10 ways Blue Marble ensures geodetic accuracy behind the scenes for you

The Land Survey Summary tab in Geographic Calculator

When people ask me what the difference is between Blue Marble Geographics’s® applications and other geodetic and GIS software, I often talk about affordability, customer service, and reputation. But sometimes I simply say that we like to tackle the hard stuff — the technical challenges that geospatial professionals face every day.

For a quarter century, we at Blue Marble have been focused on getting things right in mapping, so our customers can consistently rely on our software. We have been “minding the gap”, as our original tagline says, between geodetic accuracy and geospatial data mapping. We do this by offering our highly accurate coordinate conversion and datum transformation software Geographic Calculator®, and by providing access to our extensive geodetic library with GeoCalc® Mode in our GIS software Global Mapper®. Our technology is trusted by small and large Fortune 500 companies around the globe.

But what exactly is that hard stuff?

Perhaps the best way for me to explain these challenges is by providing a top ten list of ways Blue Marble ensures geodetic accuracy for today’s geodesists and GIS professionals.

  1. Coordinate Reference System Information

    If you’re going to “mind the gap”, you must have full access to the geodetic parameters necessary for proper coordinate conversion. This is not simply a coordinate system definition, but the mathematical definition of the components that make up a coordinate reference system. These components — ellipsoids, datums, measure of units, projection, and origin — are available for our users to access and present as needed in all of our software.

    The GeoCalc library of coordinate reference systems and geodetic parameters.
  2. Powerful Spreadsheet Interface

    The Geographic Calculator is known for its Point Database job or tab. This is an Excel-like spreadsheet that enables batch point conversion in multiple ways with a variety of handy data-management tools. It’s an essential way to process point data when translating coordinate systems.

  3. Areas of Use Envelopes

    Blue Marble has been using geometric polygons as area-of-use envelopes in the background of Geographic Calculator, the GeoCalc SDK®, and Global Mapper for years now. They are geographically defined polygons that our software uses behind the scenes to provide users with the correct coordinate system or datum shift for the area of the world that the user is working in. For example, there are systems that are meant for the United States, but never for Europe. So using these area-of-use envelopes, our software can help select the proper coordinate conversion tool for a user’s data. It’s a pretty elegant solution if you ask me.

  4. Workspaces, Jobs and Audit Trails (oh my)

    I always reference the Wizard of Oz when discussing geodesy for two reasons: there tends to be lists of threes all the time, and, well, a lot of GIS folks view this stuff as the magic happening behind the curtain. With that said, workspaces, jobs, and audit trails are just a few of the more prevalent tools available in Geographic Calculator that help replicate the work of users reliably. Users can save workspaces with jobs in them in an organized, clear way, and “audit trails” (log of users’ actions), which is so important in recreating data translation history when issues occur. And, believe me, issues will always occur.

  5. GeoData.XML

    The heir to the throne for GeoCalc.dat, GeoData.XML is our database of geodetic parameters. It is the file that contains all of the coordinate systems, datums, datum shifts, ellipsoids, vertical datums, units, formats, envelopes, and whatever else you need for coordinate conversion. Today, that tool can simply live on a user’s desktop in their copy of Geographic Calculator, hosted internally with a network license of Geographic Calculator, or hosted in the cloud with the GeoCalc Online Registry. The library is the most widely used, quality assured, and tested coordinate tool on the planet.

  6. First Software to Utilize the EPSG Parameter DB

    Blue Marble has worked closely with the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers’ EPSG Parameter Database since it’s inception. We were the first to provide the library in commercial software; to provide tools; to update, and sync to it; and to connect to the online registry version of it. GeoCalc is Gold Certified GIGS compliant and continues to work with the OGP to provide this database to the GIS market.

  7. Deprecation

    Simply put, we embrace the approach to data manipulation called “deprecation”, instead of deletion. Even if a geodetic object was found to be mathematically wrong, our software will flag, retain and properly label that incorrect object in the database for users to access later if needed. This is an essential database management approach that allows users to maintain access to unwanted or inaccurate data to fix or use it. It is a simple yet important concept, and one we have embraced for years.

  8. Administrative Tools

    Working with some of our customers years ago, Blue Marble realized there was a need for administrative tools in Geographic Calculator that allowed GIS managers to limit geodetic data access, and to lock object editing. Simply put, not every user should be able to change the mathematical model of a datum transformation. Also, many users want to see only the datum shifts they are supposed to use, not all of the potential options available across the globe. Geographic Calculator’s administrative tools allow managers to address these challenges by customizing their set up.

  9. Education/Processes

    Data is expensive and often difficult to collect. Without the proper education, organizations can run the risk of corrupting their data; failing to back up data properly; making uneducated guesses about coordinate reference systems, or making other human errors that can result in major problems. Blue Marble provides an applied geodesy course for this very reason. We also provide multiple Global Mapper training courses each year, self-training options, and a team of application specialists for technical support.

  10. GeoCalc Toolbar in Global Mapper

    Lastly and not least there is the ability to bring advanced coordinate referencing into Global Mapper with the GeoCalc toolbar. This toolbar can be enabled if a user has both Geographic Calculator and Global Mapper installed. Users of this tool can set up specific coordinate transformation workflows in Geographic Calculator and share them in Global Mapper. Users can select datum transformations in Global Mapper, if so desired, or they can assign advanced datum transformations to run automatically. This extension also makes all of the advanced coordinate referencing parameters in Geographic Calculator — vertical datum shifts, custom coordinate definitions and more — available to the Global Mapper users.

So there you have it! Ten ways Blue Marble helps you “mind the gap between world and map”. I hope your head is not spinning counter clockwise to the world’s orbit, and that this list comes as a comfort to you. Suffice it to say, we want to help. If you have any questions, please let me know.

Where is geospatial technology headed in year 2020

It seems that major innovation affecting the GIS industry happens in waves. In my time at Blue Marble Geographics®, I have seen the advent of LiDAR in everyday GIS, the acquisition and subsequent public release of Google Earth, the growth of open source GIS, and the proliferation of smartphones, which put GPS in the hands of virtually everyone. We are currently riding two separate waves; one for enterprise GIS and one for drone or UAV-data collecting and processing.

Enterprise GIS: data sharing and accessibility

By “enterprise GIS” we mean the ability to share not only GIS data easily and fluidly across an organization but also the ability for those users to conduct analysis on that data even if GIS is outside of their area of expertise. There are large, expensive, “stack”-focused commercial solutions available for this. However, thanks to Google, AWS, and other easy-to-use free or low-cost web GIS tools, products like Global Mapper® are able to enable that process relatively seamlessly with an everyday GIS perspective.

Enterprise GIS will continue to expand as GIS and general software users and managers innovate with the available toolsets they have access to. Many users are seeing that this does not have to be an expensive, overbearing process thanks to the surge in open source GIS and cell phone technology.

A point cloud generated from 3D mesh of 192 drone-captured images.

Drone-captured imagery and data processing

For the GIS analyst or professional surveyor, the more likely place for innovation from technology will be on the drone or UAV data collecting and processing side.

The advent of low-cost drones has been a boon to the average surveyor over the past years. Many surveyors dove headfirst into the process of becoming an FAA certified pilot so they could expand their business or add value to their company by collecting high-resolution imagery with drones. The improvements in the ability of GIS software like Global Mapper and Pix4D to process this imagery into derivative products such as point clouds, orthoimages, and meshes has created a great symbiotic relationship between user and vendor. These GIS professionals are pushing vendors to innovate their software solutions far beyond 2D GIS. It was not that long ago that the concept of automatically processing raster data into vectors was a pipe dream. … Now, that is yesterday.

This area of GIS is enabling the everyday GIS professional to collect better, more compelling data in ways they could never afford to dream of just a few years ago. 2020 will see more ways to process and output various data products related to this area. Look for improvements in 3D products and in the accuracy of data sets in positioning and resolution as well.

Upcoming changes to NATRF 2022

Speaking of accuracy, surveyors and GIS professionals will be able to begin the process of converting legacy data and enabling new data collection to be compliant with NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey’s upcoming change to NATRF 2022.

This new spatial reference frame will replace NAD83 and NAVD88 changing from a focus on latitude, longitude and height in coordinate reference frames (aka coordinate systems to many users) to a focus on scale, gravity and orientation, and their time variations. This new system will reduce errors and increase the accuracy of geospatial data. GIS analysts’ and surveyors’ unique knowledge and skill with highly accurate geospatial data processing will be tested, and required, in order to make compliant datasets. Internationally we will see more government entities embrace time-dependent datum transformation models as we are able to more readily deal with local shifts in the Earth’s surface and makeup.

Accurate data translation is not going away but will silently continue to remain important in the background of everyday GIS. It will be interesting to see how successfully the experts enable the novices to engage in GIS while retaining its underlying scientific power in 2020.


Blue Marble’s academic programs: GIS software for students

heat map of Maine
A heat map of Maine shows the clustering of communication towers in the state.

Each user of Global Mapper® has their own story about how they began using the application. For me, and many other young GIS professionals, exposure to Global Mapper came at a critical time in my career — while I was learning the core GIS concepts in college.

Blue Marble Geographics® offers academic programs, which include free software licenses for institutes of higher education in the U.S. and Canada; a free curriculum with lesson plans and data; and an opportunity to apply for a scholarship.

Image Rectification
A historical map is rectified to the recent open street map of Central Park.
The Image Swipe tool in Global Mapper reveals the accuracy of the rectification process.

Blue Marble’s academic programs introduce Global Mapper and GIS concepts

My exposure came through the academic curriculum or labs that Blue Marble Geographics provided to my university. These labs cover workflows that range from an introduction to the principles of GIS to working with different types of data including LiDAR. While many GIS terms can sound intimidating to a new user, the academic labs are a great way to introduce both Global Mapper and basic GIS concepts in the classroom. As a student, these labs allowed me to get comfortable with the tools and processes in the application by following step-by-step guidelines supplemented with images. There wasn’t a workflow in the six sections that I couldn’t complete, which was certainly a confidence booster to a student taking an “Intro to GIS” course.

I still remember many of the workflows that were covered in the labs. The Georeferencing tool and Heat Map analysis particularly stood out to me. They were not only easy to understand but educational. I was able to learn and apply the concepts of raster processing and rectification in real-time. Due to the user-friendly interface of Global Mapper, I could focus on learning GIS concepts instead of spending my time struggling to navigate within the application.

Another important aspect of these academic labs that may be overlooked is the opportunity to take what was covered in each section and apply them to other situations. At the end of each academic lab, there is a final exercise covering the important concepts, and then gives students basic instructions and data to complete a similar task using different data. For example, in section 1 the final exercise has students take a shapefile of hospital points, along with Maine town polygons and asks to show the distribution of hospitals within each town in Maine. After completing the exercise, I felt confident taking that data and GIS concepts I learned to produce a final product representing that distribution.

LiDAR data before (on left) and after (on right) point reclassification using Global Mapper.

Blue Marble’s Academic Labs Are Constantly Evolving

Blue Marble’s academic labs are constantly evolving with every version of Global Mapper. Many of the updates made to the software were initiated by student feedback. The students from the University of Maine, including myself, have been compiling comments about what they like in the application and what they would like to see changed. These comments have changed throughout the years, as many students using Global Mapper before Version 18 mainly noted that the look and feel was too ‘retro’ and that an updated user interface would be beneficial to Global Mapper. I remember saying the same thing, but when Version 18 was released with a modern and inviting interface, I knew that students would appreciate the change. When I worked at Blue Marble Geographics and updated the academic labs to match Version 19, I considered many of the students’ comments and provided more explanation as to why certain steps are needed. Students also had great suggestions about future tools that should be added to Global Mapper, or changes that would benefit the application which I brought to the Blue Marble developers to consider. Blue Marble strives to have a large portion of its development be user-driven, which also includes students.

A point cloud generated from a 3D mesh of a landfill using the Pixels-to-Points tool for photogrammetric point cloud processing.

Learn more about the Global Mapper academic labs in a webinar

With the latest release of Global Mapper v21, the academic labs now include more lessons and data for advanced point cloud processing, including the Pixels-to-Points® tool for generating point clouds from drone- or UAV-captured images. There will be a live webinar on January 8, 2020, that will explain the lab about photogrammetric point cloud processing in more detail. Folks who are interested in the webinar can register here: http://bit.ly/webinar-gm-academic

Blue Marble’s academic labs are a great way for students to learn GIS concepts while exploring an easy-to-use GIS application. These labs helped me begin my career in the GIS industry and can do the same for you or your students. If you have any questions regarding the academic lab license program or the academic labs, please email orders@bluemarblegeo.com.

Register for the Webinar


Where in the World Geo-Challenge — November 2019

View the form at Google Forms >

Where in the World Geo-Challenge — October 2019

View the form at Google Forms >

Where in the World September 2019 Answers

How Well Did You Do?

Name the country – Senegal












Name the national park – Banff National Park












Name the island – St. Helena












Name the river – Ganges












Name the capital city – Bogotá


Where in the World Geo-Challenge — September 2019

View the form at Google Forms >

Where in the World August 2019 Answers

How Well Did You Do?

Name the cape – Cape York












Name the body of water – Gulf of Thailand












Name the capital city – Maputo












Name the island – Great Britain












Name the country – Peru