GSDA:Nautical Charts

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Nautical Charts

NOAA's National Ocean Service

Image Overview

The use of maps and photographs within WMS/GIS serves many purposes. These images can be used as a backdrop to create a conceptual hydrologic model. In other words, the engineer can create feature objects (i.e., streams, outlets) on top of the map image to ensure that they are in the proper locations. There are three types of images generally used with WMS: TIFF, DRG, and DOQ. DRG images are the most commonly used.

In order for images to be useful they must be georeferenced. This means that the map image itself has been fit to actual coordinates on the earth's surface to some coordinate system such as UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator). If a map or image is not available for the area of interest, then any map or image can be scanned using a typical scanner. This image can then be georeferenced within WMS.

TIFF Images and DRGs

A common type of image format is a TIFF (tagged image file format) image. If a TIFF image is not already available from some source, they can be easily created by scanning a map using a typical scanner.

A special type of TIFF images that is already georeferenced is called a GEOTIFF, and does not need to be georeferenced with any additional steps since the georeferencing information is contained within the image itself. Some software will read GEOTIFF images and some won't. Other TIFF images come with a separate file called a TIFF World File which contains the georeferencing information. Finally, if a TIFF image is not georeferenced for some reason, it can be done in WMS or GIS through a process called registration (see WMS tutorial for more information).

DRGs are a special type of TIFF image. The USGS has scanned their standard series topographic maps and created georeferenced TIFF images from them - images like these are known as a DRG (Digital Raster Graphic). They are usually available in 1:24,000 (7.5' quads), 1:100,000, and 1:250,000 scale. The scale required for a project in WMS is very important since DRGs are not normally tiled together as are DEMs, but the proper size should be selected for the project (i.e., a very large watershed may require a 1:250,000 scale DRG). DRG images are often large with respect to disk space, often exceeding 10 megabytes each. Most DRGs are GEOTIFFs.

WMS and GIS will both read a DRG, and most graphics programs will at least display one on the computer screen. The USGS offers free software that will also read a DRG image (visit for more information).

A portion of the Draper, Utah 1:24,000 scale (7.5' quad) DRG map.

Digital Orthophoto Quarter Quadrangles (DOQ)

DOQ images are high-resolution (often 1 square meter per pixel) computer generated images of aerial photographs shot at about 20,000 ft altitude. They are usually very large in file size (often exceeding 40 megabytes for black & white) so typically 4 DOQ images are taken for each 7.5' quadrangle as a NW, NE, SW, and SE quarter-quad. The "ortho" refers to the fact that the image displacements caused by camera tilt and terrain topography have been removed from the aerial photo (this process is called orthorectification). This means that the image is a photographic map which can be used to accurately measure distances directly from the photograph and other cartographic (map) information can be directly overlaid onto the DOQ. DOQ images are sometimes georeferenced, and sometimes they are not. DOQs come in various file formats. Some images are in .jpg format and have a file associated with them similar to a TIFF world file (as is the case with DRGs). Another common format is .bil which stands for "band interleaved by line" multiband image. ArcView and ARC/INFO require the JPEG extension to view .jpg images but will automatically read the .bil format as an image data source (versus a feature data source such as a shapefile). WMS cannot read .bil format directly. DOQ images should be available for the conterminous United States by 2004, and then will be updated every 5 or 10 years depending on how rapid the land use change is in a certain area.

A portion of a DOQ showing a wharf and boat dock.

Satellite Images

Other image types such as SPIN-2 and OrbView satellite photographs can be found, viewed, and purchased from several sources. As mentioned in the overview, satellite images are sometimes clearer and more resolute than aerial photographs.

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