Expert Report

A Geospatial Framework for the Coastal Zone: National Needs for Coastal Mapping and Charting (2004)

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

High quality maps and charts of the coastal zone are essential for safe navigation, resolving jurisdictional boundaries, developing new policies and programs, and establishing inventories of resources and habitats. With 14 of the country's 20 largest urban corridors along the nation's coastline, coastal mapping and charting should be a priority. This report proposes an integrated and coordinated coastal mapping strategy for the nation, based on a consistent geospatial framework that would be the foundation for all data collection, analyses, and products. It also suggests mechanisms for enhanced communication among the many agencies and entities with mapping and charting responsibilities in the coastal zone in order to minimize redundancy and maximize operational efficiencies.

Key Messages

  • One of the most serious impediments to coastal zone management is the inability to produce accurate maps and charts so that objects and processes can be seamlessly tracked across the land-water interface.
  • The Tampa Bay Bathy/Topo/Shoreline Demonstration Project, a collaborative effort between NOAA and the USGS, has developed a suite of such tools (called Vdatum) and has demonstrated the feasibility of generating a seamless bathymetric/topographic dataset for the Tampa Bay area.
  • The barrier to the production of continuous integrated mapping products across the land-sea interface is the inherent difference in the horizontal and vertical reference surfaces (datums) and projections used for maps and charts.
  • The committee's vision for the future of coastal zone mapping and charting also includes mechanisms to ensure communication among all agencies and entities involved in order to minimize redundancy of efforts and maximize operational efficiencies.
  • The database and data integration tools will be easily accessible to all users, public and private, from a single digital portal accessible through the Internet.
  • The vision for the future of coastal zone mapping and charting requires the development of an integrated and coordinated coastal mapping strategy for the nation, based on a foundation on which all data collection, analyses, and products can be built.
  • There will be national and perhaps international standards and protocols for data collection and metadata creation and readily available tools for data transformation and integration. With these tools the user community will be able to evaluate the accuracy and timeliness of data, change scales and projections, and seamlessly merge disparate datasets.
  • These data and tools will permit the establishment of a nationally coordinated digital database across the land-sea interface consisting of seamless elevation and depth data that can be referenced or transformed to common vertical and horizontal datums have formed the foundation for a multitude of subsequent studies.
  • To establish this foundation, there must be a national effort to collect the information and develop the tools necessary to seamlessly blend topographic (onshore) and bathymetric (offshore) data.
  • Unlike the USGS topographic sheets, however, a coastal zone database must take account of tidal variation and be able to reconcile the differences between land and offshore datums.