Communication matters with spatial data - GPS World

Communication matters with spatial data

July 12, 2017  - By

International Cartographic Conference much more than just cartography

I’ve always been a strong proponent of good cartography since my early days in geographic information systems (GIS) when I saw countless examples of very poor GIS map products. Regrettably, many early practitioners of GIS understood the software but lacked an appreciation and understanding of the good cartographic principals that are absolutely necessary to communicate spatial data well.

Consequently, the International Cartography Conference (ICC 2017) was an event I didn’t want to miss, especially since this was the first time in 39 years that this prestigious conference has been held in the United States.

The 28th annual International Cartographic Conference, ICC 2017, was held in Washington, D.C., July 2-7 with moe than 1,000 attendees from 80 countries representing government, academia and international companies.

Two years ago at a an Esri Federal User Conference, I met Dr. Eric Anderson and Lynn Usery of the Cartography and Geographic Information Society of the US (CaGIS).  Both were promoting the ICC 2017 and heavily involved in its planning and organization.

Dr. Anderson was a research scientist and executive with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) for 35 years and is now the executive director of CaGIS and a faculty member of the College of Charleston. Lynn Usery is a senior scientist of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and director of the Center of Excellence for Geospatial Information Science. ICC events have been key activities of the International Cartographic Association (ICA).

George Washington, First in the Arts of Mapmaking

In a keynote address, Director Robert Cardillo from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) explained the interesting history of NGA citing George Washington, surveyor and mapmaker, as NGA employee number one.

Washington also appointed the nation’s first geographer and father of military mapping, Robert Erskine, whose work helped win the American Revolutionary War.

He also spoke of the Civil War use of manned balloons with telegraph wires tethered to the ground, used to verbally aim indirect artillery defilade fire. He continued the history lesson up to modern times, leading to imagery and Big Data.

Other keynote speakers included: Tom Patterson, senior cartographer, U.S. National Park Service; Lee Schwartz, geographer, U.S. Department of State; and Mikel Maron, Mapbox, OpenStreetMap Foundation.

Among the many interesting presentations was one from Payam Tabrizian, Anna Petrasova and Vaclav Petras, all Ph.D. candidates at North Carolina State University and special guests of CaGIS. They  demonstrated their unique physical 3D sandbox system using low-cost gaming scanners and GRASS GIS.

Imagine being able to hold a GIS in your hands: feel the shape of the earth, sculpt its topography, and direct the flow of water.

This open-source interface physically, interactively manifests geospatial data, making GIS more intuitive and accessible for beginners, and creating new opportunities for developers. It consists of a near real-time feedback cycle of interaction, 3D scanning, point-cloud processing, geospatial computation and projection.

Peer Review

Although the word cartography was dominant, the conference covered a much broader range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on GIS and the science of mapping spatial data.

Dr. Anderson reminded me that the conference is an outgrowth of the International Journal of Cartography, published on behalf of the ICA. The publication is a peer-reviewed journal, and much of the conference provides an opportunity for originators to present their work to a live audience.

The conference ran from July 3-7 with more than 600 presentations and sessions. There were also several days of pre-conference meetings and field trips in the D.C. area. My colleague, William Tewelow, who has taken over my monthly Geointelligence Insider column, and I were both overwhelmed with the number of presentations.

William was only able to attend part of the conference, but found a wealth of new material to digest and write about during the coming year.

To give you an idea of the scope, below is a list of ICC Commissions (special interest groups), with each holding dozens of break-out sessions:

  • Art and Cartography
  • Atlases
  • Cartographic Heritage into the Digital
  • Cartography and Children
  • Cartography in Early Warning and Crisis Management
  • Cognitive Issues in Geographic Information Visualization
  • Education and Training
  • Generalization and Multiple Representation
  • Geospatial Analysis and Modeling
  • GI for Sustainability
  • History of Cartography
  • Location Based Services
  • Map Design
  • Map Production and Geoinformation Management
  • Map Projections
  • Maps and Graphics for Blind and Partially Sighted People
  • Maps and the Internet
  • Mountain Cartography
  • Open Source Geospatial Technologies
  • Planetary Cartography
  • SDI and Standards
  • Sensor-driven Mapping
  • Topographic Mapping
  • Toponymy
  • Ubiquitous Mapping
  • Use, User and Usability Issues
  • Visual Analytics

You can read the session abstracts through the online schedule.  Additionally, ICC smartphone apps permit the download of text and some PowerPoint presentations. Go to your app store and search for and install “ICC2017.”

Once you install the app, you can search for topics or presenters. You can view most presentation summaries, and even view or download some PowerPoint presentations and PDFs. (I’m not sure how long these will be available, so act soon).

Expo and Posters

The ICC featured several map/poster areas including a collection of maps created by children from around the world. Also included was an expo area with booths from organizations and businesses.

Since this was a more academic conference that fell between GEOINT and the Esri User Conference, geospatial businesses were lightly represented. Below are video clips of some of the exhibitors.

  • Jill Saligoe-Simmel of MapDiva demonstrates Ortelius map design software for the Mac:

  • Markus Fuchs-Winkler with OCAD, a cartographic software program:

  • Liu Xiang Ming and Tao Wang of Top MAProducts at Qingdao Geotechnical Investigation & Surveying Research Institute. The comprehensive geoscience research institute focuses on geotechnical investigation, surveying, GIS and map culture. Ming and Wang were displaying some unique gift items with mapping themes. If you know someone with a gift shop or need some unique trade show or conference gifts, email Top MAProducts at

All in all, this was a very robust conference that I wish I could have seen more of. Lynn, Eric and the organizing committee did a superb job with such a complex effort.

Photo and video by Art Kalinski

This article is tagged with , , , and posted in Defense, Mapping, Opinions

About the Author: Art Kalinski

A career Naval Officer, Art Kalinski established the Navy’s first geographic information system (GIS) in the mid-1980s. Completing a post-graduate degree in GIS at the University of North Carolina, he was the Atlanta Regional Commission GIS Manager from 1993 to 2007. He pioneered the use of oblique imagery for public safety and participated in numerous disaster-response actions including GIS/imagery support of the National Guard during Hurricane Katrina; the Urban Area Security Initiative; a NIMS-based field exercise in Atlanta; and a fully manned hardware-equipped joint disaster response exercise in New York City. Kalinski retired early from ARC to join Pictometry International to direct military projects using oblique imagery, which led to him joining SPGlobal Inc. He has written articles for numerous geospatial publications, and authors a monthly column for the GeoIntelligence Insider e-newsletter aimed at federal GIS users.