Thursday, April 26, 2007

Reader survey: open source tools

Hi folks,

I'm interested in hearing about what, if any, open source GIS tools are being used by members of the WNC GIS group. It was clear at the NCGIS conference in March that there is a vibrant open source GIS community in the state -- is the same true for our group? If you are using open source tools, please post a reply comment to this posting and let us know what you are using and why.

Neil may think this is a blatant 11th hour attempt to boost my chances for today's book drawing (and okay, so maybe it is), but I really would like to know more about any open source efforts out there....

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Haiti: The Salt of the Ocean

We continue to track the efforts of Demeter Russafov (once from Asheville) and his associate Ewan Bloomfield who are both with AMURT in Haiti. (Great Volunteer Opportunity - Mapping Haiti Salt Ponds ) As you may remember Ewan has initiated a GIS/GPS study as part of AMURT's effort to redevelop salt ponds in Haiti. Today I had an email from Ewan and he has put together this update on his project. If you have interest in spending 4 or 5 weeks in Haiti to help on this project please contact Ewan.
Dear Neil
I am sorry that I have not written for a while, but have been bogged
down with other things.

The first WFP food arrived and we have been trying to start the work on the first new salt production methods. I have finally been able to write something for the blog about the salt production and our plans. I would also like to write something about the irrigation canal project which also has a GPS aspect and will do this when I have time. Unfortunately the lady from WFP has been away for quite a while, and although I have been pressurizing her about the database project she has still not been able to come up with anything - I will persist though!!!

Hope all is well with you and the GIS beer evenings are going well.
Best regards

The Salt Ponds in Haiti--a brief history
Although salt has been produced in the north west of Haiti for a long time, it has always been produced using a very archaic method, which is generally now not used in many parts of the world. The main area of salt production is in the coastal region of the north-west Artibonite, in the north west of Haiti, which consists of flat-lying mudflats, with high clay content (see GE photo above). The surrounding area is very dry and desertified, having undergone extensive deforestation in the recent and historical past, and is now only able to support limited agriculture, often only in areas close to natural water sources, which are very limited. The coastal areas have particularly harsh living conditions, with limited opportunities for commercial activity, thus making solar salt production a highly attractive financial activity. Basins, approximately 40 metres by 50 metres, are dug to a depth of 2 to 3 metres, and filled with salt water through channels. The basins are then left for between 3 to 6 months until the brine reaches a high enough salinity level where crystallisation can start to take place, and the salt can be collected by hand.

In October 2004 Hurricane Jeanne hit the north west of Haiti, which caused widespread devastation and destruction, including great loss of life. The hurricane greatly intensified the already high level of poverty, and the effects are still being felt today by the local population. The vast majority of the salt basins were also destroyed by the Hurricane when the soil from the inland areas became liquefied and flowed towards the ocean, often completely filling them. Only the more wealthy salt producers who had some form of savings, or who live or have family overseas, were able to rehabilitate their salt basins. The vast majority of the basins still currently remain out of production.
AMURT-Haiti started a food-for-work programme, funded by the WFP, in 2006, which resulted in the successful rehabilitation of 40 salt basins, which are now producing salt. A second food-for-work programme has just begun and work will hopefully begin during April, 2007. The second programme, which is much more extensive, will focus on both the rehabilitation of the salt basins as well as on the introduction of a more modern method of solar salt production, called the rational, or modern, method. The plan for the new six month project is to form a cooperative system in each of the four main salt production villages. Each cooperative system will involve the rehabilitation of a group of basins to form a complete integrated, rational method production system. The rational method requires the introduction of the brine from the sea and then the subsequent transfer from one basin to the next in systematic circuit, with the brine successively increasing in salinity. The rational method also involves the division of the basins into three types, with the largest reservoir basins, the intermediate concentrator basins, and finally the much smaller crystalliser basins, where the salt is collected.
As well as allowing the more regular production of salt, approximately every two weeks, the rational method also produces a significantly higher quality of salt. This cleaner salt does not need to be washed by the consumers, as is happening at present, and means that the salt can start to be iodised. The added iodine adheres to the outside of the salt grains, so when it is washed the iodine is removed. Haiti is a country which has been identified as suffering from iodine deficiency, which can result in such medical conditions as goiters, cretinism and brain damage. The iodisation of all salt produced in Haiti will hopefully significantly reduce, or even eliminate this condition. Many international medical groups are committed to making sure this happens in the near future (UNICEF, WHO, WFP, MI).
One aspect of the next project is the possibility of producing a GIS database. At present very little is known about the solar salt production industry, apart from that it is mainly produced in the north west of Haiti. It is not know how many basins have been constructed, how many basin owners or producers there are, or even how much salt is produced each year or what happens to the salt. The intention of creating a database is to define the outline of every basin, and then link this information to the owner, the producer and the current capacity of each basin. This will help define the current production, as well as to estimate the potential future production, and increase the efficiency of production, transportation and distribution of the salt. As there are many interconnected aspects to the solar salt production, the idea is to produce a database that can be kept up to date, and can trace the development of the salt production zone over time, including such things as the rate of iodisation of the salt, and rate of incorporation of the new rational method of salt production.
Contact info:

UNCA Campus Mapping Project

Hi, I'm Josh O'Conner a student of UNCA/NEMAC and Haywood Community College. I
just wanted to make a quick post about the Campus Mapping Project at UNCA being conducted by the UNCA Transportation Department and NEMAC.
The original maps used by the campus were incorrectly oriented and weren't spatially accurate. The intent behind the project was to be able to offer maps that were spatially accurate as well as providing the framework for GIS data that could benefit the UNCA transportation department. The hope was to be able to provide a GIS solution that would not only produce the map needed currently, but would allow the transportation department to be able to generate maps independently for specific needs.

The map was created using existing data available in CAD formats and then digitizing missing information from the 2002 orthographic photos. Due to the evolution of the campus from 2002 to present additional orthos were integrated by georeferencing some of the Google Earth imagery. The framework of the map is very near completion and ideally we will be able to offer the map to UNCA faculty and staff through the ArcReader software. The ArcReader application will include certain attribute information useful to the campus staff. Other plans for the map include web applications for visitors and a possible overlay for Google Earth.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

WNCGIS Gathering: THURSDAY, April 26th

WNCGIS Gathering is a casual gathering in a GIS atmosphere

Date: Thursday April 26th, 2007
Where: Asheville Brewing Company, 77 Coxe Avenue, Asheville
NC 28804, Telephone: 254-1281
Time: ~ 5:00pm until 7:00. Stay as long as you like.
Topic of the month: Whatever is on your mind
Edibles: Munchies are free. Buy your own drink.
Transportation: Walk, Take a bus, Take a taxi. Designate a driver. Drink responsibly

Answers to the Map Trivia Quiz, April 2007

If you submitted an answer to the Map Trivia Question you are now in contention for the prize: The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson generously provided by Malaprop's Book Store. You can still enter the drawing by showing up on Thursday at the WNCGIS Gathering.

Random drawing will occur at the WNCGIS Gathering, April 26th at Asheville Brewing at 77 Coxe Avenue, Asheville (down from the post office)

For Buncombe County, NC:

1) Approximately how many "private" acres have been converted from Rural to Developed Lands since the end of 1990?

~45,630 acres

2) What is the approximate rate of change (acres/year) over the past 16 years from "private" Rural Lands to private Developed Lands?

~2,85o acres/year

3) How many years will it take to convert the remaining "private" Rural Land to Developed Land if the rate of change continues at its current pace?

~61 years

It must be assumed that the same rate of change will apply into the future--big assumption!

Welcome to the suburbs!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

WNCGIS Map Trivia Contest Rules!

If you read the Blog regularly, or if you contribute to the Blog, you have a pretty darn good chance of becoming one of the monthly “Wieners.”
Here is the way this near-random drawing/competition works.
1) A “Did you know?” Map Trivia question is presented on the Blog early in the month.
2) You should
a. Check the Map Trivia question on the Blog
b. Assess the question,
c. Review the reference info if you have time and
d. Submit your guess or answer to
Trivia Contest Entries
1) If your answer to the question IS CLOSE, your name is entered into the drawing (single entry). “IS CLOSE” is defined as anyone who submits any answer. This ain’t rocket science.
2) If your answer is “EXACT” (the same answer as we have) you get two entries into the drawing. Sometimes there may not be an exact answer so if you are hovering around the same answer we have, that answer is EXACT, This is the judge’s call. This ain’t rocket science.

Blog entries.
3) If you also contribute a MEANINGFUL blog entry, you receive an additional entry in the drawing for each posting
4) To qualify you have to be on the email list. Those people on the review team are excluded.
Only first guesses count.

If you submit several guesses, only the first guess will count. You have to use the email address that we have on the mailing list.

At the end of the month at the WNCGIS gathering someone in the crowd will select a “wiener.”

So at this moment David Abernathy is in the lead with his single Blog posting. Actually he will have to make a guess at the Map Trivia Question before he becomes a contestant.

The Map Trivia Contest Prize: a book from Malaprops Bookstore

If Abernathy wins this month he will get a copy of the book, The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson ($26.95 value). This book is donated by Malaprops Bookstore. These folks are great! I like Abernathy a lot, but I would hate for him to win the prize from just one blog entry.
Statistical chances are pretty good.
At this point Abernathy has a great chance of winning the first book. He has no competition. However, there are over 60 people on the email list. Abernathy’s worst nightmare is that everyone on the list submits an answer and a blog entry. But the reality is that for this first month, the chances may be more like 1:10 or 1:25.

Contest Entries
Send your answers to The Map Trivia question to I will collect your responses to the Map Trivia Contest question. And remember
If you are close you get 1 entry.
If you are exact, you get 2 entries.
If you post a Blog entry we will pull your name from the Blog.
If you show up at the WNCGIS Meeting Thursday, April 26th, then you get one additional entry.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Did you know?

The WNCGIS Map Trivia (not a rocket scientist) Contest

Answer the 3 questions below and submit your answers to by April 24th and you could be the winner of the book, The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson, courtesy of Malaprop's Bookstore! (See separate posts about our contest sponsor, and the Map Trivia Contest Rules)

Buncombe County is a little over 422,000 acres in size. Approximately 58,000 of those acres are held in Public Lands. About 190,480 acres are Developed Lands (developed = less than 10 acres in size) at the end of 2006. We also know that at the beginning of 1991 there were 219,151 acres of Private Rural Lands (parcels greater than or equal to 10 acres in size) according to our parcel density calculations. Now we would like to see how things are changing.

1) Approximately how many acres have been converted from Rural to Developed Lands since the end of 1990?

2) What is the approximate rate of change (acres/year) over the past 16 years from Rural Lands to Developed Lands?

3) How many years will it take to convert the remaining Rural Land to Developed Land if the rate of change continues at its current pace?

Clue #1: Total Acres = Public Lands + Private Rural Lands + Private Developed Lands
Clue #2: Change in Rural Lands = 1990 Rural Lands – 2006 Rural Lands
Clue #3: The time period between 1990 and 2006, between data collection dates, is very close to a full 16 years.
Other clues may be found elsewhere in the blog.

1. Raw data for this quiz was gathered from Buncombe County Land Records at various points since the end of 1990.
2. Urban-rural acres are extracted via parcel density calculations.
3. Public lands are delineated by the NC Natural Heritage “Managed Area” data from early 2006. Most of this land is public. For this exercise, we are assuming this acreage is 100% public but we know small amounts are private landowner conservation easements.
4. This method overestimates Private Rural Land acres because road rights-of-way are included in this sum. For example, larger interstate interchanges such as those located on I-40, I-240 and I-26 will show up as rural land.
5. Rural and Developed Lands definitions mirror NRCS size classes in their NRI Rural and Urban & Develop Lands classifications.

Answers to these questions will be posted on the Blog on April 26th. The drawing for the book will happen at the WNCGIS Gathering on that same date. Please submit your best guesses to these questions by April 24th to in order to enter the contest. You may be the lucky winner. You do not need to be present to win.

Malaprop's Bookstore, Our Sponsor for the Map Trivia Contest

Malaprop’s Bookstore is now our official WNCGIS Map Trivia Contest sponsor. Malaprop’s has been in business about 25 years, an independent bookstore located at 55 Haywood Street in downtown Asheville.

As a sponsor of the WNCGIS Map Trivia Contest, Malaprop’s is (1) donating a book each month to our regional mapping community to be distributed through the WNCGIS Map Trivia Contest (Please read the WNCGIS Map Trivia Contest Rules for instructions on how to enter the contest). Also (2) each book we review on the blog will be offered at Malaprop’s for a month at a 10% discount in the bookclub section.

Emoke B’Racz, Malaprop’s owner, is committed to making Malaprop’s the “best little bookstore in the land” and is doing a great job of it. The bookstore is a mainstay in the downtown, my favorite meeting spot. “I wanted Malaprop’s to be a place where poetry matters, where women’s words are as important as men’s, where one is surprised by excellence, where good writing has a home, where I could nurture my addiction to literature, and play, enjoy, and entertain people drawn to quality books” she explains.

I met Emoke when Malaprops first opened in 1982. My wife and I were running a dorm at Warren Wilson College. Emoke visited our dorm with slides and stories of her travels around the southern tip of South America. Many of the dorm-kids who heard the stories went on to work at Malaprop’s over the years and many were inspired to travel overseas for extended periods.

Emoke left Hungary as a political exile. Her experiences during this period have strongly influenced her views of the world and the goals for the bookstore. “I cannot overemphasize my passion to provide a space where freedom of expression is supported, where important literature ‘from authors backed by major publishers to those who self-publish’ is available to all, where censorship has no place, where respect and service are practiced daily, where women feel safe, where all are welcome, and where the books are the stars.

The bookstore is a beacon in the community and dedicated to promoting the well-being of our community. Malaprop's supports organization like the Women’s Shelter, the Rape Crisis Center, the YWCA, and the local NPR stations to name a few. The local TV and newspapers staff visit the bookstore regularly to conduct interviews and opinion polls to capture the pulse of the Asheville community.

See you down at Malaprop’s!
Look for our WNCGIS selection with the other bookclub books.

The Ghost Map, A Book Review

TITLE: The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic - and How it Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World
AUTHOR: Steven Berlin Johnson
PUBLISHER: Riverhead Books
RELEASE: October 19th 2006

The Ghost Map links a deadly cholera epidemic in 1854 London to a contaminated drinking water source. The empirical evidence assembled by John Snow and his associates clash with the accepted scientific beliefs of the time. The descriptions of the sewage drains, the cesspools and basements full of human excrement provide a vivid image of the times. You can almost smell the conditions.

Convincing the establishment of the causal relationship was difficult even though the puzzle pieces are fit together relatively quickly. The cholera maps served to arrange the pieces into an image that strongly suggests a linkage between the cholera and the water pump. Snow’s Voronoi diagram, separate from Snow’s point/bar map, illustrates the distance from each home to a water pump in time. Both maps represented important mapping techniques in epidemiology of the times. (See reference to paper by Tom Koch, below)

The more frightening aspects of the book are the author's (Steven Johnson) musings in the Conclusions and Epilogue. Though technological advances proceed at a thundering rate, infrastructure development continues to lag behind the needs. We can certainly pack more people into smaller spaces with the appropriate infrastructure and management. But in an evolving urban environment it is hard to know what infrastructure and management are needed. And when things go wrong within a densely populated area, the impacts can be devastating.

As population increases globally and locally, the demand for better management of our public health and safety increase. There is a significant lag time between our scientific understanding and the implementation of public safeguards that reflect and address these understandings as is evidenced in the cholera epidemics of the 1800’s. Since the western NC floods of 2004, we still have not acknowledged the basic relationships between impervious surface, storm water runoff and increased flooding. TVA published a report in 1962, Floods on the Swannanoa and Flat Creek, Vicinity of Black Mountain and Montreat North Carolina, outlining the long history of flooding in the Swannanoa Valley. Dunne and Leopold published their definitive summary of hydro-studies, Water in the Environmental Planning text in 1978, which is still used in classrooms today. The Coweta Hydrologic Labs and NOAA’s National Center for Climatic Data Center—centers of flood modeling and data—are located in our back yard. But in spite of the well established science, local resources and history, winning over the majority of our decision-makers may require one or more additional insults to the public’s health and safety; perhaps another slope failure, another flood, a hazardous materials accident or spill in a densely populated area.

Western North Carolina, like the rest of the world, is urbanizing quickly. If the subdivision rates continue as it has over the past 16 years, Buncombe County’s private lands will be fully urbanized in 61 years (all private parcels will be less than 10 acres in size). Macon County will reach the same point in 30 years. The additional infrastructure and regulation to protect the public’s health will follow.

Planning for the future may well be more desirable scenario than crisis management stimulated by some disastrous event. While observing the London of today, we may be seeing into our own future in western North Carolina. “The average Londoner can expect to be caught on surveillance video hundreds of times daily. After the (July 7, 2006 tube) bombings, investigators reviewed well over 6,000 CCTV tapes.” We have a lot more to lose in western NC that just our mountainsides as we are continue to shift from a rural to an urban landscape.

The Author
Primary Map of Water Pumps and Deaths
UCLA Dept of Epidemiology, The Maps, Great Site…
National Geographic Site on John Snow
Tom Koch, The Map as Intent: Variations on the Theme of John Snow
Cartographies of Disease-ESRI Press

Today’s Infrastructure Advances, Video Surveillance
CSO, The Resource for Security Executives

Steven Berlin Johnson, the author, talking about the book

Thursday, April 5, 2007

GoogleMaps implements MyMaps

The social computing and GIS revolution continue to racing foward today with Google releasing a new 'My Maps' tab on Google Maps. This new feature allows users to easily create and share geo-specific content using their mapping API. Over the past 2 years, thousands of mash-ups have been created using Google Maps and now it has become even easier. There are tools for creating point, line and polygons on your map as well as saving to a URL, KML, emailing and printing. Of course your maps can be made public or private. Go give it a try!