UW-Madison exposition to feature high-tech mapping

Nov. 16, 2009

Experts from around Wisconsin will show off the latest in technologies and projects that use high-tech mapping tools called geographic information systems (GIS) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Friday, Nov. 20.

Five years ago, it would have been difficult to find a navigation system in most cars. Now there's one on many dashboards. Even cell phones can tell us where we are these days.

"Most people don't realize where the maps, or more accurately, the map data, come from when they look at Google Maps or a vehicle navigation system," explains Karen Tuerk, organizer of the UW-Madison Geographic Information Systems Day. "The reality is, Web sites like Google Maps and Bing Maps are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to the power of geographic information."

Exhibits will be in Great Hall of the Memorial Union, 800 Langdon St., from 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. More information on the day's activities can be found at http://www.geography.wisc.edu/GISDay.

In addition to the exposition, an introductory GIS workshop will be held from 4-6 p.m. in Science Hall, 550 N. Park St., for students, staff and the general public. Anyone interested must pre-register for the workshop by Wednesday, Nov. 18, at http://www.geography.wisc.edu/GISDay. No registration is required for the main event.

The mapping industry has come a long way in the last 20 years, Tuerk adds.

"In the past, cartographers were widely known for their graphic design skills and attention to detail," Tuerk says. "That's still true. But today you are just as likely to find cartographers with backgrounds in computer science, databases and programming."

In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor identifies the field of "geospatial" information technologies as a high-growth job industry with a better-than-average outlook for the future. This distinction is shared with biotechnology, another hot field on the UW-Madison campus.

Andrew Swartz, GIS coordinator for the city of Sun Prairie, describes the importance of GIS to his city's business: "For example, we use GIS extensively to map ash trees. This allows us to track the age, condition, and size of the trees, along with ongoing inspection results. If the emerald ash borer makes it to our area, GIS puts us in a much better position to react quickly to the situation and manage the impact."

Sun Prairie also has mapping systems on its fire trucks, allowing personnel to find the site of the fire, see detailed information about any hazardous materials stored in the building, and view floor plans, pre-planning information and aerial photographs. "In that sense," Swartz explains, "the map is an important window into to a much deeper database of information."

During the GIS Day exposition, more than 40 organizations will share how they are using GIS for management, decision-making, planning, geographic analysis, mapping, and education. The event will also feature a map gallery (both paper and interactive) and exhibits about the history of mapping in Wisconsin.

GIS Day is an international day of education about Geographic Information Systems and geography. Thousands of organizations around the world hold local events such as open houses, hands-on workshops, community expos, school assemblies and more. GIS Day is part of National Geography Awareness Week. The campus event is sponsored by the UW-Madison Department of Geography.

Public parking is available in the city of Madison's Lake Street ramp at 415 N. Lake St.