Until recently, most people might have thought that “remote sensing” had something to do with channel surfing on television. But today commercial remote sensing operations that use information gathered from photographs taken from airplanes or spacecraft are in routine use for a variety of businesses.
Remote sensing is used extensively by engineers and urban planners. The real estate industry uses the technology to take inventories of available properties. Some transportation firms use the technology to route trucks, and remote sensing is also used to locate natural resources such as gravel or mature stands of timber.
Commercial remote sensing is expected to become a $15 billion a year industry in the next decade or so. The Stennis Space Center’s designation as the lead National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) agency for remote sensing puts south Mississippi on the leading edge of the new technology.
One type of remote sensing is called Geographic Information System (GIS). GIS is being used across the state to help with urban planning for highways and other infrastructure.
State’s GIS efforts well underway
Mississippi was one of the first states to get involved with GIS, said Paul Davis, director of the Mississippi Automated Resource Information System (MARIS).
“Mississippi definitely has a very good reputation, and is very visible in this technology with regards to what state government has done,” Davis said. “We’ve been providing GIS services since the late 1970s here in Mississippi state government. Mississippi did a good job of bringing this technology along — especially in government. MARIS was formed to coordinate GIS uses in state government, but we do more than just coordinate. Over the years, we have brought various users together to work on data development we can all use and to strive towards compatibility in systems. With few exceptions, almost everyone in state government uses the same GIS software and hardware.”
State agencies that use GIS include the Department of Environmental Quality, the Public Service Commission, the Forestry Commission, the Department of Archives and History and others.
Davis said that as the MARIS user group matured, they reached out to also involve the federal government, local governments and private businesses. To facilitate the cooperative use of the data, some GIS information has been made available through the MARIS Web site: www.maris.state.ms.us.
“The site is a rich repository of over 80 categories of natural and cultural resource information in a variety of GIS formats,” Davis said. “If you are one of the increasing number of businesses adopting GIS or other graphical computer approaches to modernize your operations, you are in luck, especially if you require spatial (geographic) data about Mississippi for your system.”
A notable feature of the MARIS on-line data clearinghouse is the “Standard County Data Release” which enables the user to download (or order) ten categories of specific data for each or all of the state’s 82 counties. These categories include: primary roads, secondary roads, county roads/city streets, county border, municipal boundaries, water bodies, perennial streams, intermittent streams, railroads, and public land survey lines (township/sections). Individual files of complete state coverage or counties can be obtained for many of the 80 available categories.
Each GIS category noted in the clearinghouse is accompanied by a standardized report which include the data file source, date generated, scale, file size, general description, and other relevant information. A data dictionary of each category is also included along with a brief technical discussion of the data’s development history.
An additional feature that can be found on the MARIS home page are maps showing the availability and development status of US Geological Survey map products for the state. Information about MARIS’ role in state government, its staff, equipment and current GIS projects are also offered. Users can also obtain general facts about the state, find out about future GIS related conferences, and obtain a direct link to a wide variety of state and national sites. These include Mississippi state Agencies, municipalities and universities and other state/federal government GIS related sites.
Davis said each month that goes by the MARIS Web page receives more and more “hits.”
“And we are trying to refine it to make it even easier to use,” he said.