Rendering Vector Data in Global Mapper

Data visualization is one of the fundamental functions of a GIS. The display characteristics of features on the map can convey a wealth of relevant information about the data, its relationship with other geographic information, and its inherent spatial patterns. In the latest Global Mapper webcast, we explore the various options that are available for visualizing or customizing the display of vector data.

The specific topics covered in this presentation include:

  • Manually adjusting the display of a layer or of a select group of features (06:57)
  • Using Feature Types to automatically assign colors to frequently mapped objects (19:58)
  • Assigning random colors to features in a layer (29:52)
  • Applying colors to reflect instances of a recurring attribute (31:47)
  • Applying colors to reflect numeric values (42:41)
  • Visualizing data using a Density Map (54:21)
  • Visualizing numeric attribute data in a graph (59:56)
  • A quick look at labeling (1:04:26)

If you have questions about any of the workflows or topics covered in this presentation, email: geohelp@bluemarblegeo.com.

For licensing or sales questions, email orders@bluemarblegeo.com.

To download an evaluation copy of Global Mapper, visit: www.bluemarblegeo.com/products/global-mapper.php

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.

Reseller Spotlight: Our French Distributor Géom@tique

A screenshot of a flythrough video that follows the potential path of a ski lift, showing the visible areas of a famous peak in the Maurienne Valley (Aiguilles d’Arves), France.

The translation of Global Mapper into French in 2016 significantly expanded the potential market for the software, not only in the country of France itself, but also throughout the French-speaking world. This monumental task was undertaken by Blue Marble partner and reseller, Géom@tique. In the latest Reseller Spotlight, we hear from company founder, Alain Olivier about how this partnership has helped his company grow over its 20-year history.

Tell us a little bit about Géom@tique?

Géom@tique has been a GIS software reseller just over two decades. Our twentieth anniversary was on April 7th, 2018! The company is based in one of the most beautiful mountain regions of France: Savoy. We provide a combination of geomatics expertise and a high level of service, which has proven itself to many French-speaking customers around the world, particularly in technical support and training. Our business involves the distribution of software as well as related consulting, support, and training services in the use of both vector data and raster data (satellite, aerial, LiDAR, etc.). Géom@tique is the exclusive distributor of Global Mapper in France and for the French language version throughout the world.

How many people currently work for the company?

Three people currently work at Géom@tique in well-defined roles: sales, technical support and training, communication. The company relies on partnerships whenever necessary and plans to continue recruiting in the near future.

How did Géom@tique get started?

Alain Olivier

As a young agricultural engineer who had just become a Doctor of Geography (PhD), for me, it was an easy transition from university life to the business of distributing innovative tools for geomatics and cartography. Spotted by the software company, Avenza, via a professional forum (a relatively new online gathering place for like-minded individuals at end of the 1990s!), a simple mail exchange accompanied by a brochure from the SVM MAC magazine (number 91, “MAPublisher: entre cartographe et dessinateur”) was enough for the MAPublisher adventure in France to begin. This was a risky venture as there were only a handful of customers at the time! The company timeline illustrates the expansion of the company’s business with new products being added and, most importantly, the establishment of close links with their creators in order to always meet the needs of customers as efficiently as possible.

The history of Géom@tique.

Tell us a little about your background in GIS?

The company benefits so from my experience and expertise as a doctor in geography who is also passionate about computer science. My PhD thesis focused on the implementation of an innovative raster mapping methodology for the study of agricultural spaces. My taste for cartographic tools goes back a very long time with an extremely diversified use of geomatic tools at the beginning, and then a specialization on the tools that Géom@tique would eventually resell, notably Global Mapper! The company has also recruited a PhD student geographer who has good experience with GIS tools, including Global Mapper and MAPublisher.

What are your target markets?

Our target markets are extremely varied and include cartographic publishing, spatial planning, defense, energy, environment, archaeology, transport, risk prevention, meteorology, communication, and spatial analysis.

What geographic area do you cover?

Historically the company has sold products to organizations of very diverse geographical origins that extend from Madagascar to Tromsø, but generally in metropolitan France or in French-speaking countries.

Distribution of Géom@tique customers in France and around the world.

How long has Géom@tique been reselling Global Mapper?

Géom@tique was officially appointed as a reseller (Certified Reseller) in the early 2000s with the distribution of Geographic Calculator and Global Mapper. We are very proud to have translated Global Mapper into French in 2016 (version 17) following a request from the French Ministère des Armées. In the same year, one of our employees became a certified trainer for Global Mapper. As an ongoing project, we are also working on the major task of translating all of the Global Mapper documentation.

Why were you originally interested in reselling Blue Marble products?

 We were interested in reselling Blue Marble products for the originality and the quality of its products as well as for the very good reputation of the company.

What is your favorite feature of Global Mapper?

 Choosing just one tool is difficult. Here are my three favorites:

  • The 3D Viewer allows visualizing terrain data in an extremely simple and powerful way. We have seen its usefulness in many situations especially when they work with the LiDAR Module.
  • About the LiDAR Module, the new Pixels-to-Points tool is a “little gem” since it allows integrating real photogrammetry treatments in Global Mapper. We know that many of our customers use UAV images and this tool is perfect for them.
  • Finally, the Viewshed tool is very important to many French users. It is used in a wide variety of fields (energy, defense, research, etc.).

The video below was produced by one of our employees as part of a Master’s research project. It follows the potential path of a ski lift and also shows the visibility areas of a famous peak in the Maurienne Valley (Aiguilles d’Arves). In a research context, this video clearly demonstrated how a particular visualization method could help decision makers communicate with their citizens.

 

What has been your most interesting or challenging sales or support experience?

Our most challenging sale was with the Ministère des Armées and especially with the implementation of a multi-year contract for Global Mapper. It was a big challenge that took a long time to negotiate but resulted in a very favorable outcome for both parties. As a result of this contract, Global Mapper gained its spurs in the military field and with the continued development of the LiDAR Module and the SDK, we are confident it will have relevance for years to come.

Other than reselling Blue Marble software, what other services do you provide?

We are a reseller of other software complementary to Global Mapper like MAPublisher for example – and we provide training (online or on-site), technical support, and some research or consultation services.

How has your partnership with Blue Marble benefited your business?

Our partnership with Blue Marble Geographics has allowed us to increase our level of professionalism and to significantly expand the scope of our business. Geom@tique brings its in-depth knowledge of the French and Francophone market, including cultural considerations. This mutually beneficial relationship will, of course, be continued and strengthened, in particular by reciprocal visits.

How do you see your business growing with Global Mapper? New markets?

We believe that there is a huge opportunity to spread the word about Global Mapper to universities and to introduce students to an alternative GIS software. The more they can be trained at the university on Global Mapper, the more it is great for the promotion of the software in many markets.

Any final words?

The diversity of software tools and the wide variety of users that the company works with every day is a real strength that helps the company to provide better services. In October 2017, Geom@tique embarked on a research project under an Industrial Research Training Agreement which will allow it to deepen its knowledge on the use of the tools, with the goal to better meet the current and future needs of the customers.

Géom@tique was present at the beginning of July at the GeoDataDays 2018, the first digital geography show in Le Havre, France.

Navigating the Datasource in Geographic Calculator

The Datasource in Geographic Calculator contains information on all coordinate systems, datums, transformations, and associated components. Understanding the structure of the Datasource and how to access it are key to fully utilizing Geographic Calculator’s capabilities. This video will walk through the structure of the Datasource, covering how and where objects are stored and will address navigation when choosing coordinate systems and transformations within a job (selection mode), after first getting into the details of the Datasource’s structure in edit mode.

The examples covered in this video can be applied to any object in the Datasource. If you have questions about any of the workflows or topics covered in this presentation, email geohelp@bluemarblegeo.com.

For licensing or sales questions, email orders@bluemarblegeo.com.

To download an evaluation copy of Geographic Calculator, visit: www.bluemarblegeo.com/products/geographic-calculator.php

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.

Reseller Spotlight: South Africa-Based SMC Synergy

SMC Synergy
Dirk Pretorius (second from left), Blaise Kumba (third from left), and Renier Balt (center at a recent customized Global Mapper training session.

Thus far, our Reseller Spotlight series has taken us from Northern Europe to South America. This month, we shift our focus to the African Continent as we hear from Renier Balt from South Africa-based SMC Synergy. Widely regarded as a challenging market to penetrate, Africa has seen a significant expansion in the use of Global Mapper over recent years thanks in no short measure to the efforts and endeavor of Renier and his partner, Dirk Pretorius.  We convinced Renier to take a short break from his Global Mapper outreach efforts to share some insights into his experience working with Blue Marble.

Tell us a little bit about your company, SMC Synergy?

SMC Synergy based in South Africa, was accepted as a Reseller of Blue Marble Geographics in May 2013 and is the preferred distributor of Global Mapper GIS software in Africa. Our experience in the fields of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing applications in all sectors (such as Agriculture, Environment and Mining) spans more than 30 years.

SMC provides Global Mapper training, accredited by Blue Marble and the South African Geomatics Council (SAGC), and provides maintenance and support for specific requests and requirements.

Global Mapper is the preferred GIS software for SMC as well as many other organisations. The reasons are ease of use, affordability, excellent mapping tools, links to online data, many import and export formats, the availability of the LiDAR module, the release of Global Mapper Mobile and the excellent support from the Blue Marble staff.

Being a reseller of Global Mapper software enables SMC to establish strong relationships with clients, both locally and globally, and integrate the products, services and expertise of this excellent GIS software into our whole product and service offering.

How long has the company been in business?

SMC has been in business since 2002 starting with GIS consulting and focusing on mineral exploration. South Africa is a mineral rich environment, which provides many opportunities in this field.

What are your target markets?

We target many markets including:

  •         Agricultural Development (Land capability assessments and farm land use planning projects in South Africa and Nigeria)
  •         Environmental monitoring and evaluation including various environmental monitoring projects for the Department of Environmental Affairs in South Africa
  •         Mining and exploration including diamond exploration
  •         Civil engineering projects
  •         Infrastructure development
  •         Academia including various projects with the North West University (NWU) and University of the Free State in South Africa
  •         And many more…

What geographic area do you cover?

See map below – Expanding our footprint into Africa has been an important objective, and it grows continuously. Providing complete product support and service to clients is key. Clients need training and we have found the webinars and online tools available from Blue Marble are excellent for this purpose. Usually our African clients also need public or customised training to complement this. Training therefore is a key component of our marketing strategy to expand the Global Mapper footprint in Africa.

SMC Synergy
This map of Africa shows SMC Synergy’s growing customer base.

How long have you been reselling Global Mapper?

SMC was officially appointed as reseller in 2013. Prior to that we were long-time users of Global Mapper and have been using and recommending the software since version 8.

Why were you originally interested in reselling Global Mapper?

The combination of functionality and price – the catch phrase then was “Your GIS Swiss Army Knife”, and it lived up to the promise. Being able to create print quality maps within a day of first contact with Global Mapper software speaks volumes of the intuitive and user friendly interface.

There are many other key features: 3D visualisation has been impressive and unique and the continued improvement and updating of this functionality ensures this remains a key product differentiator.

What is your favorite feature of Global Mapper?

It is impossible to choose, but we can highlight the 3D functionalities and analyses available, and most are nowadays available with one click icons.

The ability to easily access Web Map Services and datasets from many sources globally was a reason why we found Global Mapper an attractive option – and the options keep growing steadily for free or affordable data.

Then the LiDAR Module grew in stature and functionality; the recently added Pixel to Point option is, in our view, a game changer.

With the recently improved attribute search functionalities none of the alternative GIS platforms can compete at this price point.

Add to this Global Mapper Mobile available on both IOS and Android devices, and the Global Mapper platform provides a full suite of tools that fits the pocket of our target market segment.

By using the software in practice in our many projects, we have made many recommendations to the developers of Global Mapper and have been impressed with the responsiveness. Many of our proposals for improvement are now available in the software. Kudos to Blue Marble and the developers.

SMC Synergy
A Global Mapper training session lead by the team at SMC Synergy.

Other than reselling Blue Marble software, what other services do you provide? Training etc?

Our focus, in addition to Reselling Global Mapper, is GIS consulting. The Global Mapper software remains our primary communication and implementation tool.

Training is key for providing a complete product and service for our clients. We are able to support clients in French speaking countries, which helps to expand our footprint for the whole of Africa. Countries in West and North Africa are responding well to our ability to service them in their language of choice.

Our expertise extends to data and we know where Satellite imagery can be sourced, while considering its timeliness, availability and cost implications. We can therefore support clients to make decisions how and where to get affordable and fresh data for their applications.

With the advent and growth of available Drone imagery and LiDAR data, we are able to advise clients about these new technologies, both for visionary and creative applications as well as supporting mainstream clients.

How has your partnership with Blue Marble benefited your business?

Global Mapper is an important focal point of most of our business activities:

  •         It complements most of our projects.
  •         It links with our spatial database applications (Intermon – the NRM Intervention and Monitoring System) which makes use of cloud based database applications to support the Natural Resource Monitoring Program of the Department of Environmental Affairs. (http://www.intermon.co.za/ for more information).
  •         Capacity building and training of interns is a crucial activity. Exposing the next generation of GIS experts to Global Mapper is the most affordable GIS training option available. We also support post-graduate initiatives at the Northwest University and other academic institutions.

How do you see your business growing with Global Mapper? New markets?

Global Mapper, through our reselling efforts, must become the GIS software of choice in all African countries. We want to increase sales and support to all African countries with a 100% footprint on the continent. We aim to present training courses on Global Mapper in the major cities on the continent and to promote the visibility of this GIS software to all of Africa.

SMC Synergy
The team from SMC Synergy and Agence Congolaise des Grandes Travailles (ACGT) collecting data at a construction site for the Pixel to Point Tool in Global Mapper.

 

Using the View Shed Tool in Global Mapper

In this 3-minute video, we follow the steps for conducting a view shed analysis in Global Mapper that allows us to see the visual impact of a project like a wind or solar farm. The tool highlights the clear line of sight of a project by using elevation data, the project’s location, height, and radius.

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.

Global Mapper from a College Student’s Perspective

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. Some hear about the program through word-of-mouth, others may get a job where Global Mapper is used, and some may have seen Blue Marble Geographics at local trade shows. For me, and many other young GIS professionals, exposure to Global Mapper came at a critical time in our careers — while we were learning the core GIS concepts in college.

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.

Workflows Build Student’s Confidence in GIS Concepts

My exposure came through the academic labs that Blue Marble Geographics provided to my university. They are free to Universities in the United States and Canada. 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 are particular standouts for 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 which takes 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 using the GIS concepts I learned throughout the first exercise and 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

Now, as an employee of Blue Marble Geographics I have been working on updating these academic labs for version 19, and incorporating the new features and enhancements that are present in this version. The most significant updates involve all of the querying workflows to reflect the new multivariate attribute querying tool. As a student, I found this process difficult, as you couldn’t build compound queries without running two separate searches. This process is now streamlined so you can search for two separate values or attributes at the same time (Lab 1 Section 5). We have added two new labs to enhance our curriculum. These include using the raster calculator for NDVI calculations, and basic LiDAR processing such as classification and feature extraction. With the expanding functionality of Global Mapper and increase in LiDAR use in the GIS industry, we felt that these two workflows should be available in academic labs.

Our academic labs are constantly evolving with every version of Global Mapper. Many of the updates made to our 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. Now, when updating the academic labs to match Version 19, I consider many of the students’ comments and provide 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 our Developers to consider. We strive to have a large portion of our Development user-driven, which also includes students.

Our 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.

Note: Hear Janet talk about and demonstrate the Academic Labs in a recent webcast here.


Janet Leese
Janet Leese


Janet Leese is an Applications Specialist at Blue Marble Geographics. She provides technical support and works on updating academic labs and other self training materials. Prior to joining Blue Marble in 2016, Leese earned her B.S in Wildlife Ecology at the University of Maine.