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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Five Reasons Why You Should Attend a Blue Marble User Conference

Patrick Cunningham at BMUC 2018Chelsea E | Projections
Blue Marble President Patrick Cunningham welcomes attendees at the Blue Marble User Conference 2018 in Portland. He talked about the use of Global Mapper by organizations such as NASA, GolfLogix, BGC Engineering, and more.

 

On September 21, one of the most prestigious geospatial events took place!

 

via GIPHY

 

You guessed it! It was the 25th Anniversary Blue Marble User Conference.

So, there might be a chance that you haven’t actually heard of this event. That’s ok! I’m writing this to convince you that, whether you are a Blue Marble software user or not, you should know about this conference.

Here are the five reasons why you should join us at the Blue Marble User Conference next year:


Mike Childs at BMUC 2018Chelsea E | Projections
Mike Childs, the Global Mapper Guru, responds to a question from a conference attendee.

1. I’m there! … and Global Mapper architects, developers, and experts are too

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Channel Account Manager Myles LaBonte (left) and Blue Marble reseller Laurent Martin (right) after the Blue Marble User Conference. Laurent, who traveled almost 5,000 miles to attend the conference, says that he’s always felt like he is a part of the Blue Marble team.

Yes, I’m there running around taking pictures and recording video (and eating the food), but what’s more valuable to you are the software developers and resellers who are there to hear your questions and requests.

This particular Blue Marble User Conference was especially valuable because the Global Mapper guru Mike Childs and our international resellers were there. After the day’s presentations and software demonstrations were over, Mike answered questions and heard software  suggestions from attendees while our product manager jotted down the ideas.

It’s a part of Blue Marble’s core values to welcome and encourage users to be part of the development process. That user-to-developer communication is usually in the form of emails, but at a Blue Marble conference, users can communicate directly with the experts and know their ideas will make it to a discussion in our development meetings.


Larry Mayer at BMUC 2018Chelsea E | Projections
Larry Mayer presents on advancements in sonar and visualization technology for exploring the sea floor at the Blue Marble User Conference 2018 in Portland, Maine.

2. You will be inspired by presentations from distinguished GIS professionals

Did you know that scientists know more about the surfaces of Mars and the moon than they do of the Earth’s ocean floor – aka 75% of the world’s surface? I didn’t.

At this Blue Marble User Conference, Larry Mayer, Director of the School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering and Director of the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping at the University of New Hampshire (phew! Long title!), delivered a presentation on the advancements in sonar and visualization technology for exploring the sea floor. He explained how the technology has helped in the discovery of 3,000-meter high mountains in the Arctic, D-day wrecks, the behavior of whales, and the history of climate through the impact of ice on the sea floor. He touted that investing in more ocean research would help us, people of the world, gain a better understanding of our planet.

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Ron Chapple, CEO of Aerial Filmworks, discusses his role in the making of the Pulitzer Prize-winning documentary “The Wall”.

Our second keynote speaker and CEO of Aerial Filmworks, Ron Chapple took attendees from exploring the deep with Larry to examining the Earth from above. Ron talked about the challenges that came with producing the Pulitzer Prize-winning documentary “The Wall”, which analyzes the impact of the proposed wall along the border between the U.S. and Mexico. His role in the project was to shoot aerial footage, over which he highlighted the location of the 2,000-mile long border using Global Mapper.

I was surprised to learn how difficult it was for the team of “The Wall” to accurately represent the curvy U.S.-Mexico border in the video.

My point is that BMUC includes amazing presentations by distinguished GIS professionals that give insight into projects that are relevant to the industry today.


David McKittrick at BMUC 2018Chelsea E | Projections
David McKittrick, Senior Applications Specialist, offers “Tips and Tricks” on how to use Global Mapper at the Blue Marble User Conference 2018 in Portland, Maine.

3. You will leave smarter and gain Global Mapper “Tips and Tricks”

In between presentations at this year’s BMUC, Senior Applications Specialist David McKittrick took a few minutes to share some “tips and tricks” on how to use Global Mapper. The tips ranged from how to use the multiview display, smooth contours, view data in Google Earth, and create a terrain cutaway.

David also presented on the recent release of Global Mapper 20 and the LiDAR Module, which offers streamlined map layout tools, the ability to create a point cloud from a 3D mesh, a new eyedropper tool for selecting features, dramatically faster loading speeds for working with vector files, and a lot more.

All of these demonstrations were followed by an opportunity for attendees to ask questions that would help them apply these techniques to their own projects.


Larry Mayer talking with BMUC 2018 attendeesChelsea E | Projections
Larry Mayer answers questions after his presentation at the Blue Marble User Conference 2018 in Portland, Maine.

4. You will eat with other GIS professionals and have a chance to win a prize

Geo-Challenge Tie Breaker
The Tie Breaker slide. Can you name all the countries that were once collectively Yugoslavia?

Throughout the day, drinks and snacks were available, and at noon we provided lunch. During lunch, we challenged our attendees to participate in a Where in the World Geo-Challenge, in which they were asked to guess the names of geographic features in a slideshow.

At this year’s BMUC, we came prepared with a tiebreaker question, since we expected that a room full of GIS professionals would easily be able to guess all of the features correctly. The winner of the challenge went home with a gift card to the Blue Marble Emporium.


Sam Knight, David McKittrick, and Mike Childs at BMUCChelsea E | Projections
Sam Knight, David McKittrick, and Mike Childs answer questions at the end of the Blue Marble User Conference in Portland, Maine.

5. You will spend only $25 to attend

So why wouldn’t you attend BMUC if it’s only $25 for a day full of GIS presentations, networking, and lunch?!

They had me at “lunch”, so … I’m not sure why you wouldn’t register.

Stay tuned for future Blue Marble User Conferences

All jokes aside, BMUC truly has a lot to offer GIS professionals, even if you aren’t a user of Blue Marble software. From the insights of our keynote speakers, to the latest software developments and one-on-one interactions with our experts, BMUC is a great opportunity to connect with Blue Marble staff, have a direct impact on the software you use, and to network with members of the GIS community.

So stay tuned for Blue Marble User Conferences near you by following us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram, or by checking out Blue Marble User Conference page.


Chelsea Ellis


Chelsea Ellis is Graphics and Content Coordinator at Blue Marble Geographics. Her responsibilities range from creating the new button graphics for the redesigned interface of Global Mapper 18 to editing promotional videos; from designing print marketing material to scheduling social media posts. Prior to joining the Blue Marble team, Ellis worked in graphic design at Maine newspapers, and as a freelance photographer.

Where in the World Geo-Challenge – October 2018

View the form at Google Forms >

US Fish & Wildlife Service: Global Mapper plays a key role in monitoring coastal habitats of mice

Gulf Island National Seashore
Imagery of the eastern end of Gulf Island National Seashore, Perdido Key, Florida, in 2010. This image is a mosaic of sand (light pixel) and vegetation (dark pixels) in the dune system in which the Perdido Key beach mice inhabit.

Monitoring a Coastal Dune Ecosystem

Cultivating a sense of moral responsibility for the environment involves more than public service announcements — it’s based on scientific knowledge.

A Peromyscus Polionotus

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works to conserve and protect natural resources, such as species on the federal endangered list, through observing changes in the environment and what those changes impact. As one of the bureaus of the Department of Interior, the agency chooses Global Mapper to assist in this environmental research.

The bureau’s Spatial Ecologist Paul A. Lang specifically monitors the habitat of three subspecies of beach mice:

  • St. Andrew beach mouse (Peromyscus polionotus peninsularis)
  • Choctawhatchee beach mouse (Peromyscus polionotus allophyrs)
  • Perdido Key beach mouse (Peromyscus polionotus trissyllepsis)

The mice inhabit the coastal dune ecosystem along the northern Gulf Coast of Mexico in the panhandle of Florida – an area vulnerable to impacts due to tropical storm events and sea level rise. Lang is interested in gaining a greater understanding of the habitat for the long-term conservation of the beach mice. Lang uses Digital Terrain Models (DTMs) for 2015 in order to investigate sea level changes.

 

A Lack of High Resoultion DTMs

The most important consideration when embarking
on any GIS project is ensuring access to appropriate and clean data.

One of the challenges that Lang has faced in his work is the lack of a high resolution DTMs of the area in which the mice live for certain years. As a solution, Lang accessed publicly available Topobathy LiDAR data from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE). This high density point cloud data was collected aerially and was obtained directly from the USACE and from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) data clearinghouse.

In order to integrate this data into his research, Lang needed software that had the tools for generating accurate DTMs from the LiDAR data without a steep learning curve.

Raw LiDAR point cloud
The raw LiDAR point cloud with pre-classified ground points used in Global Mapper to generate the final DTM.

Generating DTMs in Global Mapper

Lang chose to use Global Mapper and the accompanying LiDAR Module for his habitat mapping.

With a few simple steps, he generated the high resolution DTMs he needed for his research. First, he imported the .las files into Global Mapper and cropped them down to the area of focus. After visualizing and examining the characteristics and metadata of the point clouds in the software, Lang determined that further classification and clean-up was unnecessary. Second, he examined the inherent statistics of the data to get a better sense of the resolution he could create in the resulting DTMs. Third, he used the Create Elevation Grid tool to generate several DTMs that tested different values of No Data distance in order to fill gaps in the point clouds. After these tests, Lang arrived at high resolution DTMs based on the LiDAR data he obtained from the USACE.

From there, Lang was able to use the Simulate Water Level Rise functionality in Global Mapper to visualize potential water inundation on the mice habitat.

Shell Island and St. Andrew State Park
Shell Island and St. Andrew State Park with the Choctawhatchee beach mice critical habitat boundaries overlaid.

The Benefits of Global Mapper

According to Lang, he chose Global Mapper for his analysis because he didn’t find other software as “straight-forward” for processing LiDAR data. Global Mapper’s easy-to-use platform allowed Lang to quickly and accurately generate the high resolution DTM he needed without taking time away from his research.

Global Mapper allows for easy visualization, editing, and filtering of LiDAR and other point cloud datasets. The addition of the LiDAR Module, expands this functionality with auto-classification tools, automatic and custom feature extraction, point filtering options, and numerous other point cloud editing capabilities.

1-meter DTM
The 1-meter DTM generated using the pre-classified ground points contained in the LiDAR data from USACE.

About Global Mapper

Global Mapper is an affordable and easy-to-use GIS application that offers access to an unparalleled variety of spatial datasets and provides just the right level of functionality to satisfy both experienced GIS professionals and beginning users. Equally well suited as a standalone spatial data management tool and as an integral component of an enterprise-wide GIS, Global Mapper is a must-have for anyone who deals with maps or spatial data. The supplementary LiDAR Module provides a powerful set of tools for managing point cloud datasets, including automatic point classification and feature extraction.

About Blue Marble Geographics

Since the early 1990s, Blue Marble Geographics has been a pioneer in the development of powerful and innovative geospatial software. Widely regarded for its expertise in coordinate conversion and file format support, Blue Marble’s products include Geographic Calculator, the paradigm for highly accurate spatial data conversion and advanced projection management; Global Mapper, a fully-functional and affordable GIS application; and the Global Mapper LiDAR Module, a suite of powerful point cloud processing tools.

The Value of Global Mapper: No Extensions Required

The 3D Viewer in Global Mapper displays a digital terrain model with a custom shader applied to the surface. Global Mapper is a powerful GIS application right out of the box, with no extensions required.

Say that you are about to invest in your first GIS software license.
You need software that can do it all; from basic thematic mapping to terrain analysis, and GPS tracking to 2D/3D digitizing and visualization. But when you take a look at big-name products, you find that single-user licenses cost about $1,500. You also discover that you’ll have to purchase extensions to get all the functionality you need. You’ll probably be spending thousands of dollars. Whether you have the money or not, you might be asking yourself if there’s an alternative software that provides more value.

There is.

In this blog entry, we highlight some of the out-of-the-box functionality of Global Mapper— a robust, easy-to-use, and genuinely affordable alternative. Priced at about $500, Global Mapper doesn’t need expensive extensions to deliver what you’re looking for.

Here are just a few of the powerful functions and tools Global Mapper has to offer with no extensions required.


Creating an elevation grid from LiDAR data in Global Mapper
Creating an elevation grid from LiDAR data in Global Mapper.

Terrain Creation – Generate Elevation Grids from 3D Vector Data

Even though Global Mapper’s online service provides access to data resources, such as the USGS National Elevation Dataset and the ASTER Global Digital Elevation Model, sometimes the appropriate digital terrain data isn’t readily available. In such instances, generating a DTM from 3D vector data can be a solid alternative. With a few clicks, Global Mapper can generate an elevation grid from XYZ files or LiDAR data, allowing for the immediate examination and visualization of the surface model in the 3D Viewer.

Global Mapper also provides a number of terrain analysis tools, such as the ability to display a vertical profile along a path, creating a view shed or watershed analysis, combining terrain layers, and volume calculation.


The cut and fill volumes calculated for a road project in Global Mapper.

Volume Calculation – Measure and Visualize Cut and Fill Values

Modifying terrain is a necessary preliminary step in many construction projects. It requires determining how much of a surface needs to be cut and filled, which helps estimate the cost of materials and labor before beginning a project.

Global Mapper offers the ability to quickly calculate volumes of piles, depressions, and between two surfaces. Along with providing cut and fill measurements, the software uses these calculations and other specified parameters to generate 3D visualizations. For example, Global Mapper can simulate the leveling of terrain to make way for something like a new road. This calculation and 3D visualization is a powerful way to illustrate the preliminary plans of an engineering project.


Contours generated in Global Mapper, showing elevation with vector lines.

Contour Generation – Create Vector Lines from an Elevation Grid

Contours are the fundamental feature of a topographic map. Generating contours is also a simple task that requires only an elevation grid and a few clicks of the mouse. Global Mapper has the ability to analyze terrain and generate vector layers of contour lines that can be edited for a map, or exported to a CAD system or other software.


NDVI grid created in the Raster Calculator in Global Mapper.

Raster Calculation – Pull Information from Color Values

Satellite images can offer a lot of visual information, from patterns in terrain to geological changes over time. With the right tools, imagery can offer even more data that is not immediately apparent. RGB (red, green, blue), as well as multispectral values of pixels, can be plugged into formulae that calculate characteristics such as the “greenness” of vegetation, snow cover, or how much land was burned in a forest fire.

Global Mapper has a raster calculator that comes with predefined formulae for producing and highlighting this information. The health of vegetation on a farm, for example, could be calculated and visualized by using the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). If the available predefined equations in the raster calculator aren’t tailored to a user’s needs, the calculator also allows for the use of custom formulae.


Global Mapper supports more than 300 file formats.

Format Support – Support for 300+ Formats

File support might not sound like the most exciting feature, but it’s absolutely an invaluable one when a mapping project deals with older or uncommon files.

Global Mapper’s support for more than 300 formats provides users the ability to open and convert virtually any geospatial file. And, it’s list of formats is constantly growing, adding more value to Global Mapper as the software continues to mature.

Global Mapper – An Easy and Affordable Choice

Global Mapper not only disproves the idea that GIS has to be a complex discipline, but also that it has to be an expensive one. Blue Marble Geographics’ mission for Global Mapper is to provide GIS novices and professionals alike with the ability to create high-quality maps at a genuinely affordable price.

It’s powerful right out of the box, with no extensions required.

See the value for yourself by downloading a free trial today.


Chelsea Ellis


Chelsea Ellis is a graphic designer and social media manager at Blue Marble Geographics. Her responsibilities range from creating the new button graphics for the redesigned interface of Global Mapper 18 to editing promotional videos; from designing print marketing material to scheduling social media posts. Prior to joining the Blue Marble team, Ellis worked in page layout and graphic design at Maine newspapers, and as a freelance designer and photographer.

5 Features of Geographic Calculator That Didn’t Exist 25 Years Ago

The year 2018 marks a significant milestone in the Blue Marble Story. A quarter of a century ago, a group of enterprising geospatial technologists, recognizing the importance of geodetic accuracy and precision in a wide variety of fields, initiated a project that would result in the first version of Geographic Calculator. Little did they anticipate that 25 years later – a veritable eternity in the world of technology — the application would still be going strong and would have established itself as the go-to coordinate management tool for countless companies throughout the world.

The basic premise behind Geographic Calculator is to ensure the maximum possible degree of accuracy in any type of spatially referenced data when it is assigned to a different frame of reference. In short, it is a geodetic toolkit. Built on the foundation of the world’s most extensive and up-to-date database of coordinate system and transformation parameters, the Calculator, as it is often idiomatically referred, has been adopted by many major companies and government departments. It is deployed both as a standalone application and increasingly as an embedded component in third party applications through its SDK variant, GeoCalc.

Needless to say, an application that has been in existence for 25 years has undergone significant changes since its early versions. To help put this in perspective, we asked Sam Knight, Director of Product Management and universally recognized Calculator guru, to take a trip down memory lane and come up with the five most significant differences between the first release of the Calculator and today’s version.

Vector and Raster Data Conversions

Blue Marble Geographics
Raster processing in Geographic Calculator 2017

The first several releases of Geographic Calculator dealt exclusively with numeric data, lists of coordinate values if you will. If you needed to apply a conversion to raster or vector files, you would have to wait few years for that to be available. When it was finally introduced, the raster processing component was actually a completely separate application called Geographic Transformer. Eventually it was integrated into a complete suite of tools under the title, Blue Marble Desktop. The name of this suite of tools would eventually come full circle and once again be branded Geographic Calculator.

Coordinate Transformations (Datum Shifts)

Blue Marble Geographics
The late-binding transformation dialog box in Geographic Calculator 2017

The complicated, multi-parameter computation that is needed to assign data to a differed horizontal datum, usually referred to as a datum shift, was a much more basic process in the first release. Referred to as early-binding, the transformation parameters were predefined within the Datasource.  When you selected a datum, it came with transformation parameters to WGS 84.  With the introduction of late-binding in 2006, it became possible to select a single or multi-step transformation method with any datum as the intermediary, not just WGS 84. This opened the possibility of more accurately transforming between regional or specialized systems.

Batch Processing

Blue Marble Geographics
Batch processing in Geographic Calculator 2017

After the initial release of the Calculator, it quickly became apparent that users were interested in processing multiple files simultaneously using the same conversion settings. Unfortunately, batch processing, such as is seen in today’s release, was not available. Files had to be managed individually. Today’s batch processing tool is easy to set up and saves much time and effort. Simply define the specific parameters for a certain type of job and use this job as the basis of the batch process.

Ability to Save Work on Projects

Blue Marble Geographics
Calculator project in Geographic Calculator 2017

In any application, efficient file and project management is essential, but unfortunately, the development of the early versions of the Geographic Calculator focused more on the fundamental geodetic processing capabilities, while relegating workflow efficiency to a lower priority. The current method for saving projects, which allows users to establish templates containing commonly used conversion and transformation jobs, was finally introduced in 2006.

EPSG Database

Blue Marble Geographics
EPSG datasource in Geographic Calculator 2017

At the heart of the Calculator is the extensive Datasource, a vast library of coordinate system and datum parameters. In the early releases, this was largely derived from a publication that was managed by the U.S. Defense Mapping Agency (DMA), which would later become the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). This offered no more than a few hundred coordinate systems. The emergence of the European Petroleum Survey Group (EPSG, now known as IOGP) Geodetic Parameter Registry was the basis for a significant expansion of the Datasource which now provides users with over 5,000 coordinate system definitions, over 2,000 datum transformations, and much more.

Ensuring Geodetic Accuracy for 25 Years

Having been in development for 25 years, it is little wonder that Geographic Calculator has established itself as the preeminent geodetic software. While much has changed since the first release, its fundamental function is the same: to ensure geodetic accuracy and precision.

Global Mapper for Wind Energy Development

3D models of wind turbines in the 3D Viewer in Global Mapper.

The development of a wind energy  project, big or small, is a complex process that considers several factors. From measuring the actual wind resources in an area to researching potential zoning and ordinance conflicts, it’s not a project that’s easily simplified. But in the beginning stages of planning, whether you’re considering bringing wind energy to your own property or to a larger community, creating a rough visualization of a wind project can be relatively easy.

In this blog entry, we explain the online resources and tools available through Global Mapper that can help estimate resources and terrain modifications, and create a visualization of the preliminary plans of a wind project. We’ll do this by simulating a simplified planning process for a wind farm to arrive at a 3D visualization.

Importing & Analyzing Online Data in Global Mapper

In the planning of an actual wind project, we would want to know the annual average wind energy potential of our property, any legal limitations, and so much more information before even beginning plans for development. But for this simple simulation, our purpose is to introduce how relevant data can be accessed, analyzed, and visualized in Global Mapper.

One online source that we are using is the National Renewable Energy Lab, which is a federally owned and contractor-operated facility that provides data and maps for energy-focused purposes. The data set we are downloading shows the wind energy potential of areas across the state of Maine on a relative scale ranging from values of 0 to 7, with 7 representing the greatest potential.

Running a Simple Query to Target Specific Attribute Values

If we determine the required value for our wind farm plans, we can build a query that targets those specific areas that match our requirement. For instance, if we wanted to find areas that are greater than or equal to the value of 6, we can run a simple query to find those areas within this data set. We can also use the Info tool to explore the wind energy potential of properties within an area.

NREL data
The freely available raw data downloaded directly from the NREL website. By either running a simple query or using the Infor tool, polygons can be selected in this data to explore their attributes.

Applying Color to Visualize Patterns in Data

Another way we can visualize the distribution and range of values in this data set is by applying a color scheme. As we can see, this visualization makes it easy to target those areas of maximum wind potential. If we wanted, we can add a legend to our map to further illustrate what values the colors actually represent. But in this instance, we are interested in visualizing which areas have the highest potential.

Colorized data
NREL data with colors applied, allowing for a more immediate understanding of the range of values in the data set.

We can bring in some additional data to add more context, such as county outlines and town boundaries within the state. If we were looking to develop wind energy in a particular geographic location, for instance in a particular town, we have the background data that shows those boundaries. We can also pull in road data to see the road access to areas being considered for development.

For our simulation, we are choosing an area based on this very quick visualization of the NREL data we imported into Global Mapper.

Accessing Free Terrain and Land Cover Data Through Global Mapper’s Online Data Service

With our area of interest chose, we can find more relevant data through Global Mapper’s free online data service. For our simulation, we are choosing to use a specific area of a 10-meter National Elevation Data (NED) data set that we streamed into the application and exported to a local Global Mapper grid file.

Online data in Global Mapper
Terrain and land cover data accessed through Global mapper’s online data services.

We streamed the data through the online data service, which has a wide range of data options categorized geographically as well as by data type and theme. In this instance, we are interested in terrain data to give us visual context and also a functional base for some of the modification processes we will run later.

We are also interested in land cover data, which will help us visualize the roughness of the terrain. We can find a raster representation of our area under the land cover section in the online data options.

Generating a Roughness Grid from Land Cover Data

Areas with less friction, or surface roughness, are better suited for wind energy production. From our land cover data, we can generate a grid to visualize areas where roughness could reduce energy potential.

To create this roughness grid, we can open locally saved land cover data that we had previously exported from the online data service. Either by right clicking the land cover layer or from our analysis menu, Global Mapper gives us the option to generate a roughness grid and to choose a shader with which to render the grid. For this visualization, we prepared a custom shader beforehand that illustrates the range of roughness through the gradients of a single color – lighter tints representing less roughness, darker shades representing greater roughness.

Roughness grid in Global Mapper
A roughness grid showing the distribution of open and forested areas through the gradients of a single color.

This visualization allows us to see open areas such as fields or bodies of water that may provide ideal conditions for a wind farm.

Finding Ridge Lines & Isolating a Single Ridge

Another ideal location for a wind farm is on a ridge. We can find a ridge line or high point within the focus area by using the Find Ridge Lines tool, which is a function that works similarly to a watershed analysis, but in reverse. Instead of looking for areas where drainage would accumulate, the tool finds the highest points on our terrain.

Ridge lines in Global Mapper
Ridge lines generated using the Find Ridge Lines function in Global Mapper.

After choosing specific parameters, such as the width threshold of the lines, we can see a variety of ridge lines appear in the area visible on our screen. These lines are actually segmented, so in order to isolate a ridge we want, we can combine the segments of that ridge into a single line by selecting the desired segments and using the Combine Features tool.

Plotting Points Along a Ridge to Represent Wind Turbines

With our new ridge line selected, we can generate point features to represent our wind turbines along the ridge by using the Create New Points from Selected Lines tool. We can specify that we want ten vertices to represent ten wind turbines evenly spaced along the ridge, and discard vertices that may have already been part of our original ridge line. Once these parameters are set up, we can see that the ten vertices have been generated that represent the wind turbines in our simulation.

We can then edit these inherently generic point features and choose a Feature. For this simulation, we prepared a custom feature type called Wind Turbine which has a 3D visual representation of a wind turbine assigned to it. This 3D model is actually pre-configured in Global Mapper. We can also edit the attributes of these, but for this simulation, we are only assigning our customized feature type.

Points on a ridge line in Global Mapper
Evenly spaced points representing the locations of wind turbines on a ridge line.

Once these points have been edited, we can view them in the 3D Viewer and see the 30-meter height attribute of the 3D models we prepared in advance, and the even spacing between each model along our ridgeline.

Creating Buffers Around Wind Turbine Locations

After we have placed our wind turbines, we can then generate a buffer around each point in preparation for creating flattened areas, or site pads, in the terrain. With our points selected, we can click the Buffer tool in our toolbar. In this simulation, we are choosing to have buffer areas with a 10-meter radius around each of our wind turbines. Once the buffer areas are defined and generated, we see the concentric ring that represents the physical area that will be flattened around each point in the terrain-modification process.

Buffers around points in Global Mapper
Circles around each point represent a 10-meter buffer that was created using the Buffer tool.

Generating an Elevation Grid from LiDAR Data

In order to generate a more accurate terrain model for our simulation, we can import pre-cropped LiDAR data that was originally streamed from the U.S. Geological Survey through Global Mapper’s online data service. This higher quality elevation data allows us to create more precise modifications and visualization than the lower-resolution terrain data we had originally imported.

Raw LiDAR data in Global Mapper
Raw LiDAR data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

To create an elevation grid from this LiDAR point cloud, we can simply click the Elevation Grid button with our LiDAR data layer selected. In this simulation, we are choosing to grid only ground points. Once the new grid has been generated, we can open the Elevation Options to feather, or blend, the edges of our higher quality grid into the lower-resolution terrain data.

Calculating Cut and Fill Values & Creating Pad Sites

With our buffers selected, we can use the Flatten Site Plan tool to flatten those buffer areas of the LiDAR-based elevation grid. The tool calculates the volume of material that must be shifted in order to achieve a flattened site – giving a cut volume and a fill volume. Not only does Global Mapper give these helpful calculations, it also modifies the elevation grid so we can visualize what the cut and fill alterations would look like.

Cut and fill calculation in Global Mapper
The results of a cut and fill calculation in the Path Profile window. The original profile of the terrain is shown in red and the flattened terrain is represented by a yellow line and green shading. This shows the cut and fill that would be required for this pad site.

Viewing the Visual Impact of a Project with the View Shed Tool

With one of our wind turbine points selected, we can click the View Shed tool to see the extent at which our wind turbine is visible in the distance. We can base our analysis on the height of our selected wind turbine and on the height of an average person — 2 meters or so. Global Mapper calculates the areas at which our wind turbine will be visible to an average person, and displays these areas in red. This analysis allows us to see the visual impact of our wind farm in the area of development.

View Shed tool in Global Mapper
The areas displayed in red are locations where the selected wind turbine is visible.

Creating a Fly-through of a Wind Energy Project

After setting up our wind turbines and modifying our terrain surface, we can create a 3D fly-through to further visualize the project. We can do this by drawing a line for our flight path using the Digitizer tool. With this line selected, we can set up the specifications of our fly through by using the Create Fly-through tool.

Once we’ve established the height, bank angle, and duration of our flight, we can preview it in the 3D Viewer. If we’re happy with this fly-through, we can also save it from the 3D Viewer. If we aren’t happy with it, we can go back and edit the flight or segments of the flight line again.

Creating a fly-through is a great way to present a project, particularly one like a wind energy project that may need to be proposed to government officials or multiple stakeholders.

Global Mapper: A Robust Tool for Any Development Project

While this simulation involves some behind-the-scenes preparation, such as the creation of a custom point feature type and the cropping of LiDAR data, it’s still a prime example of how simple data visualization and terrain modification can be in Global Mapper. It can be easy, not only in the context of a potential wind energy project, but for any development plan that requires quick access to terrain data and robust digitizing tools.

Webcast: Global Mapper Academic Programs

Since the introduction of the free Global Mapper academic licensing program in early 2017, countless U.S. and Canadian colleges and universities have adopted Global Mapper as their go-to GIS software for classroom and lab instruction. In this brief presentation, we explore the various aspects of the Global Mapper Academic Program including the updated free curriculum materials and student scholarship program.

Blue Marble Finally Introduces the Long-Awaited Coffee Bar

Blue Marble Geographics (bluemarblegeo.com) is pleased to announce the immediate availability of an interim update to Global Mapper. This release introduces a major new component to the software’s interface, which has been designed to ensure that the user’s attention is focused on the task at hand. With a simple click of a button, users can now order a freshly brewed cup of coffee from within Global Mapper’s toolbar.

Blue Marble’s GIS software is used by hundreds of thousands of satisfied customers throughout the world who need affordable, user-friendly, yet powerful GIS solutions. Users come from a wide range of industries including software, oil and gas, mining, civil engineering, surveying, and technology companies, as well as government departments and academic institutions.

Global Mapper's Coffee Bar
Blue Marble finally introduces the long-awaited Coffee Bar, a coffee-making toolbar, into their software.

The addition of the so-called “Coffee Bar” is yet another example of the rapid, user-focused development philosophy that has defined Global Mapper over its 25-year history. Virtually every new feature or function that has been introduced can be attributed to direct input from a customer or user. In the case of the Coffee Bar, the inspiration came from Laurent Martin, a Blue Marble partner and reseller based in Brazil, a country noted for is coffee production. In a recent blog post, Martin noted that, “Global Mapper will do everything you need, except serving you a cup of coffee”.

Global Mapper developers realized that this was a major deficiency that needed to be addressed and quickly set about engineering a solution. The culmination of their work is a new six-button toolbar that offers a range of coffee options including regular, cappuccino, and espresso. After clicking the appropriate button, a status bar will appear indicating the progress of the brewing process and within minutes, a fresh cup of coffee will be delivered right to your desk or workstation. To see the Coffee Bar in action, click here.

The underlying technology that has been developed for the Coffee Bar can easily be adapted for other beverages and a Tea Bar is currently in the early stages of development. A Bar Bar is also being planned, which will serve alcoholic drinks, subject to local licensing laws. Plans are in place to integrate this component into the Global Mapper SDK, which will allow software engineers to add their own beverage options.

“Because Global Mapper is able to efficiently perform complex data processing tasks with minimal user input, the mind of the typical Global Mapper user has a tendency to wonder.” stated Blue Marble’s President, Patrick Cunningham. “The new Global Mapper Coffee Bar ensures that a caffeine-charged pick-me-up is just a click away to re-charge and re-focus our users.”

While the Coffee Bar is currently available in the desktop release of the software, a scaled-down version has been planned for Global Mapper Mobile for both iOS and Android devices. This will serve up your favorite hot beverages in a convenient to-go cup. Warning, beverages may be hot, serious injury or pain could result.