Dewberry Innovation Case Study
Mapping America’s Last Frontier
Dewberry Consultants Commence First-Ever Digital Topographic Mapping of Alaska
Alaska has more than earned its nickname as America’s “Last Frontier.” Our largest state at more than 586,000 square miles, Alaska was the only state that had never been mapped to national map accuracy standards, presenting enormous challenges to aviators, first-responders, businesses, and others needing to navigate its rugged and diverse terrain. And while it was well understood that a mapping initiative was necessary, consensus on the exact approach and expected deliverables proved elusive.
In 2008, the Alaska Statewide Digital Mapping Initiative (SDMI) – a coalition of state and federal agencies – engaged Dewberry to evaluate statewide requirements for digital elevation data.
Making the Case for Our Approach
The first phase of the project – from June through October 2008 – involved the creation of a white paper detailing our proposed approach to the massive project. This involved our consultants interviewing dozens of user groups with differing needs and requirements, including aviation safety, hydrology and forestry groups, to name just a few.
The second phase commenced in January 2009, at which time SDMI presented our white paper to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Upon USGS’ approval of the proposed approach, we developed a funding and implementation plan that ultimately enabled the collective stakeholders to reach consensus on our approach in June 2009. With partial funding in place in early 2010, mapping began on the first 10% of the state, including the 28 highest priority one-degree cells (one degree latitude by one degree longitude), averaging around 2,200 square miles per cell. These cells were prioritized by USGS and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), working in collaboration with other federal and state stakeholders.
Dewberry Innovation in Action
Working with technology partners Intermap Technologies and Fugro EarthData International, we employed interferometric synthetic aperture radar (IFSAR), a digital mapping technology ideal for Alaska because it operates day and night and maps through clouds. Intermap deployed X-band IFSAR only, with Fugro using both X-band and P-band, believed to be superior for mapping the ground beneath vegetation.
As our consultants evaluated the data, an unexpected bonus was realized: the P-band not only penetrated vegetation but ice and snow as well, allowing the mapping of geomorphology under glaciers. Understanding what the terrain would look like if the ice were to disappear holds tremendous potential for planning and research on the effects of global warming and numerous other natural phenomena.
Bringing the Data to Life
We are now launching another phase of the project: developing a statewide GIS strategic business plan that will help Alaska store and maintain the mapping data and show their constituents – from other state agencies to private citizens – how to use it. Funded by the Alaska Department of Tranportation and Public Facilities, the plan will include a cost-benefit analysis and implementation recommendations.
Another display of the immediate “human” value of the mapping effort: IFSAR data from our mapping of one of the priority cells was used successfully in recovery operations in the November 2010 crash of an F-22 aircraft.