The National Map: Using the National Geospatial Program

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So, what is the National Geospatial Program? The National Geospatial Program is a project by the U.S. Geological Survey that provides standards for geospatial coordination by the people and groups involved in its Geospatial Liaison Network. The NGP has allowed for the creation of an accurate National Map, located at http://www.nationalmap.gov, which allows users to create maps of the U.S. based on the information they need, whether it’s boundaries, elevation, history, transportation, or even user added data. This means that maps can be customized to a degree, making printed versions of the National Map more useful than the average topographical map.

The National Map was created from a combination of satellite images, and topographical, transit, and environmental information. Data is gleaned from organizations like the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of the Census, National Geodetic Survey, and more. Since the USGS sets the standards for the information used for the National Map, this ensures a cohesive, useful, and accurate map that is capable of integrating an enormous variety of information.

The National Map can be accessed and printed through the National Map website, which allows visitors to choose from a set number of popular map overlays for their base maps. People who need specific information and more experienced map makers may get more use out of using the National Map Viewer. The National Map Viewer is a browser-based utility that allows map makers to create and download their own maps based on data layers that they apply to a base map of the U.S. There are several different base layers that map makers can work with, ranging from contours to transportation, as well as tabs that allow map makers to layer other types of data and user added content over their base maps, and reorder the layers as needed. Maps can also be annotated, which makes the National Map Viewer a pretty powerful tool for users who want their maps to highlight  very specific types of data. Using the National Map Viewer is fast and easy, and the fact that it allows for the creation of maps with user added data overlays makes it extremely useful for people who need detailed maps that integrate regular topographical maps with unconventional information.

Maps that are viewed through the Map Viewer itself can be zoomed out to view the whole world at once, or zoomed in to see high-quality photographs of the areas they portray, with the user’s chosen data overlaid on top of them. Hard copy maps created through the National Map Viewer can be printed from any regular home printer, and made to cover any area from a predefined set of coordinates to the entire area covered in the viewing window. The “advanced” tab and “cart” section allows users to check out and download the maps that they’ve created, and print them out at will.


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Though the USGS. has existed for one hundred and twenty five years, all maps generated by the National Map Viewer are all based on the most up-to-date data available. Users who need to view older maps can do so through the USGS’s library of historical maps, which contains digital representations of lithographically printed maps with topographical information dating all the way back to the year 1884, including those produced by field sketching, stereophotography, and old electronic surveying instruments. There are currently over ninety thousand maps available in PDF format through the USGS’s website, with over a hundred thousand more to be added in the future.

Using the National Geospatial Program’s National Map is easy, and extremely useful for people whose purposes aren’t served by regular topographical maps. If you have specific information that you need your map to integrate and display, want to be able to overlay data on satellite images, or just need access to more detailed, accurate information than is provided by your average printed map, then the National Map Viewer can give you the means of creating a map that ideally suits your needs.

National Map Viewer

National Map Viewer


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