USDA's Lighthouse maps data onto Geological Survey graphics

USDA's Lighthouse maps data onto Geological Survey graphics


Using the Extensible Markup Language, an Agriculture Department pilot overlays soil survey data on top of map graphics from TerraServer, a Geological Survey application developed in conjunction with Microsoft Corp. in 1998.

The Lighthouse Project, on the Web at, performs seamless data delivery from multiple systems, said project manager Steve Ekblad of the Natural Resources Conservation Service's Information Technology Center in Fort Collins, Colo.

The project is an early example of Microsoft's .Net strategy for using software as a service to connect many types of computing devices across the Internet.

Databases could be linked over the Internet before, 'but it's much easier with .Net,' Ekblad said.

Getting the dirt

One Lighthouse Project component, the Soil Data Viewer at, layers graphs depicting soil surveys over corresponding digital images from the online TerraServer database.

'You wouldn't even know you were getting [an image] from TerraServer unless we told you,' Ekblad said.

The Natural Resources
Conservation Service's Steve Ekblad, left, and Microsoft's Tom Barclay are integrating TerraServer photos with soil survey data.
Because the viewer is still a proof-of-concept project, it's stocked with only 18 of the thousands of soil surveys Agriculture researchers have conducted since the 1940s, Ekblad said. Users who rely on the soil data range from farmers to local governments to real estate developers.

The viewer uses the Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 database manager running on three Compaq ProLiant 8500 servers under Microsoft Windows 2000 Advanced Server, Ekblad said. The superimposed graphs are drawn with Spatial Data Engine 8.0.2 and ArcIMS from Environmental Systems Research Institute of Redlands, Calif.

The viewer uses SQL Server 7.0 because the current version of the ESRI data engine doesn't work with SQL Server 2000, Ekblad said. Version 8.1 is expected to work with the newer database manager.

Project developers at Agriculture and Microsoft used XML and COM+, an extension to the Microsoft Component Object Model architecture, to build the prototype viewer.


The Lighthouse Project also has a Compaq ProLiant 1850 server for authentication management and a 1.5T Compaq StorageWorks storage area network.

TerraServer [GCN, July 27, 1998, Page 47] serves up digital orthophoto quadrangle images from 3T of Geological Survey aerial photos stored in a Microsoft SQL Server 2000 database on a Microsoft Windows 2000 Datacenter Server platform.

When TerraServer went online at, it was 'chartered to be a poster child' for large SQL Server installations, said Tom Barclay, a Microsoft researcher on the project.

'My big fear when we started TerraServer was that we wouldn't be interesting,' Barclay said.
But the site drew several million hits after it was mentioned on a syndicated TV show, and visitors now request an average of 59G of data a day, Barclay said.

Plans are for the TerraServer database to expand to 5T by year's end, Barclay said.


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