West Virginia mines GIS data

The West Virginia Environmental Protection Department's job isn't to move mountains but to keep a close watch on the mining operations that do.

The department uses a geographic information system and a helicopter equipped with remote-sensing equipment to collect images that carefully document the stages of the mountaintop mining process. State officials want to collect quantified evidence of mining activity and its effect on the environment.

Granting and regulating permits to mining operations requires copious documentation, said Larry Evans, project manager for the department's GIS.

'Potentially hundreds of people will find this data useful,' Evans said. He and his team will expand the GIS and imagery data for use by programs throughout the department and other state and federal agencies such as the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. 'We'll use it for Superfund projects, water resources, environmental studies'plenty of things besides mining.' The department is planning on posting the GIS imagery on its Web site in late spring.

The department uses a Bell Jet Ranger 206-B3 helicopter equipped with the SpectraView digital imaging system from Airborne Data Systems Inc. of Wabasso, Minn., to collect the imagery. The system integrates Global Positioning System technology from Trimble Navigation Ltd. of Sunnyvale, Calif.

Using a helicopter lets the department gather close-to-the-ground geospatial data at high resolution. 'If you were flying this with a fixed-wing aircraft, you couldn't get that resolution,' Evans said.

In the past, the department did try to do inspection and enforcement flights with airplanes. But these collected only jittery video footage that couldn't be used as geospatial data.

Built with tools from ESRI of Redlands, Calif., the GIS runs on a server farm from Citrix Systems Inc. of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Users access the GIS over a Citrix client.

The project uses SoftPlotter photogrammetry tools from Autometric Inc. of Springfield, Va., to extract terrain data from digital imagery'both scanned aerial photography and satellite imagery'to create digital maps.

Changes over time

The images let the department verify the terrain they have to monitor, Evans said. 'It helps us see the amount of land that is being reclaimed and that the data we're receiving from the mining companies is the same as we can measure from the ground. We can measure distances and landmarks on these images,' he said. 'They're actual maps.'

The GIS images also let inspectors look at mining sites at 'different windows in time,' he said.
Inspectors and employees in the department's Mining and Reclamation Division and the Office of Abandoned Mine Lands and Reclamation access the GIS from remote offices using ESRI's ArcObjects 8.3 and ArcSDE spatial data engine. The GIS sits atop an Oracle8 Version 8.3 database that the department soon will upgrade to Oracle9i.

The department also uses remote sensing software from ERDAS, recently acquired by Leica Geosystems GIS and Mapping LLC of Atlanta, to process the images.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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