Advances in the technology of online map-based data collection platforms have made it possible for citizens of the U.S. to contribute to USGS topographic mapping efforts like never before.
The USGS is currently seeking volunteers to aid in collecting data for The National Map (TNM), which comprises a variety of products and services that provide the Nation with geospatial information to describe the landscape of the United States and its territories. The National Map Corps (TNMCorps) aims to improve this topographic information by updating existing and gathering previously uncollected data via volunteered geographic information (VGI).
The National Map includes hydrographic features such as streams and lakes, elevation contours, geographic names, land cover, and structures. To improve and update The National Map, the USGS is turning to volunteers to map the location of important community buildings – such as police stations, schools, hospitals, post offices, prisons, cemeteries, and fire stations.
Adding and verifying the locations of buildings to existing TNM datasets makes significant additions to the USGS’s ability to provide accurate information to the public.
After citizen input is peer-reviewed by fellow volunteers, the valid data are incorporated into The National Map databases. These databases are used to create many products, including US Topo maps – free and downloadable digital topographic maps that are released every three years.
How Can You Help?
Currently, the USGS is in the process of expanding TNMCorps; 35 new states have been added to the volunteer database and need mapping support from volunteers. These states are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming.
Similar to the way Wikipedia or OpenSteetMap allows users to add and edit information on the site, The National Map Corps web editing interface allows users to easily contribute geographic data that will eventually become part of The National Map.
A complete list of the types of buildings the USGS is looking to volunteers to verify throughout the country can be found here.
“Because of a lack of publically available national authoritative datasets for some municipal buildings and infrastructure throughout the country, we are looking for volunteers who can fill in this information quickly and keep it up to date,” said Volunteer Geographic Information Project Leader Elizabeth McCartney.
In addition to adding previously unmapped community buildings and landmarks to The National Map database, volunteers are encouraged to remove structures that no longer exist, update existing buildings that have changed, and label correctly marked structures as correct.
The current platform used by TNMCorps is a customized version of OpenStreetMap, an online platform that enables users to edit, add, and access geographic data.
“The editor, like OpenStreet Map which has over a billion users worldwide, is meant to be accessible to non-professionals. Users don’t need to be professional scientists in order to contribute. Anyone who wants to volunteer can give it a go. There are a lot of people out there who love maps and are interested in improving information in their communities,” said McCartney.
Volunteer participants are not required to live within the state they review — the mapping technology used for TNMCorps allows anyone to update geographic data from anywhere.
Testing the feasibility of collecting VGI for the The National Map began in a series of pilot projects in January 2011. To test the viability of using volunteers to edit TNM map data, students at Colorado universities were asked to map structures in four topographic quadrangles around the Denver area. The results were impressive, as the structures mapped surpassed the quality standard maintained by the USGS. The success of the pilot projects confirmed that VGI is a viable source of data.
Since its start in Colorado, the program has expanded to 35 states. The National Map Corps hopes to have all 50 states available for mapping by September 2013.
The USGS has created a social media presence to support this program and reach new volunteers. Using Twitter , with more than 2,080 followers, and the USGS Facebook page, volunteers who contribute to The National Map Corps are awarded badges are recognized based on the number of points edited.
Each badge is represented by a different antique surveying instrument.
Volunteers can earn each successive badge by contributing structures through the editing or peer review process.
The National Map Homepage (Current News and Information)
The National Map Corps Homepage (History and links to current project)
TNM News Releases: