GIS From the Past: CARETS

Caitlin Dempsey


In the early 1970s, a joint pilot project between NASA and the USGS sought to test out the feasibility of integrating data from Landsat and high-altitude aircraft sensors into a regional land use database.  Called Central Atlantic Regional Ecological Test Site (CARETS) successfully used remote sensing and GIS to develop a land use map which could be used with environmental data to understand land use change.  The 74,000 km2 test region covered the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays and urbanized hinterlands on the eastern Seaboard of the U.S.

CARETS used a geographic information system model under which land use maps were prepared from sensor data, then digitized, processed, and linked to other environmental and social data sets, and to environmental consequences such as air pollution, stream runoff, local climatic factors, and coastal erosion. Landsat data showed the test region in 1972 to be nine percent urban and built-up land, 38 percent agriculture, 50 percent forest, three percent nonforested wetlands, and less than one percent barren land, exclusive of water-covered areas.

The project was a interdisciplinary approach:

The CARETS “information systems” approach was intended to facilitate communication among scientists and nonscientist data user~; scientists providing information on consequences of land use decisions and other elements of the complex environmental management process; and nonscientist administrators of local, State, and Federal government agencies with responsibility for making decisions such as changing a parcel of land from one use to another. More than 65 cooperating agencies were able to share in the experience of learning about the potential of the new remote sensing technology and associated computer processing methods.

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The project leaned on the expertise and GIS methodologies developed by the Canada Geographic Information System (CGIS) and Roger Tomlinson is listed as a participant in CARETS.

In 1979, a final report was issued detailing the CARETS program.  Chapter three in Volume 1 of the report provides detail about the CARETS Geographic Information System:

The geographic information systems component of the CARETS project deals with the processes of information flow from remote sensor to user. This information flow includes (1) graphic products (photographs, images, and maps) and (2), quantified land use data derived from remote sensor records. Most of the “information systems” effort went into the latter, i.e., the development of a computer capability encompassing digitizing, storing, manipulating and retrieving the information on land use maps and on other maps which facilitate the retrieval and analysis of such data. This chapter first presents a summary statement of the information flow problem including theoretical considerations ,and methods of quantification of map data. The remainder of the chapter summarizes the development of the CARETS computerized geographic information system, the various technological stages involved in transforming the map data into computerized format, and the role of the CARETS information.system as prototype to a similar system now operational in the USGS Geography Program.

The report

Alexander, R. H. (1979). Central Atlantic regional ecological test site: A prototype regional environmental information system. Final report – Volume 1.

There were 12 volumes in total, the remaining list of CARETS final report volumes are below.

Land use map from CARETS Final Report, 1979.
Land use map from CARETS Final Report, 1979.

Remaining List of Final Report Volumes


Volume 2:
Alexander, R. H., Buzzanell, P. J., Fitzpatrick, K. A., Lins, H. F., & McGinty III, H. K. (1975). Norfolk and environs: A land use perspective (Report No. Volume 2, Part A) (p. 363). Reston, VA.

Volume 3:
Ackerman, E. A., & Alexander, R. H. (1975). Toward a National Land Use Information System (Vol. 3). US Geological Survey.

Volume 4:
Mitchell, W. B., Fegeas, R. G., Fitzpatrick, K. A., & Hallam, C. A. (1977). Geographic information system development in the CARETS project (Central Atlantic Regional Ecological Test Site), volume 4.

Volume 5:
Alexander, R. H., Deforth, P. W., Fitzpatrick, K. A., Lins Jr, H. F., & Mcginty III, H. K. (1975). CARETS: A prototype regional environmental information system. Volume 5: Interpretation, compilation and field verification procedures in the CARETS project.

Volume 6:
Fitzpatrick, K. A. (1975). Cost-accuracy-consistency Comparisons of Land Use Maps Made from High-altitude Aircraft Photography and ERTS Imagery (Vol. 6). US Geological Survey.

Volume 7:
Alexander, R. H., Reed, W. E., & Lewis, J. E. (1975). CARETS: A prototype regional environmental information system. Volume 7: Land use information and air quality planning. [Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia].

Volume 8:
Pluhowski, E. J. (1977). Application of remotely sensed land-use information to improve estimates of streamflow characteristics, volume 8. [Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware].

Volume 9:
Alexander, R. H., Dolan, R., Hayden, B. P., & Vincent, C. L. (1975). CARETS: A prototype regional environmental information system. Volume 9: Shore zone land use and land cover; Central Atlantic Regional Ecological Test Site.

Volume 10:
Alexander, R. H., Buzzanell, P. J., & Mcginty III, H. K. (1975). CARETS: A prototype regional environmental information system. Volume 10: Environmental problems in the coastal and wetlands ecosystems of Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Volume 11:
Alexander, R. H., & Buzzanell, P. J. (1975). CARETS: A prototype regional environmental information system. Volume 11: Potential usefulness of CARETS data for environmental impact assessment.

Volume 12:
Alexander, R. H., & Mcginty III, H. K. (1975). CARETS: A prototype regional environmental information system. Volume 12: User evaluation of experimental land use maps and related products from the central Atlantic test site.

Related CARETS reports and documents

See Also

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.