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Development of GIS databases and applications on the WWW for the upper Peninsula, Michigan.


The purpose of this Superior Geographic Information Systems (GIS) project is to establish a geographical data managing system for Michigan's Upper Peninsula that will be available to the public via the World Wide Web (WWW) <>. Specifically, this project integrates scattered GIS data sets, creates secondary maps such as draped shaded relief maps and 3-D anaglyph maps, provides the data via the WWW, arid develops an efficient GlS database management system using the WWW-based Active Server Page technology. The GIS data collected consists of base data, application data, and secondary maps. Through a three-tier WWW interface, the public may browse, search, and download GIS data. Also, a GIS Web server running on the Web site allows the public to analyze GIS data using normal Web browsers. This research shows how a GIS Web server and an interactive Web technology can serve the public in GIS data sharing.


As digital information becomes more available in everyday life, geographic information systems (GIS) are becoming a part of the infrastructure within society (Batty 1999; Graham and McNeil 1999). GIS is a data management tool used by government agencies, businesses, and educational institutes to map and analyze spatial information. GIS once required big machines with very limited access. The personal computer revolution has, however, brought GIS technology down to engineers, planners, researchers, teachers, students, travelers, and managers. Along with the recent development of the Internet, GIS technology has gone through another revolution to make it available to the public through the WWW (Plewe 1997).

GIS on the WWW, like any other technology, is only as good as the quality of the input data (Bernhardsen 1999). The most reliable and the easiest-to-get digital GIS data sources are probably the Digital Line Graphs (DLG), Digital Elevation Models (DEM), Digital Orthophoto Quad Quadrangle (DOQQ), and Digital Raster Graphics (DRG) data that are available from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The data from the USGS, however, are not tailored to satisfy the needs of the Upper Peninsula, Michigan (U. P.). Specifically, most data available online require significant processing time for data collection and manipulation. Considering the U. P. is an environmentally sensitive region that requires a decision support system to maintain its large natural resources, it is important to provide timely geographic information with less processing time.

For the U. P., GIS data are scattered in various federal, state, and local agencies. Data sharing between them is unlikely without ample prior knowledge about which department carries what kind of data. Also, the lack of proper GIS Metadata, that is the description on data complying with the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) standard (FGDC 1995), makes the situation even more difficult. Table 1 shows major GIS databases available and their characteristics.

As shown in Table 1, many GIS databases have been constructed in nationwide or statewide contexts. However, there is no one location that contains various GIS data for the U. P. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) has compiled and distributed GIS data via the Internet <>. The GIS data from the MDNR is quite extensive and very rich in information content. However, as shown in Table 1, there are still more data available to the public and they will benefit if U. P. GIS data are compiled in one location.

The Geography Department at Northern Michigan University (NMU) has a long tradition of serving the local community. Also, the department archives digital data sets from various federal and state agencies. This project sought to establish a GIS database, consisting of these archived material and WWW-based GIS applications, which will be available to the public via the WWW, and the work will investigate the capabilities and problems of Web GIS techniques for local communities. Specific objectives include the integration of scattered U. P. GIS data sets, the creation of secondary maps from original data sets, such as draped shaded relief maps and 3-Danaglyph maps, the service of U. P. GIS data via the WWW, and the service of interactive mapping capability to the public with an Internet mapping server. A four-stage methodology was prepared to achieve these objectives.


Stage I: Data Collection and Web Server Development

The main task at the first stage was to collect and integrate GIS data in one projection system and one metric unit. During the first 6 months, about 18 GB of data were collected in addition to the GIS data CDs (compact disks) managed by the Geography Department. The digital geographic data collected were mostly in one of the four projections: the geographic latitude/longitude coordinate system, the Michigan Stareplane Coordinate system (North zone), the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) projection (zones 15, 16, and 17), and the Michigan GeoRef coordinate system. Unlike the other projections, the Michigan GeoRef coordinate system covers the State of Michigan in one zone within the scale factor range of [1.0000 [+ OR -] 0.0004]. Because many of the digital data sets available from the MDNR use the Michigan GeoRef coordinate systems, this research used the projection as a target projection to which other geographic data can be integrated. The Michigan GeoRef coordinate system uses projection parameters shown in Table 2.

Because the Michigan GeoRef coordinate system uses the North American Datum 1983 (NAD83) with the metric unit, data sets in other datum and units were converted to be matched with Michigan GeoRef parameters. The collected data covered various themes such as agriculture, boundaries, business and industry, cities and towns, climate, cultural features, demographics, DEM, digital Orthophoto, DRG, disposal and waste sites, economic data, environmental monitoring, geodetic points, geographic names, geology, hydrology, hypsography, land use/land cover, mines/minerals, transportation, roads and railroads, travel, soils, utility, and transmission. The Microsoft Internet Information Server was set up on a Windows NT server, and basic Web page services were provided at the first stage.

Stage 2: Secondary Information Creation

Digital geographic data in raw format are very useful for experts who have ample knowledge and resources to handle them. However, the public who lacks the resources to handle the data may get more information from image maps rather than raw GIS data. In this research project, DEM image with county boundaries, 1-km land cover with county boundaries, 3-dimensional anaglyph map, river basin maps, environmental facility maps, and animated fly-over maps were created. The maps were created using GIS software packages such as ArcView, ArcInfo, and Imagine. The 3-dimensional anaglyph map was created using a program coded by the author in a C++ compiler. Digital image maps were published using the JPEG image format that allows browsing with normal Internet browsers.

Stage 3: Image Map Distribution and the Development of Data Search Function

Three data distribution methods were implemented: direct downloading through the Internet, the use of CD-ROMs and diskettes, and the use of paper maps. Data transfer through the WWW was implemented using the File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP). An FTP server was installed to provide anonymous login and data download. CD-ROMs that can store data up to 650 megabytes were made available on request. A hard copy map service was implemented using a high quality inkjet plotter with a 36-inch-wide roll paper. Because data are added continuously, it is necessary to provide current list of data to the public. Providing the updated information was implemented using the Active Server Page (ASP) technique, which links a Microsoft Access database to the Microsoft Internet Information Server. For developing a dynamic Web site, four dynamic scripting servers are quite useful: Allaire Corporation's ColdFusion Server, the Apache Group's Tomcat, Microsoft Corporation's Active Server Page (ASP), and the open source PHP. From these four, the ASP was selected for this project because the technology is popular and widely supported with strong development tools, even though the ASP is very Microsoft Windows specific (Raposa 2000).

Stage 4: Interactive Web-GIS Application Development

The main goal of this stage was to develop Web GIS applications. Unlike the image maps developed at State-2, the Web GIS allows users to create maps on their own demand. For this purpose, a 3-tier Web application service was set up connecting clients, a WWW server, and a Web GIS server (e.g., Plewe 1997). There are two approaches to building a 3-tier Web application. One is to use GIS software (ex. Arc/Info, ArcView, GRASS, or Imagine) with scripting languages. The other is to use a commercial GIS mapping server. Usery et al. (1998) implemented the first method, who found license problems along with required extensive script programming to make GIS software run. This project used the second strategy, GIS mapping server, because it is easier to develop, manage applications and provides sophisticated tools. There are many Web GIS servers currently available. For example, ESRI's ArcIMS, CARIS Spatial Fusion, Demis' Map Server, AutoDesk's Map Guide, Intergraph's GeoMedia WebEnterprise, Maplnfo's MapXtreme, and Fo rNet Map Server by the University of Minnesota are all Web GIS servers. ArcIMS was selected for the Web GIS application development because most collected data were integrated in ArcView from the same company.


Figure 1 shows the Web site servicing GIS data, remote sensing data, and additional information to the community of the Upper Peninsula, Michigan. The Web site <> was designed to have three sections: information and services, data download and information, and secondary maps and Web GIS applications. Also, the improved readability was attempted by using relevant icons.

The academic field of geography is rather interdisciplinary and synthetic, covering interests from various groups, which implies various services from the department. In the case of the Geography Department at Northern Michigan University, services are provided to the public such as academic programs (e.g., majors, minors, and certificates), workshops, technical services (e.g., survey, data collection, mapping, and plotting), and other educational services (e.g., K-12 students' tour program). Those activities that relate to GIS were listed in the first section under three categories: general information, educational services, and technical services.

The second section was designed to provide GIS data directly to the public including CD-ROM data from Northern Michigan University, directly downloadable data using the file transfer protocol (FTP), and a link to other major GIS data sites covering Michigan. The second section was prepared under the concept of data warehousing, which is a data center where local and scattered data are gathered. The warehouse functions as an information collection and portal site. In the WWW environment, for example, Web sites such as Yahoo and Altavista could be typical information warehouses. Data search and download functions were implemented in the second section. The Active Server Page technology was used for cataloging and browsing NMU GIS data CDs. Search functions were designed to provide five search options: keyword, theme type, library control number, satellite imagery, and list all data. Even though it was developed using a Microsoft Access database, processing time was very fast and the stability of the system was very satisfactory. The catalog database also included software package information. The Geography Department manages various GIS, remote sensing, operating systems, mapping, and office packages. By cataloging the packages along with license information, purchase information, and contact information, department personnel could receive relevant information anytime, anywhere through the WWW.

The third section was designed to include Web GIS applications and downloadable digital maps. Interactive Web GIS applications include U. P. general information, U. P. hydrology, U. P. contamination information, U. P. quaternary geology, U. P. soils, U. P. trout information, U. P. wolf tracking information, and county land cover. Figure 2 shows an example of a Web GIS application showing some contamination sites in Marquette. Unlike traditional paper or image maps, the Web GIS provides unique capabilities. First, Web GIS provides a capability that a user can identify attribute information attached to graphic features. In the case of the contamination sites, a user can identify detailed attribute information, such as contact information and contamination chemicals. Second, Web GIS provides dynamic and interactive maps. Users can turn on or off certain layers and interactively query information. Third, in addition to navigation tools like zooming and panning, Web GIS provides basic analysis capabilities such as query and distance measuring. In the case of ArcIMS, distance measuring seemed to be useful for the users who are not familiar with map scales. Lastly, map labels did not change as users zoomed in or out. In traditional maps or digital images, map labels are zoomed in or out along with other map features. However, the ArcIMS presented map symbols scale independent. This feature made map legends cluttered and overlapped at a very small scale, just like the case of showing the entire U. P. in a window. However, as maps are zoomed in, map legends remained the same size and the location of labels changed dynamically, showing legends not cluttered at large or intermediate map scales.

Downloadable maps were also developed in this research. Some examples are 3-dimensional anaglyph maps, shaded relief maps (Figure 3), land cover maps, fly-over maps, and multi-resolution fusion maps. GIS data are not in map form, so it is difficult for non-GIS users to visualize the data appropriately. For serving members of the community, simple browse maps can be more practical rather than raw data. Considering the Geography Department creates maps as part of its normal research and teaching process, adding these maps on the Web site would attract more users, eventually increasing community services from the department. For example, fly-over maps that were created using DEM and land cover themes recently attracted many people at a local survey engineer's meeting (Jasper Ridge Inn, Ispheming, Marquette, Michigan, March 17, 2001).

This research project was also good teaching material to train students in newly emerging fields in GIS and Web technology. Through this project, five undergraduate students have experienced technical skills such as database construction, GIS data collection, Web map design, data exploration, and visualization. Information will be added continuously and more students will benefit from this project.

Even though this project showed a great possibility of integrating GIS data and technology for improving community service, it revealed several issues as well. First, the reliability of Web GIS was questioned. While the ASP technology for cataloging data showed fast, reliable, and satisfactory results, the Web GIS applications showed very unstable and sensitive results. The technological immaturity of the ArcIMS (version 3.0), the inexperience of the developer, and the complexity of technology used in the ArcIMS were thought to cause the instability of the entire Web mapping system. Also, in the case of JAVA-based Web mapping system, Internet users have to download and reboot their computers to browse the Web GIS site. This may make users afraid of changing their existing software configurations. Non-JAVA or non-plug-in applications could resolve the problem even though it may have fewer functions. Second, the volume of information to download was considered to hamper users to access some maps or data. For ex ample, a 30-second fly-over movie was about 20 MB, and Web GIS applications showing land cover required significant amount of time to download and process data before the Web application was ready. Data compression and streaming techniques will resolve the problem to some degree. Reducing the size of data to be delivered has been one of the major concerns during the entire Web application development. Third, the focus area of this project and target customers were very important. Application contents and interfaces had to be changed dramatically depending on target audiences. As Plewe (1997) pointed out, it was very important to know to whom information was delivered and to tailor services to their needs. In this project, three groups were targeted which include internal personnel on campus, GIS users from local community, and the public from the world.


In this research project, WWW technologies were used for serving map users from the campus and local community. Even though several problems arose in the deployment of digital maps using digital GIS data, cataloging data using the ASP technology turned out to be very successful. Also, this research project gave undergraduate students a chance to participate in publishing their maps on the Internet. It is expected that the local community will benefit from the Web site through the GIS data catalog, service information available from the Geography Department, downloadable digital data, and interactive Web mapping capabilities.


This research was supported by faculty research grant from the Northern Michigan University. The author thanks Erin Naser, Joel Sabin, Thyra Weidlich, Jesse Carden, and Kennith Marshall for their help. The author owes a debt of gratitude to Dr. Judy M. Olson for invaluable review and comments.


BATTY, M. 1999. New Technology and GIS. In Langley, P. A., M. F. Goodchild, D. J. Maguire, and D. W. Rhind, eds, Geographical Information Systems, Vol. 1, pp. 309-16.

BERNHARDSEN, T. 1999. Geographic Information Systems: An Introduction, 2nd ed., John Wiley & Sons, New York.

FGDC (FEDERAL GEOGRAPHIC DATA COMMITTEE). 1995. Content Standards for Digital Geospatial Metadata Workbook.

GRAHAM, D. T., AND J. MCNEIL. 1999. Using the Internet as Part of Directed Learning in Social Geography: Developing Web Pages as an Introduction to Social Geography. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, Vol. 23, No. 2, pp. 181-94.

PLEWE, B. 1997. GIS Online: Information Retrieval, Mapping, and the Internet. OnWord press, Santa Fe.

RAPOSA, J. 2000. Dynamic Web doings, eWEEK 17(44): 28-35.

USERY, E. L., J. C. SEONG, AND B. W. JUN. 1998. Implementing GIS Software over the World-Wide-Web. ASPRS-RTI 1998 Annual Conference Proceedings, 623-29.

Major GIS Data Sources on the Upper Peninsula, Michigan

 Source Data

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) DLG, DRG, DOQQ, DEM, GNIS,
 National Atlas, Landuse,
 Landcover, GLIS

 Microsoft TerraServer Digital Orthophoto (originally
 from Soviet satellites and

 water quality, environmental

 Michigan DNR MIRIS Databases. Base maps and
 socioeconomic data

 U.S. Census Bureau TIGER

 Michigan Information Demographic and socioeconomic
 data. Gateway to MI GIS data

 USGS, EROS, DAAC, SAA Satellite data (Landsat,
 AVHRR etc.)

 Geography, NMU Archive of government digital
 data TIGER/Radar/Satellite
 tored in CDs. (Data/MIRS/DLG/

 Source Characteristics

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Topographic data source. Not
 localized data. Mostly FTP
 access. Most data are out of

 Microsoft TerraServer Partial data covering about 60
 percent of the U.P. Purchase
 recommended from the USGS.

 EPA Environmental data.

 Michigan DNR Organized by counties. Out of
 date. Very extensive.

 U.S. Census Bureau TIGER data in NMU, Demographic

 Michigan Information Digital maps and statistical

 USGS, EROS, DAAC, SAA Free-km AVHRR. Purchase
 necessary for high

 Geography, NMU Major center for public GIS
 Stored on CDs

Parameters Used in Michigan GeoRef Coordinate System

 Projection Oblique Mercator

 Datum NAD83
 Ellipsoid GRS80
 Units Meters
 Scale factor at projection's 0.9996
Longitude of projection's origin 86[degrees] 00' 00" W
Latitude of projection's origin 45[degrees] 18' 33" N
Azimuth at center of projection 337.25556[degrees]
 False easting 2546731.496
 False northing -4354009.816

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Author:Seong, Jeong Chang
Publication:Michigan Academician
Geographic Code:1U3MI
Date:Sep 22, 2001
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