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The Latest News

February 1, 2004
Louisiana's vanishing act; NIMA becomes NGA; and NCEES prohibits more calculators.

Surveying subsidence in Plaquemines Parish, La.
Photo compliments of Tim Osborn, NOAA

Louisiana's Vanishing Act

In the post-Civil War era, residents in Louisiana moaned and groaned about flooding in the area, according to Cliff Mugnier, Surveying Instructor & Chief of Geodesy at Louisiana State University.

"Now they're moaning and groaning because the Army Corps [of Engineers] did something about it," Mugnier said. At that time, the Corps sent the army south with two missions: to protect the nation's farmlands from flooding, and to maintain the nation's ports, harbors and navigable waterways. That's exactly what the army did-by building levees.

The levees, however, have stopped silt from building up the delta of the Mississippi River-and now the state of Louisiana is sinking. "If the delta isn't replenished with new silts and sands," said Mugnier, "the littoral waters will then inundate those portions of the delta and Louisiana starts losing parts of its coastlines." Other factors also influence Louisiana's subsidence, including oil and gas extraction, the rise of sea level, ground water removal and tectonic plate activity.

Concerned about this growing coastal crisis, the Louisiana Governor's Office of Coastal Activities hosted a workshop last December to resolve the problem of measuring coastal subsidence. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy convened the conference, titled "Measuring & Predicting Elevation Change in the Mississippi River Deltaic System." Cosponsoring the event were the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development and the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources.

Coastal Louisiana is part of a 10,000-square mile system of wetlands, distributary ridges, barrier shorelines, shallow bays and other features that is geologically and ecologically dynamic. In fact, about 1,900 square miles of former landscape has become permanently flooded within the past 100 years. A similar fate is projected for another 700 square miles by 2050 unless dramatic action is taken.

"We were trying to get national attention to the problem," said Len Bahr, Ph.D., coastal science advisor to the governor of Louisiana for the past 13 years. Bahr summed up the theme of the December workshop as gaining an understanding of how fast Louisiana is sinking and of how to measure elevations.

LaNell Aston, project manager for the Texas tide gauge program known as the Texas Coastal Ocean Observation Network (TCOON), was the keynote speaker at the conference. Charles Groat, Ph.D., director of USGS, and Gene Whitney, Ph.D., analyst for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, were also featured speakers.

Kristen Tronvig, MS, NOAA's COASTAL program manager, pointed out that the most incredible aspect of the workshop was that so many state and federal agencies came together. "It's not common," she said, "for all of them to be together at the same time, in the same place, working on the same issue."

This issue includes research to conduct surveys for evacuation routes during times of severe storms and hurricanes, another task on NOAA's list. "If you understand sea level rise and subsidence, you can apply it to emergency preparedness, restoration [and other issues]," Tronvig said.

Virtually every social, economic and environmental issue in coastal Louisiana is affected by the low-lying and ever-changing geometry. Emphasizing this point, Cindy Fowler, MS, an information technology specialist at NOAA, said, "We have bench marks out there local surveyors are using that have moved [because of subsidence]."

No one at the workshop questioned the need for accurate elevation measurements and knowledge of rates of change within Louisiana. But it was during the conference meetings that all of the gathered agencies agreed to cooperate to coordinate subsidence measurement in the future. Because of this, Fowler reported that the workshop was a success.

Numbers and fine-tuning of standards were not discussed at the workshop, but follow-up meetings have been scheduled to define these details. According to Dave Zilkoski, deputy director of the National Geodetic Survey (NGS), a team made up of people from USGS, NOAA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the University of New Orleans and Louisiana State University will coordinate the placement and calibration of bench marks and tide gauges to NOAA's datum. This will provide calibration data for modeling and predicting subsidence in Louisiana, as well as for constructing and maintaining infrastructure and levees.

NIMA Becomes NGA

When the 2004 Defense Authorization Bill was signed, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) officially became the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). "The new name-NGA-better reflects the completeness of what this agency does and the value we bring to national security," said Office of Corporate Relations Director Mark Schultz. "NGA provides geospatial intelligence to the nation's war fighters and senior policy-makers."

Geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) is the exploitation and analysis of imagery and geospatial information to describe, assess and visually depict physical features and geographically referenced activities on Earth. Following the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, NIMA accelerated the convergence of various analytic tradecrafts (cartography, geospatial analysis, imagery analysis, marine analysis, aeronautical analysis, regional analysis and geodesy) into the new discipline. GEOINT provides a more complete visualization of geographically referenced areas on Earth. Products and services that leverage the power of this fusion range from deployed targeting to animated "fly-throughs."

NGA's vision, "Know the Earth "¦ Show the Way," is captured in a new seal. The globe symbolizes the totality of the mission. Its pixilization symbolizes the agency's background in imagery analysis, while the grid evokes mapping. The radiating star above the Earth is showing the way toward new concepts, technology and products. The day and night depiction suggests the round-the-clock nature of NGA's work. The new seal includes a red compass; the compass has 16 points, which represent the worldwide search for geospatial intelligence and the navigational mission.

NCEES Prohibits More Calculators

In response to concerns about inappropriate actions before, during and after tests, the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) announced an enforcement of Exam Policy 15 in August, which "strictly [enforces] materials prohibited in examination rooms." A specific resolution to the test-taking problems included the banning of several commonly used calculators. (See The Latest News story, "NCEES Tightens Security on Calculators" in POB, November 2003.) This solution, however, has required the organization to keep track of a sizeable list of calculators available.

In a followup to its initial list of prohibited calculators, the NCEES released another list in January. Based on additional research, the organization determined other models that have the capability to compromise the security of NCEES exams, meaning they have either text editing or communication capabilities. The latest list includes the Casio CFX9850+; Texas Instruments models TI-83, TI-85 and TI-86; and the Hewlett-Packard HP 41 series and HP 42S.

NCEES stresses that these models and those listed last August do not comprise an all-inclusive list, and reminds test-takers to consult with their state licensing boards for their own approved lists of calculators. The general rule of thumb is that if a calculator can store text or communicate in any way, it will be prohibited from examination rooms.

Calculators currently accepted at NCEES exams include the: Casio FX115- MS PLUS and FX-250 HC; Hewlett-Packard HP-9 series, HP-30s, HP32s and HP33s; Sharp EL-506 VB and EL-520 VB; and Texas Instruments TI-30 series.

For more information, visit the NCEES web page on its calculator policy at: www.ncees.org/exams/calculators.