Foreshadowing Geodetic Updates: NADCON 5.0 in Geographic Calculator 2019

The latest version of Blue Marble Geographics’ coordinate conversion software continues the 25-year tradition of providing solutions for the most complex geodetic challenges. Geographic Calculator 2019 offers a number of requested improvements, such as a more user-friendly interface, a universal copy and paste function, a new angular unit conversion tool, as well as several enhancements to seismic file format support. However, a closer look also reveals several new features that provide some insight into more significant shifts in Blue Marble’s future development plans.

Geographic Calculator 2019 has added support for version 5.0 of the National Geodetic Survey’s (NGS) North American Datum Conversion tool (NADCON 5.0). This single line item in the release notes may be easily overlooked, but it represents years of work by NOAA-NGS. It also represents a fundamental change in the way United States coordinate reference system and reference frame transformations are performed. Before delving into the details, let’s answer this question…

What is NADCON 5.0?

The origin of this transformation methodology is rooted in the readjustment of the North American Datum of 1927 (NAD27) to the North American Datum of 1983 (NAD83). The differences between these reference frames were very regional and irregular, which resulted in shifts that could not easily be modeled with traditional mathematical transformations. The solution was the original North American Datum Conversion (NADCON) Utility, which was adopted in 1990 as the federal standard for modeling differences between the two systems.

The early versions of the NADCON transformations typically had an accuracy of 12 to 18 centimeters, which represented a significant improvement over most other large-scale models at the time. That said, the tool did have its shortcomings. According to NGS, it was “poorly documented, was applied inconsistently across regions, contained numerous errors, and was difficult to use”. Those kinds of defects were also shared by another NOAA-NGS tool called GEOCON, introduced during the realization of the NAD83(2007) reference frame. The significant difference between the original NADCON and GEOCON transformations was the latter’s ability to perform three-dimensional coordinate transformations among various newer NAD83 frames. This was also improved in GEOCON11 (version 2.0), but time constraints meant that only eleven states were able to provide data for these adjustments.

NADCON 5.0 was built to replace both of these imperfect NGS tools. Unlike its predecessors, it is well-documented, more “user-friendly”, it includes downloadable transformation grids that can be integrated into third-party software, and covers the entire United States (including overseas territories). Newer remote sensing technology and the ability to handle much larger datasets also allows for a finer level of detail during the transformation process. As with the GEOCON model, NADCON 5.0 also offers new transformations between many reference frames and three-dimensional coordinate systems, and it supports the US National Spatial Reference System (NSRS) as well as many other previously unrecognized local horizontal coordinate systems dating back to the late 1800s. It also provides local error estimates as a component of the transformation, which is likely to pique the interest of your friendly neighborhood geodesist.

How does NADCON 5.0 work?

Like the traditional NADCON version 4.0 transformation, version 5.0 is delivered as a set of grid files that can be used to move between individual reference frames. Unlike version 4.0 however, it is no longer limited to horizontal shifts. The new grid files contain fields for identifying 3D transformations between reference frames and an error metric where available. Furthermore, there is a much larger set of grids to choose from and it is no longer constrained to the traditional NAD27->NAD83 or NAD83(20xx)->NAD83(20xx) model. Instead, transformations can be performed between six separate realizations of NAD83, NAD27, and the US Standard Datum (USSD). NADCON 5.0 also provides access to precise transformations between other historic systems such as the Old Hawaiian Datum, Puerto Rico 1940, and local Alaskan systems, such as the St. Paul Island reference frame of 1897 and 1852.

Unlike the old version 4.0 transformation, NADCON 5.0 was designed to chain together various grid files to provide a more accurate result. This makes things a bit more complicated because of the need to keep track of individual transformations as components of a larger concatenated operation. The following diagram shows an example of a shift from the NOAA Technical Report NOS NGS 63.

Diagram from the NOAA Technical Report NOS NGS 63

The illustration shows a chain of transformations for moving a surveyed data point based on the USSD system to NAD83(2011). Any subset of the chain can be used independently as part of the NADCON 5.0 model. This chain process can support a new model once it is created (for example, the 2022 National Reference System) and with one grid file, associate it to all historical models.

So what is foreshadowing about the addition of NADCON 5.0 in Geographic Calculator?

NADCON 5.0 will be instrumental in the transition to yet another adjustment from NAD83 on the horizon — the introduction of the new National Reference Frame of 2022 (NATRF2022) and NSRS2022.

A graphic from the NOAA Technical Report NOS NGS 63 shows the errors for horizontal transformation for USSD/NAD 27/CONUS.

If you are a frequent visitor to Projections, the Blue Marble blog, you may have read an entry by Product Manager Sam Knight explaining why the new NSRS is being developed. If you haven’t seen Sam’s entry, the short explanation is that geoid and GPS-height accuracy have improved and that NAD83 did not account for the dynamic movement of our planet over time. Under the new system, all measurable gravity-related values (such as orthometric heights, geoid undulation, deflections of the vertical, etc…) will be time dependent for compatibility with the NATRF2022 coordinate systems — making for more accurate time-dependent transformations.

NSRS2022 will also replace all of the current vertical datums, which will require updates to VERTCON — another NGS transformation tool. Originally designed to transform between the North American Vertical Datum of 1988 (NAVD 88) and the North Geodetic Vertical Datum of 1929 (NGVD 29), the 2022 update to VERTCON will transform orthometric heights from the old datums into heights in the new North American-Pacific Geopotential Datum (NAPGD2022).

Small changes leading up to larger changes

With awkward acronyms, complex geodetic concepts, and NGS tool history, the 2022 update as it relates to NADCON 5.0 is a lot for a short blog entry. But hopefully you get the key message: NGS is making big changes that will lead to more accurate transformations and Geographic Calculator is an early adopter of these new geodetic parameters. Be on the lookout for more updates as tools like NADCON 5.0 develop and grow. Until then, the Geographic Calculator will continue to hold a finger on the NGS pulse.

To learn more about NGS, its tools and the upcoming NSGS of 2022, visit their website at https://www.ngs.noaa.gov or read this NOAA report.

Blue Marble Monthly: Happy Holidays from the Team

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

It doesn’t seem like a year ago that we were ushering in 2018 and eagerly anticipating the celebration of our 25th anniversary. At the close of another successful year for Blue Marble, it’s time to look forward to 2019 and what better way to herald the new year than by introducing the 2019 edition of Geographic Calculator. In this month’s newsletter, we discuss the introduction of NADCON 5.0 in the latest release, and how that addition foreshadows future changes in the software and industry.

Also this month, we offer some last minute holiday gift-giving advice, we remind software developers that an SDK version of Global Mapper is available, we announce an extension to the Global Mapper Academic Scholarship Program, and as always, we test your geographic expertise in the Where in the World Geo-Challenge.

PRODUCT NEWS  |  Foreshadowing Future Geodetic Tools

The latest version of our coordinate conversion software – Geographic Calculator 2019 – doesn’t stray from the 25-year tradition of providing accurate geodetic solutions. But the introduction of NADCON 5.0 in the software foreshadows more significant future changes in Geographic Calculator and National Geodetic Survey tools.

 

PROJECTIONS  |  Holiday Gift Guide

It is the perennial dilemma: What do you buy the person who has everything? Fear not. Just in time for the holidays, Blue Marble comes to the rescue for all you present procrastinators. The Blue Marble Emporium offers the latest must-have attire for the geospatial fashionistas on your list, naughty or nice.

 

PROJECTIONS | Holiday Week at Blue Marble

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”

Every December, Blue Marble staffers from near and far gather in Maine for a week of conviviality and holiday revelry (with a little company business thrown in for good measure). This year, our roving photographer captured the highlights of our festivities.

 

DID YOU KNOW  |  Global Mapper Software Development Kit

Did you know that you can integrate Global Mapper’s powerful geospatial processing engine into a third-party application? Mirroring the capabilities of the desktop version of the software, the SDK provides software developers with an unparalleled array of tools for loading, editing, converting, analyzing, and exporting virtually any spatial dataset. The SDK even allows software engineers to modify the functionality of Global Mapper itself by adding custom extensions and toolbars.

 

Deadline Extended for Global Mapper Academic Scholarship

Over the last two years, hundreds of colleges and universities throughout North America have taken advantage of Blue Marble’s free academic licensing program and have been able to introduce more and more students to the broad field of geospatial technology. To recognize and reward some of the creative work being done in labs and classrooms, Blue Marble is offering a $500 scholarship to a student who has used Global Mapper in their field of study. The deadline for submission has just been extended to the end of January, which means there is still time to share the details of your project.

 

 

Where in the World Geo-Challenge

You may have noticed that the Geo-Challenge questions have been getting steadily more difficult over recent months. This has not deterred an increasing number of you from proving your geographic prowess and correctly identifying all five locations. Among those who seemingly had no problems with October’s challenge was Ian Rath of Arcadis Australia Pacific. Ian will shortly be receiving a copy of Global Mapper for his efforts.

To find out how you did on last month’s challenge, check out the answers here.

If you’re up for another try, click the link below to test your geographic knowledge in the November edition. Good luck!

 

See complete terms and conditions here.

VIDEOS  |  What’s New in Geographic Calculator 2019

For over 25 years, Geographic Calculator has set the benchmark for accurate coordinate and datum management and processing, and the release of the 2019 version further consolidates this industry-leading position. Join us on January 10 for a live, hour-long webinar in which we showcase the highlights of this release.

EVENTS  |  Global Mapper Training in 2019

After a brief hiatus over the holiday break, Blue Marble’s calendar quickly fills up in the new year. The first major event is the kick-off to the 2019 Global Mapper training schedule with a class in our home state of Maine. This three-day certification course runs from January 29-31 and registration is now open.

Additional training locations for 2019 include:

Orlando  |  March 12 – 14, December (TBD)

Denver  |  April (TBD)

Ottawa  |  June (TBD)

Australia  |  July (TBD)

Calgary  |  August (TBD)

Houston  |  October (TBD)

A New Online Blue Marble Conference is Coming

Coming up on March 21, Blue Marble will host a new conference. Instead of meeting at a specific physical location like user conferences in the past, we will gather online for a day of informative presentations, workshops, user stories, and much more. Details will be finalized in early January but in the meantime, we are looking for a few good presenters. Click here for more information.

Blue Marble Comes to Town: Holiday Week at the Office

Last week, we, at Blue Marble, held our annual “Winter Holiday” week — seven days of festivities and team-building fun. It’s one of the few times each year that our remote employees join us at the office and we have the chance to show them a good time.

During the week, we enjoyed dinner and a post-work game of trivia at our favorite local pub, where we came in second place … not too shabby. We had a fierce winter-wonderland-themed decorating contest. 22 of us entered, but only 1 was crowned the winner – Jess, with her gingerbread-themed desk that offered cookies, beer, and hot chocolate.

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Blue Marble Office Manager Jess won the first holiday decorating contest.
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Scott and Billy walk around the office to vote for their favorite festive offices and cubicles.
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Blue Marble President Patrick sits in his Nick-Offerman-Holiday-themed office.

We also took some time for some team building within departments. The Development team watched a movie, Tech Support and QA went bowling, and Sales and Marketing went out to breakfast.

The Company Holiday Party

At the end of the week, the whole company came together for our annual Holiday Party, where we looked back on 2018 in this video:

We had fun sharing a meal together, participating in a team gingerbread-building contest, playing spoons (the card game), and opening gifts in our Yankee swap, during which the infamous nose-hair trimmer was re-gifted once again.

From our work family to yours, have a safe and happy Holiday!

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The Blue Marble Team at the 2018 company holiday party.
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Step into Blue Marble’s Gift Guide

If you have been watching TV, listening to the radio, or gone to a store, you know it’s that time of year again … Have you thoughtfully picked out all your gifts? No? Well don’t worry we have the gifts for you and all of your family members!

For the punny dad or mom in your life:

Shift Happens T-shirt

For the misunderstood rebel :

“GIS is not a four letter word” Global Mapper T-shirt

For the one searching for the truth:

The X + Y Files T-shirt

For the one who hates t-shirts, but loves GIS & software:

 

Global Mapper v20

Download Global Mapper today!

For the one who wants to project all over the word:

Geographic Calculator 2019

Download Geographic Calculator today!

For these items and more please visit the Blue Marble Emporium today!


Rachael Landry

Rachael Landry is one of Blue Marble’s license gurus on the official Sales Support team. She is one of the people you are most likely to work with when you call or email our office, and she is always ready to answer your questions.
Please send all your fan mail to orders@bluemarblegeo.com.

Where in the World Geo-Challenge – December 2018

View the form at Google Forms >

Where in the World November 2018 Answers

How Well Did You Do?

Name the lake – Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name the country – Burundi

Burundi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name the river – Columbia River

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name the UNESCO World Heritage Site – Tower of London

Tower of London

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name the capital city – Managua

Managua