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January 19, 2018
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Commentary: An Alaska-based spatial analyst with The Nature Conservancy shares his formula for leading a successful mapping project through a lesser-known federal program.
Jim DePasquale is an Alaska-based spatial analyst for The Nature Conservancy, where has worked for five years. As a certified Geographic Infor...
High-resolution geospatial imagery has the potential to meet many critical needs for state and local governments. It can be used for various vital tasks — from planning, land use and protecting natural resources to identifying geo-hazards, public safety and emergency response. But for most agencies or departments, collecting and analyzing geospatial data is often cost-prohibitive.
To encourage geospatial data collection and foster information sharing, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) launched the 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) three years ago. 3DEP is a valuable tool, but many state and local agencies may be unaware of the program, unsure of how to build partnerships to meet their needs, or fully understand the process.
Lay of the land
The 3DEP initiative is designed to identify elevation data gaps, foster partnerships among groups that have common geospatial needs and project scopes, help minimize costs and improve the impact of a project. It addresses the growing needs for high- quality topographic data and a wide range of other 3-D representations of the country’s natural and constructed features, leveraging high-quality light detection and ranging (LiDAR) data.
3DEP annually selects partnership applications and provides federal matching funds to help finance large-area LiDAR collections. In 2016, I led a project for nonprofit The Nature Conservancy to map Alaska’s Prince of Wales Island — the third largest island in the United States. Our two-phase project, which was selected for 3DEP funding, featured a wide variety of partners, all with differing interests in geospatial data: The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Forest Service, a native Alaskan corporation called Sealaska, and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources participated in the first phase, and added the Metlakatla and Tlingit indian communities in the second phase.
Bringing together diverse groups can be complicated. But with experience managing collaborative mapping projects, I applied some key lessons to ensure our 3DEP application met USGS requirements and we all remained focused on our common goal.
Here are some best practices to consider for your own successful 3DEP application:
Deriving value with diverse groups
The benefits of 3DEP can vary greatly, depending on the initial project scope and the partners involved. The Prince of Wales project leveraged LiDAR to cover approximately 2,166 square miles of the island from April to September 2017. We worked with our technology partner, Quantum Spatial Inc. (QSI), to define our project parameters. QSI’s experience with 3DEP, experience mapping Alaska and expertise in geospatial analytics resulted in developing a variety of project deliverables, which are now with USGS quality assurance review and acceptance testing before distribution to all partners. QSI ultimately will provide us with raw point cloud data, classified point cloud data, a hydro-flattened bare earth DEM, hydro and bridge break lines, intensity imagery, automated contours, automated building footprints, a digital surface model (DSM), automated vegetation classifications, and shaded relief rasters.
We believe our partnership’s work on Prince of Wales Island will be a game changer in a number of ways:
The combination of nonprofit, private and government partners made the Prince of Wales project a prime example of how 3DEP is supporting geospatial needs in underserved areas, and shows how a diversity of groups can work together toward a common goal. While it may take time and effort to develop a partnership, the 3DEP program delivers significant benefits — from cost-savings and amplifying investments in LiDAR surveys to delivering improved data for economic development, conservation, emergency preparedness and other goals.