Alaska maps out GIS foundation

Alaska will use satellite data to build the first digital base map of the state, creating its primary resource for geographic information systems applications, such as planning, resource assessment and fire management.

The system will be Web-based, enabling users in agencies that lack their own GIS expertise to easily combine base map data with other geospatial information at their desktops.

"The state's GIS department has been whittled away, so there are very few experienced people available to do this kind of work," said Bill Kiger, a natural resource specialist with Alaska's Department of Natural Resources. "Now, because of the base map, agency people will be able to view areas they are interested in and overlay other vectors on top, even if they don't have relevant [GIS] processing skills."

As an example, he pointed to the problems posed by Alaska's Wood-Tikchik State Park, the largest in the United States at 1.6 million acres.

Managing that park, which has a complex ecology including interconnecting lakes, rivers, recreational areas and private properties, would be a feat in any situation, Kiger said. But the entire park is the responsibility of just one ranger.

"This new system will give us a good tool for managing all of this," he said. "We'll be able to see where new cabin building is going on, if there is any [illegal] campsite development, where glacial rivers are migrating so we can determine the increase or decrease in sold lots, and so on."

The base map also will be a component of Alaska's I-Plan, which is part of an effort to help governments better manage geographic information assets. The I-Plan is a strategic plan that evaluates the status of existing data, identifies the most effective ways to collect, process and use that data, determines how to build a statewide spatial data infrastructure and sets a figure on how much it will cost.

The Alaskan base map will be created using Research Systems Inc.'s ENVI on the Net technology. ENVI is a visualization and analysis program aimed at remote sensing and GIS applications.

Research Systems is a subsidiary of Eastman Kodak Co.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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