My Look Back on Geography Week 2013

By Casey J. McLaughlin

The traditional three Rs (Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic) should be the foundation of education and I like to think they all have a home in the wonderful thing we call Geography.  The National Geographic Society sponsors Geography Awareness Week, which was last week!  GIS day anchors the week (every 3rd Wednesday of November since 1999) and is a time for spatial celebration!  Last year I presented EPA’s GIS work along with a bit of my own opinion about general GIS.  This year, I attended the morning session at the 12th annual GIS Day at the University of Kansas.  During the long walk back to my car (is any campus parking friendly?), I thought about how the presentations frame where GIS is today.  I am, as usual, brought back to the idea that Geography is the center of the universe and GIS has a place in modern technology.

GIS is a hub for multi-disciplinarian work.  Geography not only provides physical context (through location) but also methods for organizing, accessing, and understanding the world.  Much of the work we do at USEPA is focused on place; a place where pollution has happened, a place where pollution would be very dangerous, a place where people should be protected, a place where water should be protected.  Place is critical to protecting human health and the environment.  Geography involves understanding place and the relationships between places and people.

“Earth is the Metaphor for organizing information” Michael Goodchild (Author and Professor)

A map is a record of a place.  Like a place is more than where stuff happens, a map is more than just a record, it can facilitate our understanding of the world.  Microsoft Bing Maps Architect Blaise Aquera Y Arcas has given two really good TED talks that I highly recommend.  He helped crystallize for me the idea that a map is more than just a catalog of places but also the canvas, the library, and the laboratory for understanding our environment.

“The map as Information Ecology” Blaise Aquera Y Arcas (Microsoft Bing Maps Architect)

GIS is central to modern technology. I first started learning about GIS during college in the mid-90’s and the first definition I read (Peter Burrough and Rachel McDonnell) specified a GIS as “a powerful set of tools for collecting, storing, retrieving at will, transforming, and displaying spatial data.”  Wow, I thought, GIS is a fantastic tool.  I later found out, however, that GIS could often be found in the basement – organizations had GIS groups but they occupied whatever left over spaces facilities had. While some saw the value of GIS, others only saw that it as a co$tly sub-group of planning.  For decades, GIS has been its own thing that was associated more with co$t than with inve$tment.

Despite being relegated to the basement or other windowless backroom, GIS is now main-stream.  Maps have long held an important place in planning, personal computers brought geospatial analysis into the business world.  Mobile devices, cloud resources, and cheap processing power have helped put geospatial into everyone’s hands.  Each time we use the location features on our personal devices we’re using GIS.  Everyone is holding location in their hands and spatial thinking is part of our normal day.  Paul Ramsey illustrates this best by declaring his team doesn’t do GIS anymore, they do spatial INFORMATION technology.  Location is and should be integrally woven into the fabric of decision making.

“We don’t do GIS, we do spatial IT on the spatial web” Paul Ramsey (Founder of PostGIS)

EPA is evolving too. I’ve worked with the government for a full decade now (yeah, being on campus changes my perspective on my age experience) and change takes time; but even the government changes.  A simple example is the Facility Registry System which consolidates information from a number of internal databases into our “one-stop source for Environmental Information.”  (Read about FRS in my blog entry, Where is that Facility.)  The simple idea is that before we started looking (spatial thinking) at maps of facility location the raw location data was all over the map!  Cleaning up this data, spatially, was a first step, but has to improved quality control, data update routines, and data access procedures.  I’m very encouraged by Federal efforts to use and share spatial data (National Map, Drought Monitor, NEPAssist).  Place is a powerful idea because we all have it and we keep moving from one place to another.  GO GIS!

FRS Locations

Looking at a map of uncorrected facility locations highlights why looking at a map can illustrate why knowing place is critical to making decisions about pollution and human health.

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.

Abandoned Coal Mines

By Jeffery Robichaud

A fair portion of our GIS mapping activities in Region 7 are related to cleanup of contamination from historic lead mining activities, several of which we hope to share in future blog posts. But mining in Missouri was not always lead.  In fact, Missouri has a rich coal mining history and lays claim to being the first state west of the Mississippi River to commercially produce coal.  In Missouri, hundreds of mostly small, family-owned mines operated into the middle part of last century.

Unfortunately abandoned underground coal mines can pose significant safety concerns, possibly causing damage to homes and infrastructure especially if folks aren’t aware of their presence.  Additionally, even though mining isn’t active, abandoned mines can also still produce methane  from vents, fissures, or boreholes.  If you have ever visited the Museum of Science and Industry  in Chicago and taken the Coal Mine tour, you know how dangerous methane can be if it builds up.  EPA has worked with industry and states to develop the Coalbed Methane Outreach Program (CMOP) a voluntary program whose goal is to reduce methane emissions from coal mining activities including abandoned mines, and whose:

…mission is to promote the profitable recovery and use of coal mine methane (CMM), a greenhouse gas more than 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide. By working cooperatively with coal companies and related industries, CMOP helps to address barriers to using CMM instead of emitting it to the atmosphere. In turn, these actions mitigate climate change, improve mine safety and productivity, and generate revenues and cost savings.

You can find out more about CMOP by visiting EPA’s website, and can view slides from 2012 US Coal Mine Methane Conference as well.

So as you contemplate whether you might find coal in your stocking this season, consider giving a gift to the State of Missouri if you have an old map that was passed down through your family like the one shown below.  The State has, for the last several years, been collecting donated maps and scanning them into the department’s archive as well as sending electronic versions to the Office of Surface Mining in Pennsylvania for inclusion in the National Mine Map Repository. You can see their pitch for your maps by watching the youtube video below (even though the video says 2011, I’m sure they would still be happy to receive a map from you).

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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.  He took his boys on the Coal Mine tour at MSI this Spring roughly thirty years after he visited with his brother.   It is quite possible that he may receive coal in his stocking at the end of December.

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.

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.

Mapping Change, Preserving Continuity

By Karl Brooks

We, here at Region 7, have just completed a huge undertaking that changes the Agency’s “internal organizational map”: we relocated nearly 600 agency employees and contractors into a new Regional Office. Agency maps of regional headquarters will now reflect Region 7’s new hometown: Lenexa, Kansas.  The Regional Office has moved, but maps will show Region 7 still maintains a substantial presence in Kansas City, Kansas: our Science and Technology Center (“the lab”).  Our move went really well, thanks to lots of capable people putting in huge amounts of time to prepare and execute excellent plans.  Part of their effort consisted of drawing a multitude of maps: to guide movers, building contractors, security guards, and our own employees.

As you might expect, a physical relocation of that magnitude literally redrew Region 7’s own “internal map”: everyone now works in a new building, in a new city, and in a new workstation surrounded, in most cases, by new neighbors.  Even my agency colleagues who didn’t move to Lenexa, but still had to vacate the former Regional Office, relocated to places new to them: our Science and Technology Center, just down the street from our former Regional Office, and our Training and Logistics Center (“the cave”), across the Missouri River in North Kansas City.

All this shifting is making us remap our workplace.  Large paper maps hang on prominent walls throughout our new Regional Office.  Each map shows, with fine granularity (down to the individual workstation) everyone’s new location.  The maps show the new location for what were familiar common areas (cafeteria, record center, library, and the all important restrooms).  I consult these big maps frequently both because, as Regional Administrator, I should know where my colleagues work, and because I’m also trying to get my bearings. I’m not alone: the big wall maps have become popular places to chat about our new building, find out where to get coffee, and maybe even meet a colleague who will become a new friend.

I have always been a fan of maps.  I treasure old backpacking maps, city maps, college town guides, and historical reference pamphlets.  I love how they synthesize fact and imagination, negotiating an understanding between the “world as it is” and the “world as I have to imagine it on a two-dimensional surface.”

So much do I value maps that I rescued four of my favorite from the mass of outdated paper material that I had to recycle when leaving my old KCK office and moving into my new, much smaller, work space in Lenexa.  Those survivors of the “Great Recycle” tell a story, on paper, about Region 7 that I really can’t read as well anywhere else.  I saved them because they remind me why I often describe Region 7 as the “Guardian of America’s Great Rivers.”  They illustrate how our physical landscape still reflects fundamental natural realities despite the massive transformations we have made across the Heartland’s prairies and plains during the past 195 years.

Four big paper maps show all the principal waterways in Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas.  They came from an old “water atlas” bequeathed me when our long-time Deputy Regional Administrator retired in spring 2011.  They show major cities and towns, and county lines (all-important here in the Midwest, where most residents – rural and urban — still consider county government their most accessible level of public decision-making).

These watershed maps breathe the magic of Midwestern place names: the Maquoketa (in Iowa), the Verdigris (in Kansas), the Niobrara (in Nebraska), and the Jacks Fork (in Missouri).  They don’t just orient a user to today’s water-quality challenges, they invite consideration of how past settlement patterns and agricultural cropping strategies now shape states’ present politics and economics.  In addition, they encourage a user to think about connections and continuities across broad landscapes.  For example, the Missouri River – North America’s longest – ties St. Louis, at its mouth, to Kansas City, where it bends straight north.  The “Mighty Mo” also links the Heartland in Region 7 to the northern Plains and Rockies encompassed by Region 8.  We Heartlanders should always recall that the Missouri ties into the Mississippi, America’s principal commercial waterway.  This great shining highway, which Lincoln respectfully dubbed “Father of the Waters,” functions still as a cord of liquid steel binding America’s entire mid-section – from Region 5 in the Great Lakes through Regions 4 and 6 on both sides of the Delta.

I like my road maps.  In fact, I directed that every Region 7 GOV contain a full, current set of our states’ highway maps because, despite GPS’ wonders, a good road map still gives you precision and context.  Yes, I treasure my big, old watershed maps: they convey information, encourage reflection, and promote understanding.

Dr. Karl Brooks is the Regional Administrator for USEPA Region 7.  Brooks earned a Ph.D in History and Environmental Studies from the University of Kansas, and served as Associate Professor at KU until joining EPA in 2010.  For his full bio visit EPA Region 7.

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 Missouri River in 1894

By Jeffery Robichaud

Missouri River Basin

Map created from DEMIS Mapserver and USGS data, which are public domain.

I always enjoy receiving cool links to data and information that I can use in my work especially older maps.  As you can tell from the name of our blog title, The Big Blue Thread, we are always interested in information about the Missouri River.  A friend of mine passed on to me a website run by the United States Geological Survey that has wonderful maps created in the late 1800’s by the Missouri River Commission.  According to the Corps of Engineers,

Congress created the Missouri River Commission (MRC) in, or shortly after, 1884, to accomplish a continuous, progressive development of the river. The commission consisted of a five-member organization which was charged to make surveys and devise plans to “maintain a channel and depth of water … sufficient for … commerce” and to carry out plans of improvement the commission deemed necessary. The commission went out of existence in 1902.

The Area Around Downtown Kansas City in 1894

The maps go from the mouth of the Missouri to the headwaters.  You can view these online, or download them in either Raster or Vector formats.  If you live along the Mighty Mo give it a go!   I combined them in Arc GIS with some current aerial imagery and showed my kids what the river area looked like over a hundred years ago.  We quickly noticed a bunch more “character” in the river in the form of points, cutbanks, and islands.  Time changes all things and it is fantastic comparing a map from 100 years ago with what we can easily see today.

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.  According to the Missouri River Commission Maps, he lives along a ridge that used to be in a forest.

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.

New Place, New Signs

By Jeffery Robichaud

Yesterday was the first day in the new office.  My things all arrived.  I have unpacked.  I found the restroom.  For those of you who were left with a cliffhanger based on my last post, this is my view out my new window (which actually looks out on a window which looks out on the windows across our courtyard).

In a meeting yesterday our Regional Administrator told Senior Staff about his trip to Joplin Missouri last week for an event with the City marking the additional funds EPA is providing for sampling and remediation of contaminated soils disturbed by the May 2011 Tornado.  It didn’t show in the directions he generated online, but the RA certainly noticed the lack of street signs as he doubled back a few times before making the correct turns to arrive at the event.  The city is doing a wonderful job rebuilding, but with 2000 signs to replace, the City has had its hands full.

Driving in to our new office yesterday in the dark, to a part of the metropolitan area that I rarely visit, I really had to pay attention to the signs without the benefits of the few landmarks I knew to help guide me.   It got me thinking, is reading street signs starting to become a lost art, just like reading a map?  The proliferation of GPS in cars and phones now give you turn by turn directions.  GoogleMaps or BingMaps will give you a route with turn by turn instructions and even provide you with streetside views of those turns and your destination.  Some GPS units let you even choose the voice (one of the guys here has Darth Vader…he says for his kids but I’m not too sure).

With the explosion of these devices, for those of you with kids, do you think you could hand your own kids a map and have them navigate while you drove?  I know my Dad would hand us the maps while on vacation to help navigate (partly I’m sure as a way to keep my brother and me from fighting).   Are navigation instructions from hand held devices keeping us from making sense of maps and even leading us in the wrong direction? 

My wife and I started watching a new show called Revolution a couple weeks back.  In a nutshell, it is a post-apocalyptic world, if the apocalypse was caused by all electricity ceasing to be.   The characters do quite a bit of walking and one character says to the other, something to the effect, “I’ll meet you at this small town in Indiana in a couple weeks.”  In last week’s episode, while more walking was taking place, the second character pulls out a crinkled paper map to check their progress.  It wasn’t lost on me that this character’s back story was as an executive at Google.  Just another reason to teach your kids how to read a map.

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.  He will miss his view of Kaw Point.

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.

Rollin Down the Highway

Ah it’s summer time again and with it hundreds of thousands of families hitting the road in the Family Truckster.  Many will probably use GPS units, but some will head out with the old stand-by, a folded Interstate map.  If you are like me, you were taught that Kansas’ native son Dwight Eisenhower helped to create the system, of which a primary purpose was to improve the mobility of troops in times of war.  Apparently the other thing I learned (that it is law that once every five miles the road must be straight so planes could land) was actually an urban legend.

Interstates are often the most visible geospatial feature on the maps that we construct, and in fact it is tough for me to imagine a road map without the tell-tale red white and blue shield, yet this wasn’t always the case. Check out this original map from 1947 laying out what would be the Interstate System.   Ten years later in 1957, an official numbering scheme was developed, and for a bit of local flavor, check out this video circa 1961 from the Department of Commerce talking about the new Interstate in Kansas City entitled the, “Path to Prosperity” which expounds the virtues (some which are obviously dated) of I-35 in Kansas City.

Thankfully, summer vacations no longer require gassing up every fourth exit or so due to increasing fuel efficiency.  EPA is responsible for providing the fuel economy data that is used by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to publish the annual Fuel Economy Guide.  You can access the guide here. It is a good resource if you are looking to pick up a new or used vehicle or want to ground truth your own vehicle’s fuel efficiency.

This brings me back to the family vacation; before you head out on the road make the most of your trip by planning ahead to save both gasoline and money.  You might just want to get an old service station map to plot your course, circle the roadside attractions you want to visit, and scribble notes.  Trust me a crumpled, folded, stained, marked-up map makes a great thing to throw in your kids’ memory box to remind them of your trip to Region 7 to see the largest ball of twine (I’ll let you decide whether it is the one in Cawker City, KS or Branson, MO…better yet visit them both).

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.

Keep in Touch with Your Past

By Casey McLaughlin

What happens to collected data?  Every day, the world is stockpiling vast amounts of data and often this data has a spatial component tying it to a specific location on the earth.   For environmental data, the spatial location is a fundamental component.  Geospatial defines the context of a single piece of data and the relationship it has with other nearby data. The general growth in data may seem obvious in our increasingly technical world (smart phones are data making machines).  We are very concentrated on collecting data about where we are right now (real time sensors, crowd sourcing, traffic counts).  Historical data can and should place newer data in context.

EPA, formed in the early 1970s has collected and maintained a mountain of environmental data.  I am familiar with our region’s cleanup program records; along with tabular data (sampling dates, results, QA/QC information) we also collect spatial data in the form of latitude/longitudes, addresses, aerial surveys, sampling plans, excavation maps.  Unfortunately, keeping data is not simple.  Technology has continuously improved.

Wikipedia Cassette Tape Image

Tell me about this music? Who recorded it? Where is my favorite song?

Data collection techniques and sensors have advanced.  Systems have changed.  Data and technology have evolved so that retrieving data from an old database technology may not be possible.  How can I get data from a 5 ¼” floppy disk?  Think about having a stack of old cassette tapes.  How would you get songs into your digital library (easily)?  Imagine the label has worn off 100 cassettes – how would you know where a specific song was located on just one of those tapes?

Old data technology is just one of many complications to using historical and modern data.  Over the last 15 years, EPA has put forth a tremendous effort in digitizing reports.  Certainly electronic record-keeping is superior to paper records????  Don’t get me wrong, electronic records are crucial — hello, I’m an information specialist! Not all electronic formats, however, are appropriate for data analysis.  Can you run a correlation between the data in an archived (paper or scanned) report with new data?  What about using a FoxPro database stored on a 3 ½” diskette (this happened to me a few years ago and it took me awhile to FIND a machine with a disk drive).  How can managers compare post-excavation sampling locations (often represented on multiple versions of a map) with a proposed residential development?  What do you do when you encounter an over-sized map which is now in the electronic record as an “Unscanned Item”?

Using data from the past with data from the future is not trivial and geospatial data has some special considerations beyond technology.  Resolution of aerial imagery may be coarse, but without a time machine, we don’t have the option of re-acquiring imagery from 1950 (talk to me later about a T.A.R.D.I.S.)!  Geo-referencing old photos or CAD drawings can be problematic because of projection complications (oh, what a GIS topic!) and lack of reproducible local control points.  Avoiding the gruesome details, properly dealing with old geospatial data requires some thought and expertise.

Keeping data is not the same as being able to use data in the future.

Most every EPA project report has an element of spatial data.   Having a map electronically may not be good enough for using it with new data in the future.  Properly acquiring spatial data helps make informed decisions now.  Properly maintaining and storing spatial data will help make future decisions better.

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.

The Kansas City Compromise

By Jeffery Robichaud

Have you seen this show on the History Channel? Who knew the intersection of geography and history could be so cool…well I kind of did.

When I was in 8th Grade I was an entrant in a history competition at Green River Community College in Washington State. I saw an awesome display on the slogan, “Fifty-four Forty or Fight!” which put my project to shame (to this day I’m still embarrassed and won’t tell you what it is). I was unaware of how this rallying cry as part of James Polk’s presidential campaign almost led to war and helped set our northern border with Canada. I believe the three kids who were responsible won top honors, while all I won was a day away from school.

Dots and lines on maps are often actually a reflection of events that took place in our history, which got me thinking. Why are EPA Regions located where they are? Why isn’t Region 7 located in Omaha, NE instead of Kansas City. The answer as you might guess is part history but also part efficiency.

We were left out of the original concept in March of 1969, which only created 8 Regions. Kansas City and Seattle were added a couple of months later to make it an even 10. In fact, Richard Nixon’s decision in 1969 just made plain sense for us here in the plains. Region 7, is comprised of about 8 percent of the land mass of the U.S. and consists of 8 percent of our 50 States (Iowa, Kansas , Missouri, and Nebraska). When you look at a map of our 4 States, Kansas City is the largest City near the centroid of the area covered by Region 7, and is the only major city in between the four state capitols in Lincoln, Jefferson City, Des Moines, and Topeka so I guess you could call it the Kansas City Compromise. I’ll leave it to Region 2, to explain why they are responsible for Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

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.

Meet the Bloggers – Jeffery

By: Jeffery Robichaud

Well Casey told you about himself, so I suppose I need to share a bit about myself since I will be the other co-blogger (although the way I tend to write my blog entries you’ll find out a lot about me along the way). Currently I serve as Deputy Director of the Environmental Services Division, here in EPA Region 7.  All of the Regions are set up slightly different but you can find our orgchart here.  We are located in Kansas City, smack dab in the middle of the country (or at least pretty close to it).

I still find it odd that I ended up working in the same field as my father, who spent his career with EPA after leaving the Air Force. Unconsciously I must have picked up both an interest in science and in public service. Originally this was channeled towards thoughts of becoming an Astronaut (I’m an unrepentant Star Wars fanatic), but my chronic asthma scrubbed any ideas of becoming a fighter jockey. I left the West Coast for the East Coast and attended the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA for my undergraduate degree in Environmental Systems Engineering.   During my senior year I performed a volunteer internship with EPA’s Region 3 office.  I started my career as a consultant working for a Fortune 500 company here in Kansas City and later in DC, before joining EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water in 1998. Meeting my KC-native wife in DC, eventually brought us back to the Midwest with the birth of the first of our two sons.

Along the way I picked up a Masters in Engineering Management from KU, and have worked in most of the Agency’s media programs. Even though I live in KC, I am still a diehard Seahawks fan who is still smarting over Superbowl XL. I also still haven’t come to grips with the fact that the Supersonics are no more. As indicated, I have a pair of boys, so my wife and I really don’t have any spare time, but if I did I would probably spend it reading history and science books, playing with the dog, and traveling.

My interest in Geography is tied to history and travel. I love history and remember hoarding National Geographic maps about ancient civilizations in a shoe box in my closet. Also since my father was in the Air Force when I was young we moved around a bit, and I took great pride in having been born in NH, but living in MS, TX, NJ, MI, and IL, and always being the kid in class who had visited the most States thanks in no small part to vacations in the Family Truckster. If I can find a way up to AK and ND in the future, I’ll have them all covered.

Unlike Casey I come to the world of Geo as a self-taught dabbler, but I still love the ability for geography to be a unifying theme and its use as a compelling way to visualize challenges, organize thoughts, and tell stories. Over the coming months, I hope to share my thoughts and stories about environmental issues here in Region 7.

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.