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Summer 2002
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U.S. Government Agencies Produce Digital Data with GIS

USGS and NIMA Share Data

Esri Services logoGovernment agencies, such as the United States Geological Survey (USGS), constantly look for ways to streamline their map production efforts. The USGS, as part of its stated mission, serves the United States government by providing reliable scientific information to describe and understand the earth; minimize loss of life and property from natural disasters; manage water, biological, energy, and mineral resources; and enhance and protect the quality of life for our citizens. One way the USGS accomplishes its mission is by sharing data with agencies such as the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA).

For more than 10 years, the USGS has successfully partnered with NIMA to manually produce 1:50,000-scale Topographic Line Maps (TLM) that cover the entire United States.

  click to see enlargement
Tools within the Map Production System allow the user to view the map sheet at various scales to determine if there is any further feature or annotation offsetting necessary.

"Until 2001, the USGS was working in an analog production environment, creating data and maps manually to share with NIMA," says Laurie Davis of the USGS National Mapping Division at the Rocky Mountain Mapping Center in Denver, Colorado. "We needed to transition our production flow to a digital, automated configuration to increase map output and to provide NIMA with the geospatial data they required."

Early in 2000, the USGS signed a coproduction agreement with NIMA to produce TLM and Vector Map Level 2 (VMap 2) geospatial data within the United States to NIMA Vector Product Format (VPF) specifications and thus found its opportunity to modernize to an automated system. To provide digital data to NIMA, the USGS chose to work with Esri Professional Services Group and adopted Esri's Production Line Tool Set (PLTS) for TLM production to automate its traditionally manual process.

The Production Line Tool Set is a system built on top of ArcInfo for high-volume database production, maintenance, and high-quality cartographic output. PLTS allows the USGS to share digital data with NIMA through an automated process. The USGS staff started making this transition by working with Esri cartographic staff to strategize a production flow specific to the USGS. Then USGS cartographers attended a PLTS training class in Esri's database production area in Redlands, California, in March 2001. In this class, USGS staff learned how to extend the PLTS to meet its production environment and how to use the PLTS software, which was written to meet NIMA specifications. The USGS cartographers then used their training, as they returned to the USGS National Mapping Division at the Rocky Mountain Mapping Center, to develop the process of mapping their sources to the PLTS and NIMA required geospatial features.

Esri further supported the USGS as it created a pilot program using PLTS to convert its source data into TLM and VMap 2 geospatial products that meet NIMA's VPF specifications. In September 2001, the USGS acquired Esri's PLTS, including the Map Production System (MPS), for TLM production. The MPS now extends the ArcInfo 8.2 map document, layer, template, and style object specifications to include cartographic elements that can be displayed and edited. The MPS includes tools for map series specification, map borders and legends, cartographic editing, cartographic output, symbolization, text labeling, and positioning. The PLTS and MPS are an established production line solution for several National Mapping Agencies.

The work being done by the USGS to support NIMA's mapping and data requirements is an example of an effective way national mapping agencies cooperate by sharing data and mapping responsibilities.

"Esri supports the USGS goals of providing current, accurate, and nationally consistent digital data and topographic maps," says David Watkins, senior cartographic project manager. "PLTS and MPS allow mapping agencies to use the data they collect to produce high-quality cartographic products."

Working in synthesis with these other agencies, the USGS has established a method to efficiently provide NIMA and the public with reliable scientific data and map products.

For more information, contact Laurie Davis, USGS (tel.: 303-202-4111, e-mail: or David Watkins, Esri project manager (tel.: 909-793-2853, ext. 1-1165; e-mail: or visit

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