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Vol 38  No 1
August 11, 2005


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Memorial partners with provincial government to offer an online map viewer

By Tracey Mills

Memorial University and the Surveys and Mapping Division (SMD), Department of Environment and Conservation, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, have teamed up to provide a map viewing portal which is OGC (Open Geospatial Consortium) standards compliant.

“The portal, www.MapsNL.ca, can be used by anyone with an interest in maps or those in need of maps and information, such as high-school geography students. It has not been officially released yet, as it is still a work in progress,” said Neil MacNaughton, director, SMD. “The service is being used internally and externally by SMD to display an index of available maps to clients, manage mapping projects, in consultations on geographical names and in project planning.”

The map viewing client creates and displays .gif images of multiple data layers as selected by the user. Each image is a unique combination of data layers that is generated “on-the-fly” as specified by the user. Attribute queries are possible on point, line and polygon features. Universal Transverse Mercator is the standard mapping projection of the viewer. The maximum view centers on the province and includes the Grand Banks and the Maritime provinces. MapsNL features open web access to view all provincial base mapping and many thematic map layers direct from the source agencies.

The idea started about three years ago with a SMD/GeoConnections cost-shared initiative the objective of which was to make geo spatial data available to the Canadian public. The map viewer service features provincial government mapping and integrates national GeoBase services. The initial version of the map viewer was created by program developers in Fredericton N.B., the creators of Spatial Fusion, a program which makes GIS data available over the Internet. SMD has continued the work of enhancing the service over the past three years.

“We have been refining the service since the beginning and it is still very much a work in progress,” said Mr. MacNaughton. “Enhancements will continue to be made as long as it provides a useful service to the public.”

In order to make the service more stable and accessible to the public, the SMD approached Memorial in May 2005. After discussions with Computing and Communications they reached an agreement to install a server on campus, which would host the new online map viewer.

“We approached Memorial because we were looking for a production environment which was not readily available inside of government because of security concerns related to external access,” added Mr. MacNaughton.

Memorial provided just what was needed to continue the project development - close and convenient access, cutting edge technology and speed of access. Approval has been given for a six month trial period, but Mr. MacNaughton hopes this can be further extended if all works out well.

“This is a great example of a partnership of public sector, private sector and academia, which provides a valuable service to the general public,” said Robert Leeman, consultant on the project with the SMD. “That’s a tremendous combination.”

MapsNL is an online service that generates composite images of map data layers from several on-line map servers. Within seconds the service simultaneously creates an image of any area selected by the user, containing the layers and draw sequence as specified by the user. In the first session, a new user begins with connection to two servers that include topographic base maps. The user can add connections to other servers and data layers from any OGC compliant service.

“Our responsibility is to produce high-quality, complete and current map data and make it available to a wide audience,” added Mr. MacNaughton. “We are building a special purpose application of the viewer which incorporates aerial photography, but for now the main purpose of the service is to illustrate capability, use and accessibility of map data.”

A presentation on www.MapsNL.ca was given by Neil MacNaughton at the CARTO 2005 conference which was hosted at Memorial on July 26-30, 2005.

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