News on a Pulitzer Prize-Winner, GIS for Renewable Energy, and a Chance to Win a Copy of Global Mapper
A long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away*), wind-driven machines were widely used as a reliable and clean means of generating energy. The picturesque windmills scattered throughout the low countries of Europe provide historic evidence of wind energy being used for centuries. Fast forward to today, far more advanced wind power is being produced as a solution to modern energy challenges.
During the second week of May, Blue Marble will send a team to the AWEA Windpower Conference in Chicago to showcase the expanding use of Global Mapper in the wind energy sector. In this edition of Blue Marble Monthly, we explore some of Global Mapper’s spatial data processing and analysis capabilities that have proven to be indispensable for renewable energy planning and development.
We also share some exciting news about how Global Mapper Partner Aerial Filmworks won a Pulitzer Prize, and as always, we test your geographic aptitude in the Where in the World Geo-Challenge.
Blue Marble is pleased to pass along our sincerest congratulations to our partners at Aerial Filmworks, who, in collaboration with USA Today, were recently awarded a Pulitzer Prize in the Explanatory Reporting category for their project entitled “The Wall”. Their work involved a comprehensive analysis of the impact of the proposed border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Using a custom extension in Global Mapper, Aerial Filmworks technicians generated real-time, augmented reality overlays on aerial video that visually depict the border location.
On Friday, June 8th, Aerial Filmworks will be hosting a special Blue Marble User Conference (BMUC) in Los Angeles. This event will provide an opportunity to learn about the behind-the-scenes details, and the important role of Global Mapper in the project. Click here to register for BMUC.
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 of the project.
Digital Elevation Models are a peculiar variant of raster data. While they are comprised of an array of pixels, similar to an aerial image, the pixels do not typically contain a prescribed color. Instead, the visual representation of the data is dynamically controlled and Global Mapper includes numerous options for customizing the elevation display. Did you know that you can also adjust the rendering to reflect the local slope characteristics? One of the options is to display the azimuth or bearing of the slopes using a customizable color scheme. This allows you to quickly and easily discern south facing slopes (or north-facing in the southern hemisphere) as optimal sites for a solar power installation.
The Blue Marble office was particularly quiet in April. Offices sat empty, parking was easy to find, and there was no line for the microwave at lunch time. The reason for this relative tranquility was because many of us had been dispatched to various distant outposts around the world on company business. During the month, Blue Marble sent teams to the Netherlands, Malta, Australia, Florida, New Zealand, New Orleans, and several other locations. On returning, we asked each to share some highlights of their travels.
In this 3-minute video, we follow the steps for conducting a view shed analysis 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 an installation by using elevation data, the project’s location, height, and radius.
April’s Geo-Challenge saw another potential flashpoint. While the push-pin indicating the location of a cape was intended to be planted on the Cape of Good Hope, representing the southwestern tip of the African continent, many correctly pointed out that Cape Point is but a few hundred meters away so, after lengthy adjudication, it was decided that both were acceptable. Crisis averted! Check out the answers here to see how well you fared with the other four locations. The winner for April and recipient of a copy of Global Mapper is Matt Leavitt.
At the risk of inciting more controversy, why not try your luck in May’s challenge.
Between attending geospatial conferences and conducting Global Mapper training, the Blue Marble team does a fair amount of traveling around the world throughout the year. April was an especially busy month with eight members of our staff out of the office on business trips. When a team members returns, they usually write a report on the business aspects of their trip: which customers they connected with; the success of a training class; or what new potential sales leads they uncovered. What the report usually doesn’t include is what they did for fun during their down time.
In this blog entry, we hear from team members who traveled to Australia, New Zealand, Amsterdam, Malta, and New Orleans, and learn a little bit about what goes on after hours on a Blue Marble business trip.
Jeff & Myles go to Australia:
Applications Specialist, Jeff Hatzel and Reseller Account Manager, Myles Labonte traveled to Australia and New Zealand for the GeoSmart Asia’18 & Locate 18 Geospatial Conference, and to conduct two Global Mapper training courses.
“After nearly 25 hours of travel, Myles and I hit the ground running with a three day conference and a public Global Mapper training class in Adelaide. Adelaide was a great city to visit and is walkable and very accessible. I ate all sorts of great food and sampled some local beers and wines. We visited a local conservation park to see and feed some local wildlife, and even went for a swim at the beach. The unseasonably warm heatwave left us a bit surprised at the chilly ocean temperatures!
Once our time in Adelaide came to an end, I had a relatively short flight over to Auckland, New Zealand for a training course with the New Zealand Department of Defense. Auckland is another wonderful city to visit. Situated right on the ocean, it is full of restaurants, shops, and offers many activities. Everyone I met said I had to go tramping!?!
It turns out tramping is a term used for hiking, which is much more in line with my interests! I visited two small islands just off the coast which, were almost visible from my hotel. Rangitoto is a relatively young volcanic island covered in thick forest, whereas Motutapu is an older island; grassy and open to agriculture. The two sitting side-by-side are a great contrast and make for a beautiful tramp …or hike! Before my evening flight home, I spent the day exploring Piha Beach, which is covered in black sand, large rocks, and forested cliffs!
This trip allowed us to meet one of our largest user bases; getting to know our users and their local industry first hand. We were fortunate to have a moment of free time to explore a bit of what the cities and regions had to offer too!”
Kat & Danielle go to New Orleans:
Applications Specialist, Katrina Schweikert and Operations Manager, Danielle Caron flew to New Orleans, Louisiana, for the American Association of Geographers’ Annual Meeting.
“It was great fun to see 7,000 geographers stumbling into a jazz festival. But we didn’t need to go too far away from the hotel to see the heart of New Orleans — from bustling streets to a quiet garden patio oasis. I think my favorite part was exploring the iconic and historic verandas on the quieter residential streets just outside of the main thoroughfare. We also had some excellent food, especially seafood. We were a bit surprised at the amount of advertising for Maine lobster.
We also got to catch part of a jazz festival that was going on nearby. We saw some impressive boats in the river where the decks appeared to be at waist level as we looked out.
Then, of course, we got to do a bit of shopping for some masquerade masks and beignet mix to bring a bit of New Orleans back home.”
Patrick & Sam go to Amsterdam:
Blue Marble President, Patrick Cunningham and Product Manager, Sam Knight traveled to Amsterdam for the Commercial UAV Europe Conference.
“Amsterdam ranks high on the list of the worlds iconic cities and there is no better time to visit than in spring. The weather is mild, the summer crowds have not yet arrived and the flowers are blooming. We were in town for the Commercial UAV Conference and to visit some of our key clients in the area. The conference was a resounding success with Global Mapper’s new Pixels-to-Points tool receiving a lot of accolades from the conference delegates.
Our hotel was the Hilton Amsterdam, which is famous for being the location of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-Ins for Peace demonstration. Most mornings began with a run in in Vondelpark, in the heart of Amsterdam near the museum district. A great way to start the day.
Amsterdam is a walkable city and Sam and I decided to forgo motorized transport and travel the mile or so to and from the conference venue on foot. This gave us an opportunity to see the city up close and personal, with its unique architecture, weird road signs, proliferation of bicycles, and, of course, expansive flower beds.”
David goes to Malta:
Senior Applications Specialist, David McKittrick flew solo to Malta for a Global Mapper training class.
“Of all of the far-flung locations in which we have conducted Global Mapper training classes, Malta is arguably the most alluring. This tiny cluster of limestone islands situated in the central Mediterranean between Italy and Tunisia, has a long and colorful history, with the legacy of each successive occupying force woven into the cultural fabric of the archipelago.
The five-day training class was delivered at the request of the Maltese Government Planning Authority in the capital city of Valletta. Covering all aspects of Global Mapper and the LiDAR module, the course provided hands-on instruction focusing on the Authority’s specific needs and requirements. Being a small country, the Maltese GIS data administration has been able to collect and process high quality data for the entire nation and we were able to integrate some of their local datasets into the class.
After hours, there was plenty of time to explore the environs of Valletta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Covering less than one square kilometer, this historic walled city is rich with cultural landmarks, medieval architecture, quiet parks, and stunning vistas. At dinner time, the cultural melting pot became even more evident with Middle Eastern, North African, and Southern European influences creating unique dining options. Because the British were the last occupying power to leave the island before its independence in 1964, it is even possible to eat fish and chips with a pint of real ale while sitting next to a gleaming red telephone box. Just like London. Except for the weather, of course!”
Blue Marble is Hiring!
Do you want to join the Blue Marble team and potentially travel for work? Blue Marble has a few job openings on their website.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Win a Copy of Global Mapper in the Where in the World Geo-Challenge
Think you know your way around the world?
Why not take the Blue Marble Geographics‘ Geo-Challenge? Simply identify the five geographic features or locations below and you will be in the running to win a copy of Global Mapper.
Prize | Global Mapper: GIS, only better
With a rapidly expanding worldwide user community, Global Mapper is changing the way people think about GIS. Offering support for over 300 spatial file formats and boasting a surprising collection of powerful data processing and analysis tools, Global Mapper is a viable and genuinely affordable alternative to traditional GIS applications. So while you’re waiting to see if you are the lucky winner, why not download a trail copy today and see for yourself.
Contest | The Geo-Challenge Happens Every Month
If you miss out this time around, not to worry, Blue Marble is giving away a copy of Global Mapper every month. Check out Blue Marble Monthly for details.
Product News, User Stories, Events, and a Chance to Win a Copy of Global Mapper Every Month
Coinciding with our annual trip to the American Association of Geographers (AAG) Conference in New Orleans, the focus of April’s newsletter shifts to academia. Since the introduction of the free academic licensing program during the 2017 conference, countless U.S. and Canadian colleges and universities have adopted Global Mapper as their go-to GIS software for classroom and lab instruction. A recent participant in this program and current Blue Marble employee, Janet Leese, shares her experience about how she was introduced to Global Mapper while a student at the University of Maine.
In this issue we also announce an update to the popular Global Mapper Academic Curriculum, providing free instructional materials for teaching GIS; we provide a lesson of our own by offering a layperson’s guide to the principles of geodesy; and we find out if you were paying attention in geography class in the monthly Where in the World Geo-Challenge.
An initial impetus behind the development of the Global Mapper Academic Curriculum was the need to fill an apparent void in the availability of concise and straightforward GIS teaching materials. After meeting with several University of Maine faculty members, Blue Marble Applications Specialists set about creating a series of hands-on, self-driven lessons targeting some key GIS themes. Recently updated to reflect the latest enhancements in Global Mapper, these lab materials are available free of charge to institutes of higher education.
Janet Leese, the most recent addition to the esteemed Blue Marble Tech Support team and recent graduate of the University of Maine, holds a unique distinction among the group. While most of her colleagues’ first experience with Global Mapper resulted from a word-of-mouth recommendation from a fellow professional, Janet’s first exposure to the software was in an undergraduate GIS class. What better candidate, therefore, to share her experience getting to know Global Mapper through the Global Mapper Academic Program. Spoiler Alert! Global Mapper must have left a lasting impression; Janet now spends her days assisting customers in the finer points of the software.
“So what exactly is a datum or more importantly, why should I care?” If this sentiment reflects your position on the broad field of geodesy, it would probably be prudent to enlighten yourself. For anyone working in mapping, GIS, cartography, surveying, etc. etc. etc., the discipline of geodesy is the indispensable foundation upon which everything we do depends. In our own way, we are all interested in the fundamental question, “Where?” It is the function of geodesy to provide a suitable frame of reference that allows us to effectively answer that question. In a recent blog post, Blue Marble President Patrick Cunningham sheds some light on the subject.
In this brief presentation, we discuss the three components of the Global Mapper Academic Program: the free licensing available to institutes of higher education in the U.S. and Canada; the announcement of a $500 scholarship which will be awarded to a student using Global Mapper; and a hands-on look at the newly updated academic curriculum materials.
March’s Geo-Challenge saw the first potential bone of contention in its year-long history. Asked to name the desert, an equal number suggested the Sonoran Desert and the Gran Desierto de Altar, which is contained therein. In the interest of preserving the peace, both are acceptable responses. Check out the rest of the answers here to see how well you did.
Of those who answered all five correctly, Anthony James of Harris Corporation was the first name pulled from the hat. Anthony will shortly be receiving a complimentary copy of Global Mapper.
Ready for another challenge? Try your luck with April’s five locations.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com.
Note: Hear Janet talk about and demonstrate the Academic Labs in a recent webcast here.
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.
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.