describe the natural world from those describing human action.1 Numerous natural features characterize Earth’s physical processes, patterns, and conditions. These features, described in more detail in Appendix C, relate to topography, hydrology, physical geology and geography, weather, energy resources, and natural resources and hazards. In contrast, the constructed environment constitutes the human geography at Earth’s surface. These features include built structures and invisible boundaries that reflect political, economic, and locational decisions. Such data can be broadly grouped into five categories of human action: (1) transportation, (2) institutional locations (e.g., colleges or universities, schools, and libraries; hospitals and nursing homes; industrial sites; parks and historic landmarks and sites), (3) energy-related infrastructure, (4) administrative and legal boundaries, and (5) hazardous locations.

3.2.1 Focus of Government Geographic Data Interests

Government agencies usually focus on data needed to address their own mandates, missions, and goals. Nonetheless, government information policy aims to ensure that most data gathered for one government purpose are widely available to support additional governmental and nongovernmental uses. Geographic data priorities vary by agency and level of government, but some data types are particularly versatile and tend to support multiple missions. In the federal government, the National Research Council (NRC)2 identified three geographic data themes as being at the foundation of government business: Terrain (elevation) data, orthoimagery, and geodetic control.3 NRC (1995) also highlighted additional “framework” data types that are often high priorities for agencies: transportation networks; political, administrative, and census boundaries; hydrology (location, geometry, and flow characteristics of rivers, lakes, and other surface waters); cadastral (land ownership) data; and natural resources data (geology, ecosystem distribution, soils, and wetlands). The Geospatial One-Stop initiative is developing standards for seven of the aforementioned data types (excluding natural resources), confirming their continued importance to government. Given government buying power, it is not


As with any taxonomy, there are ambiguities. The physical and human worlds are intertwined. Human actions influence physical processes and patterns.


NRC, 1995, A Data Foundation for the National Spatial Data Infrastructure, Washington, D.C., National Academies Press.


Geodetic control refers to the common reference system for establishing coordinate positions (e.g., latitude, longitude, elevation) for geographic data.

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