not the water at a particular place is OK?  I check the data systems.  Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has an on-line database of all of their water systems.  I can search by the name of the park or campground where I’m planning to go, or search geographically.   Find it here:  http://www.drinkingwater.state.pa.us/dwrs/HTM/Welcome.html

Once I find the place I’m looking for, I can check to see if there are any violations.  Did the campground conduct all the tests it was supposed to?  Did those tests come out OK, showing no contamination?  If I’m venturing further away from home, some other states have similar on-line databases.  Also, EPA maintains the Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS), which is accessible through our Envirofacts web site.

By the way, these databases don’t just have information on campgrounds!  They have information on community water systems, too — the water system serving your city or town.  For the most part, the water systems in the mid-Atlantic states meet EPA standards.

There are lots of ways to get information about what’s in the water we drink.  Did you find something through one of the links above about your drinking water?

Drinking Water Week is May 5-11.  Celebrate by taking some time to learn more about your drinking water sources!

About the Author:  Lisa Donahue has been an Environmental Scientist with EPA’s Mid Atlantic Region for over twenty years.  She’s a native of southeastern Pennsylvania, and enjoys being outside in all four seasons.

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.

NEPAssist: One of EPA’s Newest Geospatial Tools

By Amber Tucker

Hi all, this is my first attempt at the blogging world, so please bear with me.  I initially started out intending to major in Journalism so maybe this won’t be as mighty of a feat as I’ve imagined it to be.  Even though I still do enjoy journaling in my personal time, my passion for career choice took a turn in my second semester of college.  It was in a requisite biology course that I took greater notice of and fell in love with wildlife, nature, and the great outdoors.  This led to a change in majors to Environmental Science which in turn, led me to the most amazing workplace I never dreamt I would get to be a part of; EPA.  Since day one, I’ve never stopped learning, and along the way, I’ve had the pleasure of being exposed to and able to utilize some of the most progressive scientific advances.

I think we can all agree that technology is pretty amazing these days; through the remarkable technology of public GIS platforms like Google Earth, you have the ability to essentially tour the world from the comfort of your own living room.  In the words of the late, great Dr. Seuss…”Oh the places you’ll go.”  Well, if you’re like me, with the world at your fingertips and the possibilities endless, the first place you decide to visit…an aerial view of your own home.  Exotic destination, no doubt.  However, there’s certainly some value in checking out your own neighborhood from a different point of view.  It’s good to know what all encompasses your surrounding areas.  You may discover things you never knew about the places you see every day.

EPA has rolled out some new technology that allows you to do just that; spatially discover the world around you, from an environmental perspective. Previously only accessible to EPA employees and contractors, NEPAssist is now available to everyone wanting to take a look at environmental factors and conditions in any given area throughout the country.  A web-based mapping tool, NEPAssist is designed to help promote collaboration and early involvement in the NEPA process by allowing the user to raise and identify important environmental issues at the earliest stages of project development.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1970 requires all federal agencies to incorporate environmental considerations in their planning and decision-making through a systematic interdisciplinary process. NEPAssist is designed to help promote collaboration and early involvement in the NEPA process by raising important environmental issues at the primary stages of project development. The mapping tool can be used by Federal agencies to identify alternative project locations, to avoid and minimize impacts, as well as identify potential mitigation areas. It’s a tool that can also help citizens to be aware of and involved in environmental decisions that affect their community.

NEPAssist draws information from publicly available federal, state, and local datasets, allowing NEPA practitioners, stakeholders and the public to view information about environmental conditions within the area of a proposed project quickly and easily at early stages of project development. There’s information on regulated facilities, demographics, water features, historic places, threatened & endangered species, wetlands, and so much more! You can trust me on this, or you can check it out for yourself (even though I assure you I’m trustworthy, I’d go with the latter).

The thought behind this is that NEPAssist could serve as an essential “one-stop shop” to garner environmental information for your desired vicinity.  NEPAssist also houses EJView data, formerly known as the Environmental Justice Geographic Assessment Tool, which is a mapping tool that allows users to create maps and generate detailed reports based on the geographic areas and data sets they choose.  Similar to the likes of Google Maps or Bing Maps, NEPAssist offers a variety of viewing options; Road, Aerial, and in some of the more urban areas, Birds Eye view.  I have to admit, the clarity and close-up image that Birds Eye view affords simultaneously amazes and freaks me out a little; I think I can see my dad’s pickup truck parked in my driveway!


A really cool feature of NEPAssist is the ability for you to define an area and then generate a detailed environmental report for that area. Using this tool, you can draw a point, line, area, or rectangle. You can also specify a buffer area radius for which the report will be generated. Draw your desired area, hit the NEPAssist Report button, and voila! You have yourself an environmental snapshot report. Information in the report will be displayed as a series of questions with yes or no answers based on the location of your project area. Click on a hyperlinked question to view the data source and associated metadata. All of this data, historical and current, available to you with just the push of a button.


This is the same primary and first-line tool we at EPA use to evaluate projects and generate comments. To access this tool and to learn more about NEPAssist and how it can aid you in your NEPA work, please visit the public NEPAssist website at http://www.epa.gov/compliance/nepa/nepassist-mapping.html.  Here you will also find a link to a NEPAssist Demonstration Webinar, as well as other NEPAssist user resources.  EPA is continually striving to enhance the NEPAssist tool to facilitate more efficient and effective federal environmental reviews and project planning.

Pretty neat, right?  I’m all about making well-informed decisions and I appreciate that NEPAssist allows me to become more aware of the environmental conditions and features in my backyard, my neighborhood, my community, my state, and my nation. Today, my cul-de-sac. Tomorrow, the world! Check out our NEPAssist page and create your own environmental knowledge quest.

Amber Tucker is an Environmental Scientist who serves as a NEPA reviewer for EPA Region 7.  She is a graduate of Haskell University and serves as Region 7’s Special Emphasis Program Manager for Native American Employment Programs.

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.

First Helping of Acronym Soup with a Side of Data

By Jeffery Robichaud

I was standing up in front of a class of students comprised mostly of seniors at Park University last Monday for their last class on U.S. Environmental Regulations.  One of the questions I asked of them was which environmental law do they believe is the most important and why?  Driving home after class I realized I’m not sure I could answer that question easily.

The reality is that it is tough to compare environmental laws, and even tougher to choose amongst those if forced to choose a single one.  So I won’t, however the drive home gave me the idea that I might highlight environmental laws and regulations in the context of data and information, particularly of the geospatial kind.   Most environmental regulations are better known by their acronyms; RCRA, SDWA, FIFRA, EPCRA, NEPA, etc.,  so today I bring you the first spoonful of environmental acronym soup.

My choice for the first environmental law was easy, since I briefly mentioned it in a January post.  The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was established in 1973 to conserve endangered and threatened species and the ecosystems on which they depend.  It is administered primarily by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).  You can find out more about the ESA by clicking here.  The Environmental Protection Act interacts with the USFWS regarding the ESA routinely, most notably around what is known as consultations (Section 7 of the Act for those that want to look it up).

In conducting our work it is important to ensure that our actions are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of listed species or adversely modify critical habitat.  Regarding the latter, the USFWS has helped all of us out with a Critical Habitat Portal, which allows individuals to search for habitat based on a particular species.  You can download shapefiles and metadata for use in your own mapping projects or, use their convenient Critical Habitat Mapper to get some quick results (like the locations of Critical Habitat for the Topeka Shiner, a threatened and endangered (T&E) species here in Region 7).

Data on the locations of T&E species is a bit trickier.  They can obviously be inferred from the Critical Habitat Mapper and many states maintain information usually at the county-level regarding known and historic ranges of T&E species.  However, an organization called Nature Serve can provide more specific information regarding locations depending on the intended uses of the data and the project.    They serve as the repository for detailed and reliable locality data (“element occurrences”) from State Conservation departments documenting the precise locations of rare and endangered species and threatened ecological communities.  From time to time we need this information at a finer scale to ensure that a specific activity is mindful of the presence of these species.

So there you have it… the ESA with a side of T&E data.  I haven’t decided what acronym I want to tackle next, but I’m taking requests.  Be sure to tip your GIS specialist (with data of course).

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. Jeff’s favorite T&E species is the Gray Wolf but he also thinks the Plains Spotted Skunk is pretty darn cute.

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.

Which One of These States is not Like the Other?

By Jeffery Robichaud

Last year, accompanied by much fanfare (both positive and negative) the University of Missouri bid farewell to the Big 12 and moved to the SEC.  I won’t weigh in on the move with one exception.   In keeping with the geographical thread of this blog, I have never seen a map on which Missouri is considered to be in the Southeast part of the United States (the SE in the SEC).  In fact there was a day, back at the beginning of our country, when Missouri was considered the West.  Depending on which side of the Missouri River you lived, you found yourself either in “Barren Country covered with Efflorescent Salt” or “Very Fruitful Country” as depicted in a pre-Lewis and Clark map.

So now Missouri is the only one of our four states with a University not found in a “Big” conference (take that SEC!).  Just because they don’t belong to a “big” conference doesn’t mean they don’t have big data.  In fact we’ve worked with several organizations in Missouri that serve as great resources for those in the geospatial business.  Three such exist at the University of Missouri.

  •  MSDIS (pronounced Miz – Diz) is the Missouri Spatial Data Information Service, a spatial data retrieval and archival system at the University of Missouri.  They have a ton of cool data ranging from normal stuff like roads and waterways to cool stuff like locations of sinkholes and zebra mussels.  

   

  • Our friends over at MORAP, the Missouri Resource Assessment Partnership, focus on coordinated approaches to projects with funding from multiple shared sources to minimize costs.  Holly Mehl, from EPA Region 7, has highlighted some of our joint work with MORAP here and here

 

  •  Last but not least, another site we frequently visit is CARES, the Center for Applied Research and Environmental Systems.  CARES focuses on understanding human and natural systems through integration of social and natural sciences in a GIS setting, including such projects as the Community Issues Management mapper. 

So that concludes our round robin of some of the GIS sites found in our four States, which we started during bowl season and finished before March Madness.  You can check out our previous posts on Nebraska, Iowa, and Kansas, and be sure to share with us your favorite GIS sites from KS, IA, NE, and MO (or elsewhere for that matter).  What is your go-to site for data?

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.  In full disclosure, he lives in Missouri and will probably end up sending one kid to MU and one kid to KU.  Here he is with his Tiger fan at the last Border Showdown at Arrowhead Stadium (which Mizzou won handily).

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.

How Accurate is Too Accurate?

By Jeffery Robichaud

In the world of GIS, accuracy is one of the names of the game.  A map is a two (and lately three) dimensional representation of the earth as well as important features found in our environment.  We expect maps and the underlying geospatial data used to develop maps to be accurate.   In fact we expect them to become more and more accurate as time passes due to advances in technology.  Older GPS units used to be notoriously inaccurate, with an accuracy and precision that sometimes could literally be described as in the ballpark, but many of today’s units have sub-meter accuracy.   There will always be issues associated with accuracy (or at minimum the illusion/perception of accuracy as Casey previously detailed), but are there situations where too much accuracy is a bad thing?  Yes.

If you have ever perused BingMaps or GoogleEarth you know there are certain spots across the country where imagery is not as accurate as it could be.  For instance in Washington, DC everything becomes pixilated at the corner of 17th H St NW, not because one moves into the world of Minecraft (if you are old like me…ask your kids) but because of homeland security concerns.  I used to drive down 17th when I lived in the Northwest section of DC, and believe me it’s there.

And a quick Google of thoughts and comments on Google Streetview will yield you a lively discussion on issues of privacy, oftentimes because of how accurate or inaccurate images can be.  In fact I understand that companies like Google and Microsoft go to great pains to ensure anonymity by fuzzing faces, license plates, and other personal information.

Homeland Security and Privacy are easy to point to as necessitating less accurate information for public consumption but what about the environment and natural resources? Is there ever a need to fuzz data?

Actually there is a data set that is just as important for those of us who care about flora and fauna; the locations of threatened and endangered species throughout the United States.  Their locations and ranges are important for federal and state organizations charged with protecting and restoring populations in accordance with the requirements of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  But the presence of exact locations in the hands of individuals with less than scrupulous intentions could result in purposeful takes of species (what the ESA euphemistically calls the killing/harvesting of an endangered species).  Thankfully, governance of this sensitive data is tight and is coordinated through an organization called NatureServe.  Not all countries are so fortunate to have a coordinated program looking out for endangered species sightings.  In the past, well intentioned tourists to Africa have blogged/tweeted about their encounters with endangered mammals, providing poachers with timely and sometimes fairly accurate locational data as well as pictures documenting the whereabouts of Elephants and Rhinos.   This Story ran on NPR last December about elephants in Tanzania.  Hopefully Social Media continues to be used for positive purposes especially when it comes to protection of human health and the environment.

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. Jeff freely admits to not “getting” Minecraft even though his kids have it on every device in the house.  He still thinks of the Creeper as a villain on Scooby Doo.

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.

How’s the Bay Doin’?

By Tom Damm

When the late New York City Mayor Ed Koch wanted to get a sense for, “How’m I doin’?” he’d ask people on the street.

Bay Barometer Cover ImageThe Chesapeake Bay Program takes a more scientific approach when it considers the state of the Bay and its watershed.

It crunches all sorts of statistics and produces an annual update on health and restoration efforts called Bay Barometer.  The latest one is now available.

So how’s the ecosystem doin’?

The science-based snapshot shows that while the Bay is impaired, signs of resilience abound.

A number of indicators of watershed health, like water clarity and dissolved oxygen levels, point to a stressed ecosystem.  But other factors, such as a smaller than normal summertime dead zone and an increase in juvenile crabs entering the fishery, provide a brighter picture.

Recent restoration work and pollution cuts also offer signs of progress for the nation’s largest estuary.

Learn more about Bay Barometer or read the full report.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection 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.

GIS Data in Iowa — Big (12) Data

By Casey J. McLaughlin

We are well past the “Bowl Season” and March Madness is right around the corner; it is past time we look at some great data sources from the Hawkeye State (sorry Cyclones, that’s what Wikipedia calls it!).  In the past, I would start looking for specific data using a general search engine but today, Iowa.gov is a great entry point for all Iowa data.  I will highlight a few that I have found the most useful.

The Iowa Geographic Map Server housed at Iowa State (Go Cyclones!) serves a fantastic range of aerial imagery products including images from the today to the 1930’s!  The images can be viewed online through their web viewer, downloaded, or consumed directly.  The variety of imagery available is amazing (I might have said that already) but I’m excited that it is available to use directly or downloadable giving users to choose what they need.  I have not had occasion to use the Iowa Historic Vegetation map but how great is having data from 1832-1859 available??

The Natural resources Geographic Information is brought to you by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and housed at the University of Iowa (home of the Hawkeyes whom, I must note, reside in the Big 10 conference but they currently have 12 members).  The NRGIS is organized with counties in mind as data can be searched and retrieved not only by general theme, but also by county.  If I need GIS data for a county, this is where I start, especially since they’ve already clipped all of the data.  I am intrigued by historical imagery and have really enjoyed using the Andreas 1875 historical atlas data.  You can also view the maps courtesy of the David Rumsey Collection.

Map of Humboldt County, State of Iowa. (Published by the Andreas Atlas Co., Lakeside Building, Chicago, Ills. Engraved & printed by Chas. Shober & Co., Props. of Chicago Lithographing Co.) 1875. Hosted by the David Rumsey Collection

Iowa has strongly supported the public distribution of their data and they have lot of great data out there, what are your favorite Iowa GIS data sets?  Are there other sources you’d recommend?

Casey McLaughlin is a first generation Geospatial Enthusiast who has worked with EPA since 2003 as a contractor and now as the Regional GIS Lead. He currently holds the rank of #1 GISer in 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.

Whistling Pigs…

By Jeffery Robichaud

A Whistling Pig checking out a map courtesy of the TN Aquarium

Groundhog Day was just over a week ago. Apparently one of the more colorful names for these little guys is the Whistling Pig.  I showed my kids the movie for the first time on TV…I think we picked it up where Bill Murray is letting Punxsutawney Phil drive. Just like Phil Connors who spends over 33 years revisiting the same day, I thought I would revisit my Groundhog Day Post of last year.

 

Punxsutawney Phil be Darned…We’ve Started Spring Cleaning

My kids are hooked on Storage Wars (they love Barry and despise Dave) and my wife and I enjoy Hoarders, probably since it makes us feel like better housekeepers than we really are. At EPA in Kansas City, we are preparing for a transition from one building to another and many of us are beginning to grapple with our pack-rat tendencies and being forced to open long forgotten storage cabinets. Such an endeavor should be easy; and the most important part of it is. Records are saved, stored, and managed in accordance with requisite policies and procedures. Unfortunately scientists tend to amass collections of journal articles, data sets, guidance documents, and even specimens that, while not records, represent a life-time of learning and serve as a record of an individual’s career spent protecting human health and the environment.

Which gets me to the hackneyed phrase, one person’s junk is another’s treasure. Case in point; a colleague of mine uses a discolored booklet which is older than I as a prop for employee training. I grabbed it from him one day and realized the title was, “Everyone can’t live upstream: a contemporary history of water quality problems on the Missouri River, Sioux City, Iowa to Hermann, Missouri.” It just so happened we were working on a Missouri River project, and boom there it was, information not present in EPA’s databases or easily accessible at the time in any library. We were able to use this secondary information to fill in historical gaps for our project. Secondary data analysis, using information collected by someone else for another purpose, can be a fantastic way to provide additional context and relevance to a project as well as save costs assuming the information meets your data quality requirements.

As we all continue our march from the paper age to the electronic, consider making your old information and data available through sites like Data.gov, Socrata, or any number of other open data websites. Although this may be sacrilegious to say, all science doesn’t necessarily make its way into published journals. I’ll be giving this a shot as I clean my cabinets. Who knows, something old and dusty may still be valuable to another person in the future for an entirely new reason. Now if I can just convince my wife that this is the case for my Star Wars lunchboxes.

Well we are all moved in at our new locations, but the point remains the same.  We need to keep our eye on data management and continue to find ways to make it accessible to others.

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.  One of his life regrets is never driving over to Punxsutawney while attending school in Philadelphia.  He also just learned that Bill Murray was bitten three times during the filming of Groundhog Day.

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.

Moving the Arch

By Casey J. McLaughlin

Remotely sensed data is a popular background for many maps today, but it isn’t all just a pretty picture.  Images produced by satellite or airplane get processed and circulated at a very fast pace – everyone wants the latest and greatest.  Speed often means ortho-rectification isn’t a high priority.  Wikipedia gives a simple write up of the process:

An orthophoto, orthophotograph or orthoimage is an aerial photograph geometrically corrected (“orthorectified”) such that the scale is uniform: the photo has the same lack of distortion as a map. Unlike an uncorrected aerial photograph, an orthophotograph can be used to measure true distances, because it is an accurate representation of the Earth’s surface, having been adjusted for topographic relief,[1] lens distortion, and camera tilt.

Geospatial data can be a little more complicated than just having a latitude and longitude.  We model the earth in two-dimensional space (the globe is an imperfect sphere) and we’re still relying on planar map views (flat) even on our screens of choice.  Geospatial data should, therefore, contain good information about how that locational data (e.g. latitude and longitude) is collected and stored.  I’ve commented previously on the challenges of managing spatial data (datums, cell vs gps, projections, field data) and now I present, “The Case of the Moving Arch.”

A few summers ago we visited the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri.  After dipping my foot into the Mississippi, we ran around on the grounds of the park.  It’s a great monument although I confess I didn’t take the long and cramped ride to the top.  After my stroll through memory lane, I got back to thinking about imagery and plotted a reference point.  The graphic below shows a few years as seen using Google Earth’s historical imagery catalogue – as far as I can tell GE is still the best place for doing this exercise.

Nostalgia and the joy of Google Earth aside, notice how the arch “moves” in the images!  In both the 2011 images the Arch run south into the 2011 portion of my label.  August might have fewer letters than September or November, but the Arch is clearly running off the picture well to the left/east of the image!

Are you amazed yet?  I would hope not but thought I would check.  I saw the impact of this image distortion when I was reviewing some images with an inspector plotting some of his photographs onto a map using aerial imagery (the photos were geotagged with a lat/lon).   For this particular facility there were several images taken from a catwalk.  He placed the image location point onto a map (not Google in this case, FYI) and the location was definitely not on the cross-walk (more like walking on air).  Eventually, we found a satisfactory picture for the report but I’m left wondering if I had taken a photograph and not geotagged it in the field, which image could I use for adding an accurate latitude/longitude?

Normal-color kite aerial photograph of the upland study forest, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, May 2000. Oblique view toward the south shows a fully developed forest canopy. Kansas Geological Survey Current Research in Earth Sciences, Bulletin 248, Part 1

Perhaps I’m getting into geography minutia, but there is more and more finer resolution imagery available than ever before.  Satellites and planes and kites (yes, kites) are acquiring imagery faster and finer (gigapixels!) and this trend will only continue.  In the movie “Enemy of the State” Will Smith’s character (Robert Dean) is tracked in real-time by satellite (drone maybe, but satellite?!?).  If we envision using remotely sensed imagery with such detail (seeing a dime on the street is another example) then knowing the distortion and resulting precision/accuracy seems rather important.

Casey McLaughlin is a first generation Geospatial Enthusiast who has worked with EPA since 2003 as a contractor and now as the Regional GIS Lead. He currently holds the rank of #1 GISer in EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.

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