The US National Grid – When I latch onto something I think is important I hang onto it like a dog with a bone. So it is with the concept of the US National Grid. Having spent over 23 years working with the Military Grid Reference System (MGRS) on maps in places like the Far East, Germany and the Persian Gulf region, I found myself surprised when I entered civilian life and started working with USGS topograhic maps that used no grid system other than UTM and/or Lat/Long. The fact that the US had no national map grid system seemed silly. Then Hurricane Katrina struck, and the lack of a location ‘common language’ seriously hampered search, rescue and relief efforts in a devastated area larger than the entire country of England. After Katrina the federal government decided to extend the framework of the Military Grid Reference System across the United States and rename it the US National Grid. Finally – finally – the US had a single, unified grid system that provided a common ‘location language’. But still, more than a decade after Katrina there are still local, state and federal emergency responders and entire agencies that don’t know what the US National Grid is or how to use it. So, my ministry is to preach the joy of the US National Grid to the unknowing and the ignorant, so that the light of common location language may shine upon them.
American Geographical Society (AGS) – One of US’s oldest and most prestigious organizations devoted to the study and application of geography.
US Geological Survey – The folks who map the US and its territories. A great agency with a long and deep history, and one that continues to deliver important services to the nation. Visiting the USGS headquarters in Reston, Virginia was an almost religious experience for old Topographers like me. I could spend hours just roaming the map stacks in the sales office. Alas, the days of the paper topo quad sheet are over (USGS sold off all their offset printing presses years ago) and they have now replaced the classic 1:24,000 scale quad sheets with the digital US Topo map series in GeoPDF format. They are a good digital product but look like crap when printed out. Seems the USGS hasn’t figured out that not everyone wants to haul an iPad around in the back country. Paper still has its place
Great Britain’s Ordnance Survey – The US has the Geological Survey and Great Britain has the Ordnance Survey. Actually the two origanizations have fundamentally different missions. While both produce maps of their native countries, Ordnance Survey started life as a military endeavor devoted strictly to mapping for military and government use. The USGS, on the other hand, was originally chartered to map the geology and mineral resources of a largely unexplored nation. The mapping part was almost incidental. At the end of the day, though, both agencies are commonly known for what they do best – mapping.
The British Royal Geographical Society – You’d expect the country that once ruled an empire that spanned the globe to have a strong interest in geography, and you’d be right! The Royal Geographical Society has been in existence since 1830 and is one of the world’s premiere geographical societies. They support a lot of great research and exploration
ESRI – ESRI is the big dog, or 800 lb gorilla, of the geospatial technology world. It’s ArcGIS suite of software dominates the geospatial industry in a way that really has no parallel in any other market. Some view ESRI as a steamroller crushing all before it, others view ESRI as an oracle, offering enlightened solutions to all the world’s problems. The truth is somewhere in the middle. ESRI is a privately held company that reflects Jack Dangermond’s view of what geospatial services software should look like and do. Jack is the benevolent dictator, truly concerned about the future of GIS software in the service of mankind and motivating legions of acolytes worldwide to carry his message to the far corners of the earth. Considering that before ArcGIS there was just a kludge of disjointed, mostly government-produced and poorly supported GIS software (can anyone spell GRASS?), Dangermond did a darned good job. This is software I love, but also love to hate
QGIS – Want to ‘do’ GIS but can’t afford ESRI’s licensing fees? Don’t depare! There’s QGIS. QGIS is the anti-ESRI – free, well supported and quite capable. It’s an open source desktop GIS product that is developed and supported by the Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo). QGIS seems to have a strong foothold in academia here in the US and in wide commercial and governmental use in Europe. I’ve run earlier versions of the package and was quite impressed. It’s a full-featured, capable and stable GIS platform that is well worth a look. And you can’t beat the price!
American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) – Founded in 1934 to advance the new science of photogrammetry, the ASPRS has been a leader in the fields of photogrammetry and remote sensing for over 75 years. ASPRS serves as the certifying agency for photogrammetrists and publishes the Manual of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, the authoritative source in the field
National Geographic Society – Sigh. At one time the National Geographic Society’s National Geographic Magazine was the premiere general interest geography publication in the world. It could be found on the desks of presidents, potentates and shopkeepers. The NGS’s Cartographic Division set the standard in cartographic design and accuracy and its maps were works of art. The magazine set the standard for quality of content and photography (the NGS ran through so much 35mm film that it was one of the few private organizations that operated its own Kodachrome processing lab). The NGS took interest in the interesting things in the world and sponsored a series of truly groundbreaking explorations and studies – Peary to the North Pole, building of the Panama Canal, World Wars One and Two, to the top of Everest with Whittaker, to the ocean depths with Cousteau, to the Olduvai Gorge with Leakey. The National Geographic Magazine and many of the NGS’s outstanding early film documentaries brought the world of geography, scientific research and exploration into our homes. Sadly, over the past 20 years the NGS seems to have forgotten its roots and morphed into just another ‘me too!’ general interest rag latching onto any, and it seems every, enviro-fad out there. Today there is precious little geography in the National Geographic Magazine. I include it in this list mainly because of the work the NGS did prior to the 1990’s. The older editions of the magazine are excellent resources for teachers, scholars and anyone interested in studying about how we viewed our world from the dawn to the close of the 20th century