Embracing Geospatial Intelligence -- GIS Emphasizes How the World Works

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Welcome to GISWeekly! Roberta (Bobbie) Lenczowski, Technical Executive, NIMA, delivered a keynote at GeoSpatial World detailing NIMA's mission to provide timely, relevant and accurate geospatial intelligence. Our industry news highlights that keynote and the interview that followed it.

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Industry News

Embracing Geospatial Intelligence
GIS Emphasizes How the World Works
By Susan Smith

“GIS will increasingly emphasize 'how the world works' rather than simply 'how the world looks…' Cf. “Down to Earth,” National Academy of Sciences, 2002

The above quote encapsulates a keynote address presented by NIMA Technical Executive, Roberta Lenczowski, at GeoSpatial World in New Orleans a week ago. Until very recently, global geospatial knowledge was regarded as land cells measured by longitude and latitude, said Lenczowski. “Customers could gauge our progress only by products.”

That limited view of “how the world looks” has been challenged by the constantly evolving development of tools to expand our GIS knowledge and use the technology to find out how the world works and to use more than a flat map to depict analysis.

This year, the U.S. celebrates the Treaty of the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of the United States. Thomas Jefferson had purchased the land from Napoleon for $15 million, twice the federal budget. Jefferson had only wanted to buy New Orleans, and he had already appealed to Congress for funds to explore the Missouri River, with the goal of finding the Northwest Passage, that intercontinental waterway that was believed to link the east with the west.

The Louisiana Purchase meant that now the expedition would travel on American soil all the way to the Continental Divide. But it also added additional challenges: Jefferson had to assign someone who knew how to map the new land, to analyze its physical and cultural attributes, its indigenous people, and who would document its flora and fauna. A year later, he commissioned Captain Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and their Corps of Discovery to do just this.

Lewis and Clark filled hundreds of notebooks with intelligence reports. According to NIMA Technical Executive, Roberta Lenczowski, “Although technologies have changed and geographers' knowledge may be broader and deeper, the way people explore and use incomplete knowledge to reach objectives is not much different.”

Today we must meet the expectations of people who are dealing with natural phenomena, economy, and frightening world events, added Lenczowski, and we must collect and analyze relevant information “that helps reduce the cacophony of our times.”

NIMA (National Imagery and Mapping Agency, formerly known as the Defense Mapping Agency) at one time provided only imagery for national security. NIMA's mission today is to provide timely relevant and accurate “geospatial intelligence.”

What is geospatial intelligence? According to a recent NIMA press release, “geospatial intelligence is the exploitation and analysis of imagery and geospatial information to describe, assess and visually depict physical features and geographically referenced activities on the Earth.”

NIMA's contribution is its geospatial base as well as an analytical expertise that includes meticulous descriptions of things found in our world and likely occurrences at those locations. NIMA offer expertise of service to providing a reliable context into which other disciplines can be fused, or integrated.

The geospatial base requires foundation data. Foundation data consists of: elevation, controlled imagery, feature data, hydrographic safety of navigation, aeronautical safety of navigation, high resolution stereo imagery, and associated geodesy and geophysics.

“Over the past twenty months we have evolved our concepts to deal with Operation Enduring Freedom. We were not adequately prepared with foundation data for Afghanistan,” concluded Lenczowski. “Our existing map sheets were from the mid 80s - 20 years of change made a difference particularly in urban populated areas. Our raster and vector data reflected that. We decided we should build a country database, exploiting all available database information and charging our client. As the database was populated, we could print map sheets, sufficient for planning purposes.”

The other issue was that the original contractor who built the database over Afghanistan was using ArcTools, and consequently the population of the database and the data model are in the Arc environment. NIMA went to neighboring countries and assigned responsibilities to other contractors, who used GeoMedia and other Intergraph tools. “What we needed to be able to do, because those countries that adjoin Afghanistan, was to ensure that we could have a seamless database and could effectively walk across the data collection that was done by different contractors, then present the final product to our customer without any distinction (in the data),” explained Lenczowski. The country database could be distributed to users skilled in the use of GIS tools.

The next step was to seek the services of an integration contractor who would build a data architecture that would allow NIMA to interchangeably use contract data regardless of who had built it. The Geospatial Intelligence Database Integration, or GIDI, was the result of this effort - a larger integration concept that has embedded in it a database architecture in the geospatial intelligence feature database (GIFD); in addition, there are tools in GIDI that go back and forth from one application to the other, and tools that allow customers to come through the gateway. “The whole concept of GIDI is to move to an architecture that has a data model that's based upon our feature attribute coding conventions. So if you have a database that was populated by someone using GeoMedia tools and I stage it out to the GIFD and I want to use somebody who is using ArcTools, I can. The GIDI uses an Oracle database.”

GIFD -- Geospatial intelligence feature database contains:
* Digest feature attribute coding convention (FACC) based
* 3D based capable - including latitude, longitude, height
* feature level metadata (accuracy, currency, classification, source)

As a result of this initiative NIMA has returned to users to announce that it will not seek foundation feature data in and of itself. It will be provided to customers whose systems have been designed to accept that level of data.

Foundation vs. mission specific data
“Mission-specific” data will be used in the entire military intelligence customer community. “I continue to advocate a more stimulating, more resource intensive explanation,” said Lenczowski. “Data architecture highlights more features and attributes in mission-specific data. It is also likely emphasis will be put on improved accuracy, better currency, more attribution, increased density, higher resolution, selected elements. Someone said it is 'lumpy,' implying there is more data in some parts of the earth than others.”

In the foundation data there is data every hundred feet or so about how you model the surface of the earth. There may be customers in localized areas who need higher resolution and that would be considered mission specific. That data would be made readily available to the customer, and perhaps, a month or year later, another customer might request that information, which would be made available to them also.

Mission-specific as a concept does not mean simply adding more attributes to the baseline foundation, however. The real world encompasses infinite detail and variability which needs to be documented adequately to make its influence on a customer's mission. Geospatial users will want to examine trends, requiring that robustly usable data be time tagged and historically recoverable.

Today, most users are still doing mapspeak, said Lenczowski. “You take an image of land which has a lot of good and inherent value that you as an interpreter can gather from it. You can look at a picture and you can say there are roads or buildings because it's clear to you. Or you can take a map sheet and because you understand the symbology that's associated with the map sheet, you, the human interpreter, can draw some conclusions from that data. But what you can't deduce from simply looking at it, is what are necessarily the relationships of things that the land may set on top of. So if you are in a cityscape of Washington D.C. you may see the road network but you certainly don't see the metro subway. Yet that's inherent information in the data about the city.”

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