Best of GIS: Notable 2011 Geospatial Happenings

Caitlin Dempsey


It’s been a very long time since I’ve done a “best of GIS” year end review.   Listed below are some of what I have found to be the more exciting and sometimes just plain fun happenings and advances in the GIS and greater geospatial field for the year 2011 as culled from the archives of GIS Lounge.

#freeAtanas Happens

After sixty-five days in an immigrant detention center, the absolute uplifting GIS moment for 2011 has to be the tweet Atanas Entchev sent outafter he and his son were finally freed on a one-year stay of removal.  The plight of Atanas Entchev, a well known GIS professional, was followed closely by the GIS community. Here’s hoping that 2012 brings green cards to the Entchev household.

Atanas Entchev is free!

Your iPhone Knows Where You’ve Been

The release of analysis by Pete Warden and Alasdair Allain at the Where 2.0 conference in April that a file on iPhones called consolidated.db was collecting timestamped locations unleashed a slurry of iPhone tracker maps, online tools to pull the data out to map it, and debates about what this tracking meant, not to mention questioning from members of congress about the controversy.

Map of locations pulled from consolidated.db off an iPhone.
Map of locations pulled from consolidated.db off an iPhone.


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Google Goes Indoors

Not content with merely mapping and capturing on Street View the entire outside world, Google unveiled indoor navigation that was first released for Android users.  The early indoor options is limited to areas in Japan and the United States (mostly retail centers and airports) but Google added the capability for building owners to upload their own floor plans to Google’s growing database.

Google Maps 6.0 for Android allows users to navigate the inside of buildings.
Google Maps 6.0 for Android allows users to navigate the inside of buildings.

Esri Gets Technical

Esri launched its Technical Certification Exams in January of 2011, joining the GIS certification field.  As opposed to the GISP program, Esri’s exam test specifically on aptitude using its GIS software programs.  The two hour, 90-95 question exams test at different levels of proficiency in ArcGIS products.

Esri's Technical Certification Program

USGS Releases New Global Elevation Data

For the first time in thirty years, a new global elevation data set has been made available by the USGS.  The Global Multi-resolution Terrain Elevation Data 2010 (GMTED2010),  replaces the older GTOPO30 terrain model.  GMTED2010 is pulled together from the highest available resolution data including Digital Terrain Elevation Data (DTED®) from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM); Canadian elevation data; SPOT 5 Reference 3D data; data from NASA’s Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat); and updated Antarctica and Greenland terrain models.

GMTED2010 - Global elevation data.
Global Multi-resolution Terrain Elevation Data 2010 (GMTED2010) - Global elevation data. Source: USGS.

GIS in the Cloud with HTML5

GIS Cloud launched HTML5 as the the default GIS Cloud map engine, demonstrating the capabilities of HTML5 Canvas element to render large GIS datasets quickly and natively within browsers.  The realtime rendering of vector GIS data was demonstrated through a press release released by GIS Cloud with embedded maps entitled “GIS Cloud Starts HTML5 Mapping Revolution“.

GIS Cloud Demonstrates HTML5 Mapping. Click on the image for the live demos.

Aviation Charts Go Digital

For the first time, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved the use of the iPad in lieu of paper charts for a charter airline company.  The slim iPad replaced the 20 pounds or more of paper charts that pilots typically carry onboard.

Screenshot of the Jeppesen Aviation iPad App

Polar Ice Mapping

The launch of the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 satellite meant that for the first time, ice thickness close to the poles could be studied and mapped.  The satellite was launched by ESA in order to understand and analyze the relationship between the world’s ice layers and climate change. The first maps of ice thickness were released at the Paris Air and Space Show in June of 2011.

Arctice Sea Ice Thickness Map.
Arctice Sea Ice Thickness Map. Credits: CPOM/UCL/ESA

120 Years of Mapping Goes Online

The USGS has started to release over 120 years of its maps via the USGS Historical Topographic Maps site.  98,000 maps dating as far back as 1884 have been made available to the public and more are being added every month.

Topo Map of Escalante Quadrant, Utah from 1886.
Topo Map of Escalante Quadrant, Utah from 1886.

xkcd Mocks Map Projections

A funny “because it hits too close to home” viral comic matched up favored map projections with personality types with the strip “What Your Favorite Map Projections Says About You“.   Created by web comic xkcd, my favorite laugh came from the oft scoffed Mercator projection, “You’re not really into maps.”

What Your Favorite Map Projection Says About You from xkcd
What Your Favorite Map Projection Says About You from xkcd. Click on image for the original sized comic.

There were plenty of other notable events that didn’t make this GIS 2011 year in review list.  For example, the mapping and crowdsourcing locational data that were prominently used in many of the world’s disaster such as the Japan earthquake and tsunami, and Yahoo! Maps API closed out with a whimper.  A recent survey also found that 25% of adult Americans use locational services on a regular basis.  Many non-iPhone users were happy that Esri released ArcGIS for Android in October.  On a more somber note, the family of Mark Bosworth (a GIS professional who may have brain cancer and who went missing in September) is still awaiting news about his whereabouts.

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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.