Navigating a Volcanic Wilderness Using Global Mapper Mobile

Backpacking Trip in Haleakala National ParkJeffrey Hatzel
After earning a MSc. in GIS, gaining experience working in the GIS industry, and most importantly, having Global Mapper Mobile, I was prepared for my honeymoon — a backpacking trip in the Summit Area of Haleakalā National Park.

At the end of my very first week working for Blue Marble Geographics, the company had a small party. This gathering was to celebrate the successful release of our latest application for a mobile device, Global Mapper Mobile. As an active, outdoors-oriented person, I could immediately envision how useful an app like Global Mapper Mobile would be; mapping new running routes, hiking, hunting, camping, and of course, backpacking.

On my first trip into the back country six years ago with my wife (then girlfriend), I decided to make our trail maps, as we would be heading into the wilderness. As a GIS student and enthusiast, I was confident I could take what scant data I could find available from others’ trips into the Sage Creek Wilderness of Badlands National Park and make a decent reference map for our trip. While the trip was a phenomenally enjoyable success, I will say we could have saved a few miles with a better map. This memory was fresh in my mind as we planned part of our honeymoon — backpacking the Summit Area of Haleakalā National Park in Maui County, Hawaii. However this time, after earning a MSc. in GIS, gaining experience working in the GIS industry, and most importantly, having Global Mapper Mobile, I was prepared!

The Goal: A Custom Reference Map

While the summit of Haleakalā Volcano is a wilderness, it is nowhere near as vast or remote as the back country in Badlands National Park. Trails of varying quality and some signage would be present throughout the volcanic crater, providing guidance to hikers. What I needed was a custom reference map for our planned hike. I wanted base imagery, with contour lines, our proposed hiking route, way-points, and a way to organize data I recorded from my device’s GPS.

Preparing the Data: Creating a Package File

Global Mapper Mobile requires a package file (Global Mapper Mobile Package or GMMP) in order to transfer data from PC to mobile device. The file is created on the PC in Global Mapper, exported to GMMP format, and sent to the mobile device. In planning for this trip — and really any use of Global Mapper Mobile — I had to organize my goals and properly create the package file to reflect my needs. Having found vector files of the trail we planned to hike, they were the first bit of data loaded into the Global Mapper desktop application. Using them as a reference, the Online Data Tool allowed me to download both base imagery and a terrain layer for the area.

Obtaining Terrain Data and Imagery from the Online Data ToolJeffrey Hatzel
The top screenshots show a view of the terrain data and imagery obtained from the Online Data Tool in Global Mapper, displayed with a vector line feature (red) representing our planned hiking route in the bottom screenshot.
Map in Global Mapper MobileJeffrey Hatzel
The map, when initially loaded into Global Mapper Mobile, zoomed in to show a portion of the first day’s hike.

At this point I was able to generate the final features for my map; contours and waypoints. When generating contours, it is important to understand scale. With the increasing popularity of high-resolution LiDAR data, fine scale terrain layers and contours are becoming the norm for many workflows. However, for a map covering over 4,000 feet of elevation change, high resolution contours would have been overwhelming. Since this map is being used for reference purposes and not high-precision work, I felt generating contours every 500 feet was appropriate.

In addition to contours, I wanted to represent our halfway point for this first day of our hike, along with our campsite location. I chose to stylize the campsite in Global Mapper with a built-in point style (Campground). Styles can be retained on export to GMMP, so I would have it on my device.

The last thing to consider, which again can be applied to any use of Global Mapper Mobile, is data recorded in the field and how that will be stored within the application. By default any data created in the field, whether manually or via GPS, will be saved to a default layer. The user also has the option to save it to another loaded layer, however, this has the potential to become confusing if multiple feature types and large amounts of data are being recorded, causing a headache when it comes to layer management. To address this, Global Mapper Mobile utilizes Feature Template layers. The Feature Template layer is created in Global Mapper and can then be exported as part of the GMMP, retaining any pre-determined styling, attributes, and other settings. Recorded field data can be added to the proper Feature Template layer as appropriate. The usefulness of such functionality is workflow- and use case-dependent. When initially creating my GMMP I decided that since I would not be recording a large amount of data in the field, it was unnecessary to create any Feature Template layers. I was comfortable using the default layers created when recording data.

In the Field: Quick Rendering and Recording GPS-Based Data

Standing on top of the Haleakalā Crater at roughly 10,000 feet was breathtaking. It felt as if we were standing on the edge of an alien world. After absorbing the majesty of it all for a few minutes, I decided to put Global Mapper Mobile to the test. The app responded quickly, easily loading the 400MB GMMP. I was able to pan across the entirety of the map, effortlessly zooming to the immediate trail ahead, with the application smoothly rendering my vector data, terrain layer, and the relatively high resolution imagery used for my base map. This seemed the perfect opportunity to record my first GPS-based piece of data, a picture point of my view.

Picture Point | GPS LocationJeffrey Hatzel
Left: The first GPS based picture point, taken at the top of the trail before heading into the crater. Right: Global Mapper responded efficiently, immediately displaying our location as I panned and zoomed into our first rest stop location.

At this point, the phone was packed away for the descent into the crater. As we made our way down the trail, miles of sand contrasted with the green of lush slopes along the crater, as clouds spilled over the crater rim. We approached our rest stop about 4 miles later, after having travelled over 2,000 feet down into the crater. Zooming in to our first rest stop as we approached allowed us to clearly see our location along the trail and even how the vector trail aligned to the bit of trail visible in the base map.

Two miles on from our rest stop, we had scrambled up and over a sandy rise. With another two miles to go before camp, I knew I’d have to put Global Mapper through some more tests today, as our hike out of the crater tomorrow would be much more challenging, requiring my full attention. I decided to create a picture point at the start of our last leg, and then begin recording our trail as we hiked. Global Mapper Mobile quickly opened up and centered on my location, reporting a strong GPS signal from my phone. A quick GPS-based picture point, the start of an auto-recorded line, and we were off. I had strapped my phone to my pack and set the GPS to beep with each recorded vertex, allowing me to “hear” the app running in the background as we hiked. The wind over the edge of the crater drowned it out, but I left the app do its job as we covered the final two miles.

The app successfully recorded the entirety of the last leg of our hike for the day. In the image above, the black picture point can be seen at the start of the recorded trail (black line) as we hiked northwest to Hōlua, where we would camp for the night, before the climb out of the crater the next morning.

Once our tent was set we sat down for a glamorous meal of what I like to call back country chicken curry, which is delicious after a day of hiking. I was able to sit and reflect on the day and all we had accomplished; the personal achievements and experiences … and of course Global Mapper Mobile.

Picture Point and Recorded Route in Global Mapper MobileJeffrey Hatzel
Top: Another picture point taken as the trail began to track through black sand, volcanic rock, and reddish hills. Bottom: After setting the app to automatically record our route based on GPS as we hiked the final leg of our first day, we could see the path we hiked (black) in relation to our proposed route (red).

Takeaways: A Successful Trip with a Versatile GIS Application

This was my first time using Global Mapper on a backcountry trip. The application’s versatility was perfect for all I threw at it. The app operated without any issues the entire day. It responded swiftly while zooming and panning across the map. Picture points were created and saved based on GPS locations. The app accurately tracked our path while strapped to my pack via automatic GPS recording for the few miles I had it running. I consider it a success.

Before saving my map, shutting the phone off, and packing it away for the remainder of my vacation, I thought, “Why not, one more picture point?”.
The last picture point of day. Sunset at our camp, located at the base of a nearly 1,300-foot climb we would have to make the following morning.

Last Picture Point of the DayJeffrey Hatzel
The last picture point of day. Sunset at our camp, located at the base of a nearly 1,300-foot climb we would have to make the following morning.

Jeffrey Hatzel


Jeffrey Hatzel is an Applications Specialist at Blue Marble Geographics. He provides technical support, training, and leads demos and talks at industry events. Prior to joining Blue Marble in 2016, Hatzel earned his M.Sc. in GIS at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has experience teaching and studying GIS theory, along with utilizing GIS applications across a variety of real-world settings.

Blue Marble Monthly – September 2017 GIS Newsletter

Satellite Imagery

The Geographic Calculator Edition
Product News, User Stories, Events, and a Chance to Win a Copy of Global Mapper Every Month

Before Global Mapper takes center stage with its pending version 19 release later in the month, we thought it would be a good idea to shift our focus to Geographic Calculator for the month of September. In this edition of Blue Marble Monthly, we showcase an introductory video covering the basic operation of the software and we hear from Sam Knight on the important role that Calculator will play with the introduction of the new North American datum in 2022. As always, a free copy of Global Mapper is up for grabs in the Where in the World Geo-Challenge.

Satellite Image of Hurricane

Hurricane Harvey | Blue Marble Calls for Support for Texas

When it was first introduced over two decades ago, Geographic Calculator filled a void in the field of geodesy and became a mainstay for companies and organizations whose business depends on geographic precision. Nowhere was the Calculator more enthusiastically embraced than in Houston, Texas, home to many of the world’s leading energy exploration, extraction, and processing companies. It is with deep sadness that we watch the devastation that Hurricane Harvey has wrought on a region that has become a second home to Blue Marble. While we are confident that the city will recover, the short term needs are immense. For this reason, we strongly encourage the Blue Marble user community to join us in supporting the relief effort. Please donate whatever you can to the Red Cross.


Global Mapper Free for Hurricane Harvey Recovery

Blue Marble is offering free licenses of Global Mapper to any agency or organization that is providing an essential service in response to Hurricane Harvey.

If you are involved in the the clean-up or rebuilding process and you have a need for GIS software, simply email info@bluemarblegeo.com to request a copy of Global Mapper for the duration of the disaster relief effort.

Access Hurricane Harvey Imagery in Global Mapper

Global Mapper users can now access daily imagery updates of the affected areas as a built-in WMS option. Click the Connect to Online Data button and browse to the Weather category to find the Hurricane Harvey imagery organized by date.

This 35 second video compares Hurricane Harvey imagery to imagery before the storm using the Image Swipe tool in Global Mapper.

Diagram of Tectonic Plates

Projections | Are you Ready for NATREF2022 to Replace NAD83?

If there was ever a compelling reason to sit up and pay attention to the discipline of geodesy in general and to the functionality of Geographic Calculator in particular, here it is. In a few years, the folks at the National Geodetic Survey plan to replace NAD83 with the new “North American Terrestrial Reference Frame of 2022”. What does that mean for you? In a recent blog post, Sam Knight, Blue Marble’s Director of Product Management sheds some light on the change.

 

Screenshot of Best Fit Tool in Geographic Calculator

Did You Know? | Geographic Calculator’s Best Fit Tool

When we consider coordinate systems, we usually assume that they are based on some sort of geographic framework, however this is not always the case. It is common for a localized system to be developed without adherence to a recognized geographic datum. Assuming there is consistency, the system will work fine in a closed environment, however, a problem arises when the inherent data must be referenced to a recognized system. Geographic Calculator’s Best Fit job solves this problem by establishing a geometric relationship between specific locations within the extent of the local data and measured ground control points. With the necessary transformation calculation determined, all other data points in the local system can be accurately converted to the recognized geographic system.

 

Geographic Calculator Webinar

Webinars and Webcasts | Geographic Calculator Introduction and Overview

If you have never used Geographic Calculator, this hour-long introductory video offers an excellent starting point for learning the software. Covering the basic layout and touching on the most commonly used features and functions, this presentation walks through several simulated data conversion and transformation processes. If you would like a more hands-on learning experience, download an evaluation copy of Geographic Calculator and look for the Getting Started Guide further down the downloads page.

Blue Marble Webinars and Webcasts can be viewed at the Blue Marble YouTube Channel and on the Webinars page on the Blue Marble web site.

 

September 2017 Geo-Challenge

Where in the World Geo-Challenge

The winner of August’s Where in the World Geo-Challenge is Minoek Van Dorp from Van Dorp Engineering. Minoek will be receiving a copy of Global Mapper after his name was randomly selected from those who correctly identified the five geographic locations. Check out the answers here to see how well you did. This month, another copy of Global Mapper will be handed out to one lucky entrant.

See complete terms and conditions here. 

 

BMUC presentation

Events | Blue Marble User Conferences and More

Four down, two to go. So far in 2017, the Blue Marble User Conference (BMUC) has made stops in Calgary, the Washington DC area, Amsterdam, and San Diego. As we approach the last few months of the year, our attention turns to our home state of Maine and our final stop in Los Angeles. BMUC is an informal gathering of geospatial professionals representing a wide variety of industries who share a common interest in Blue Marble’s GIS and geodetic technology. Registration is now open for the final two events of 2017 and space is limited.

Upcoming Events

Visit with Blue Marble at the following events:

GIS in the Rockies | Denver, CO | September 20 – 21

INTERGEO | Berlin, Germany | September 26 – 28

Blue Marble User Conference | Portland, ME | September 29

Illinois GIS Association 2017 Annual Conference | Normal, IL | October 2 – 4

Pipeline Week | Houston, TX | October 3 – 4

Drone World Expo | San Jose, CA | October 3 – 4

Texas Municipal League Annual Conference & Exhibition | Houston, TX | October 3 – 6

2017 AUSA Annual Meeting & Exposition | Washington DC | October 9 – 11

NYGEO Conference | Lake Placid, NY | October 17 – 19

Global Mapper & LiDAR Module Training | Ottawa, Canada | October 17 -19

Maine GIS User Group Meeting | Bangor, ME | October 20

2017 Texas GIS Forum | Austin, TX | October 23 – 27

Commercial UAV Expo | Las Vegas, NV | October 24 – 26

What’s in a Name? | The North American Terrestrial Reference Frame of 2022 is Replacing NAD83

Four new reference frames of 2022Chelsea Ellis

There are going to be four new reference frames that will be introduced in 2022: One each for the Continental US/Canada/Mexico; the Mariana [tectonic] plate; the Pacific plate; and the Caribbean, each with similarly abbreviated names.

For the past five years, the folks at the National Geodetic Survey (NGS) have been speaking at events around the country and around the internet about the 10-year plan under which they are operating. Among the items on the list are a few that we in the geospatial industry need to start thinking about. We’ve been hearing presentations on GRAV-D, HTDP Replacement, NSRS Modernization, and many other acronyms. A couple months ago, there was a new one: NATRF2022. This was one of the main takeaways from the NGS Geospatial Summit, held in Silver Springs, Maryland near the agency’s headquarters. The NGS folks say NATRF2022 as “Nat-reff” in a way that makes you think “National Reference but that’s not actually what it stands for. Let’s dig in.

Why Terrestrial Reference Frame and not Datum?

NATREF2022 stands for “North American Terrestrial Reference Frame of 2022”. It is going to be the new national reference, replacing NAD83. So why “Terrestrial Reference Frame”, and not “Datum”? On the NGS web site, the page that has all the information about the new systems is titled “New Datums”, so one might infer that they mean pretty much the same thing; they do. The difference is at an academic level. Geodesy is an interesting field because there are subtle nuances to word definitions, and slight differences to how those words are used in other mathematical sciences such as geometry. “Datum” in a mathematical sense, is simply a singular form of “data”. In geodesy, this indicates a single point from which to begin measurement in a relative measure. Classically, our geodetic datums are formed from the location of a single place of reference such as an astronomical observatory. In modern systems, they are formed by a network of points that are geometrically related into a single collective, a sum of many parts, rather than relying on the single point as an anchor definition. So rather than defining it by a single point out of many, it is recognized as a geometric network, and the reference that network provides is a Geometric Reference Frame.

I’m going to say it: Conceptually, a geometric reference frame is just a new datum.

To the GIS practitioner, map maker, or surveyor, they provide the starting point and context for our relative descriptions of location. Geometric Reference Frame is currently the popular term in geodesy. It is academically appropriate and conveniently serves as a way to make the new name different from the old, which in this case I can get behind. Can you imagine reading someone’s sloppy handwritten field notes of NAD27 vs NAD22? It would invite disaster. Sometimes, change for the sake of change is not a bad thing. So aside from a mouthful, what are we getting?

From “Fixed” to Time-Based Reference Frames

There are actually going to be four new reference frames: One each for the Continental US/Canada/Mexico; the Mariana [tectonic] plate; the Pacific plate; and the Caribbean, each with similarly abbreviated names. We’ve never had that kind of unified coverage before, so that’s pretty cool. Each of these frames will be plate-fixed, but also, at the time of realization, geocentric. This gets right to the heart of why this is happening now. As it turns out, NAD83 wasn’t as geocentric as intended when it was created. That is to say, the middle of the datum should theoretically have been at the geocenter but it wasn’t; it was off by about two meters.

NAD83 diagramChelsea Ellis
The middle of the datum NAD83 should theoretically have been at the geocenter when it was created, but it wasn’t. It was actually off by about two meters. As tectonic plates moved over time, the effect of this offset grew and could no longer be ignored.

Over time, with tectonic motion, the effect of this offset grew and its effect on surface positions could no longer be ignored. What does that mean? Well, most of our positioning work in modern times is done based on GNSS devices (Global Navigation Satellite System), GNSS by nature is geocentric since the positions are calculated from satellites which orbit the center of mass of the planet. If our national reference frame is not geocentrically related, then it is not directly compatible with GNSS. As motion continues into the future, the new models will acknowledge this and will dynamically change over time following the rotations and motions of the plates. This is necessary because if we are working on the surface of a plate that is moving relative to the geocenter, we need to track that motion if our survey devices stay with the geocenter. So once again, the new models are fundamentally different from the old and a significantly different name will really help to acknowledge that. This is going to require a new mindset for a lot of GIS users. Right now, many still deal with coordinates in “fixed” reference frames where we may acknowledge a reference epoch (date), but that date isn’t actually used for anything other than metadata. Time-based coordinates are inevitable in the future, so it’s time to start getting comfortable with them.

One question I heard directed to the NGS at the Summit was along the lines of, “If we’re just going to have to update again in a few years, why don’t you fix the problem at 2022 so we don’t have to deal with it again?” The problem here is not with the system that needs to be updated (with the implication being that it is flawed now), but in our understanding of the system we’re moving to. We are currently using a system in which we don’t acknowledge that things move and a lot of people have come up through their careers comfortable with there being a fixed relationship between any two given coordinate systems. We are moving to a system where time is not only a factor, but is fully acknowledged as necessary in a moving system. Data epoch is no longer optional. We need to know where our data was and when it was there in order to know where it is a few years later.

Under the hood of this new name NATRF2022, we are adding an entire dimension of measurement, and that’s far more exciting than adding a few new words in the name of the datum.

Preparing for the New Reference Frames of 2022

Over the next few years, we will need to make a few fundamental changes to GIS in order to be ready. First and foremost, we need to make sure our colleagues are comfortable with the new terminology and the concepts of time itself as being an important part of position. After the new systems are in place, we will likely also have new projected coordinate reference systems to deal with. It is very likely that we will have new versions of the US State Plane coordinate system zones. Furthermore, many states are undergoing a push to support new Low Distortion Projections such as the efforts in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oregon, Iowa, and others.  With 4 new plate models, we’re also going to have new Coordinate Transformations to relate them to each other and the older systems, the new reference frames will require it.

As a key player in the geospatial software industry, Blue Marble is already working on changes to our software in preparation for the upcoming new reference frames. Much of this will be invisible in our tools for the time being, while other components are already there, such as epoch settings, transformations that are not stuck to WGS84, and the ability to dynamically bring in new parameters to the database. We have been paying attention and are ready for the coming changes and will strive to help our users be ready, too, as we all learn exactly what these new reference frames will look like over the next five years. As an industry, we have grown very comfortable and perhaps complacent with our systems and transformations in the US for some time. Change is coming, and the time to prepare is now.


Sam Knight


Sam Knight is the Director of Product Management for Blue Marble Geographics. With Blue Marble for over 13 years, Sam has lead hundreds of GIS and Geodetics courses and is a frequent speaker at industry conferences, trying to make tricky geodetics concepts accessible at a practical level.