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Spatial Data Needs: The Future of the National Mapping Program
Increasing Importance of Cultural Base Data The production of maps emphasizing physical over cultural features is increasingly less relevant in an economy that is dependent more on human than on physical resources. Human-induced change now rivals natural change. This information is also needed in spatially referenced form. As an Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) report, Technology and the American Economic Transition,15 puts it:
Understanding changes in the structure of the U.S. economy is critical …for estimating the likely direction of the economy in the future. The dynamics of an economy heavily dependent on natural resources are likely to be very different from one primarily dependent on intellectual resources, (p. 165)
And the same report notes that “one of the clearest structural trends in the U.S. economy has been the relative decline of the Natural Resource sector” (p. 170).
The era of major public investment in the types of physical infrastructure for which USGS maps were traditionally found appropriate (although they had not been created explicitly to meet those non-earth-science needs) is being overtaken by an era dominated by the importance of the societal infrastructure. In the coming economic/environmental transition, an equivalent infrastructure will be an educated, informed population.
Widespread Adoption of GIS Many of NMD’s traditional users are shifting from maps to GIS technology to meet their needs for spatial information. The analytical capabilities once provided by human beings, operating with maps as data, are now being provided by computers. Most of the data on which computers operate is currently coming from digitized conventional maps, but this appears to be a transition phase. Within a GIS environment, all data layers must form an integrated system registered to a common base map (see Figure 4). The NMD is responsible for many of the most important layers of a national digital GIS data base. However, other federal agencies are responsible for other layers that must use the NMD layers as a framework. All of these layers should be seamless spatial data sets; within a GIS environment the traditional map quadrangle is meaningless. More direct sources of digital data are desirable already, e.g., global positioning data and remotely sensed data, and will be mandatory in the future. When such data are not available from NMD, they are being created elsewhere, probably with custom standards, at a greater cost.
Data Currency Demands Because an increasing number of NMD’s traditional users are working with computers, they are accustomed to rapid informational transactions, performed on the most current information. The committee believes that dissatisfaction with the traditionally slow pace of map revision will intensify, and substitutes will be sought and created from suppliers other than NMD, if available at acceptable cost.