Techies hold their own GIS Woodstock

Techies hold their own GIS Woodstock

The consortium's site, at, shows a cascading map server demonstration from CubeWerx Inc. of Quebec. as an example of bringing GIS to the Web.

Open GIS Consortium spearheads test bed for prototype of a Web browser plug-in for geospatial data

By Susan M. Menke

GCN Staff

The Open GIS Consortium last month threw a Web mapping party that Thomas A. Kalil, special assistant to the president for economic policy, called 'the Woodstock of geospatial information.'

At the event in Gaithersburg, Md., Kalil said the 21st century's biggest challenge will be to make sense of floods of information, once there are 'no limits on our ability to store and transmit' over terabit networks.

It is crucial to integrate geospatial information with the Web, he said, because the Web's transition from Hypertext Markup Language to the more readily searchable Extensible Markup Language will greatly improve service delivery to citizens.

'Average citizens are not interested in government org charts and don't want to visit a complex of sites,' Kalil said. 'We must organize information around the places where they are.'

Loads of layers

Kalil praised the consortium's test bed, which called up live data from map servers in several countries to test a prototype Web browser plug-in that displayed multiple layers in the same geospatial frame of reference.

The Army Corps of Engineers' Jeff Harrison, the test bed demonstration manager, showed how fictional emergency workers in Mobile, Ala., could predict winds, flooding, outages and evacuation routes for a Gulf Coast hurricane. His Netscape Navigator plug-in searched Web portals for geographic and weather maps, overlaid them in real time, then panned and zoomed through the details.

None of the data was stored locally; the Netscape Java applet, developed by Ionic Software of Belgium, issued the map requests and did the overlay integration and local rendering. Harrison said Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. of Redlands, Calif., is working on a standalone PC client called ArcExplorer that could blend detailed street data with other map information.

Kurt Buehler of the Open GIS Consortium said current National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration geographic data, although widely available on the Web, is mostly in GIF or JPEG formats and not georeferenced. He said several vendors are making changes to their commercial map server software to accept a standard reference format, such as GeoTIFF.

Allan Doyle, the test bed architect, said the browser map transmissions would need public-key encryption security for military use. He said there are currently about 10 map servers but that number 'could snowball when products are available. People are going to want to serve this stuff up.'

Several speakers, however, said the large mapping files would require more bandwidth than present networks and the Internet could handle. They said the Internet2 would be a better vehicle.

William R. Allder Jr. of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency said government organizations are 'looking for an exit route from overnment-specific specifications. We need a migration plan to move to Open GIS Consortium catalog specs.'

The test bed used OpenGIS grid specifications for satellite images, aerial photos and digital elevations, as well as to vector geodata such as polygon and line information.

Sponsoring the mapping test bed were the Corps of Engineers' Topographic Engineering Center, the Federal Geographic Data Committee, NASA, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, NIMA and foreign government organizations.

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