Brewer honored for exceptional contributions to topographic mapping

Cynthia Brewer, professor of geography and director of the Gould Center and National Mapping Expertise Exchange, received the 2013 Henry Gannett Award for Exceptional Contributions to Topographic Mapping from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). She is being honored for her involvement in the development of new symbology for the U.S. Topo mapping project.

“My collaboration with USGS mapmakers often had a casual form — advice during an online meeting, sitting together to work out an improved map appearance or sending a GIS project to share its internal rule set — in addition to my formal publications or presentations,” Brewer said. “Working together in the context of real topo products was important inspiration for me, and I am so happy that USGS sees the whole as a major contribution to their work mapping the nation.”

Topographic maps show local details of a place, including not only elevation of the terrain, but also natural features such as forests and rivers, and human features such as towns and roads. Traditional paper topographic maps are static, but digital topographic maps offer interactive tools, allowing the user to zoom in or out, or turn themes on or off to examine an area.

“A big part of the project was to produce labels and symbols for many feature types, such as highways and local roads or fire stations and hospitals, so they contrast with each other. And these symbols also remain readable on varied backgrounds, from very dark photos to light relief shading. To keep this readability working through different scales, we make decisions about smartly partitioned processing that gradually eliminates less important features as map areas get smaller in broader views. Fully automating design seems like a contradiction, but it’s a really fun challenge to get it working for every landscape in the country,” Brewer said.

“Cindy is world renown for her use of modern technologies in the design of symbolizations for cartographic display. So Cindy primarily won the award because of her contributions to a modern design for USGS topographic maps. Cindy has also made significant contributions in the development of automated generalization procedures for multi-scale display and delivery of USGS data, which are furnished through The National Map. Although these few words may sound like a simple description, the tasks involve a vast area of scientific research and development in cartography. Cindy's contributions should have a lasting influence on USGS topographic mapping,” noted Larry Stanislawski, a USGS research cartographer who nominated Brewer for the award.

Brewer worked with USGS staff to develop content and symbols for online devices and printed topographic maps with various display sizes and resolutions for a range of scales from 1:5,000 to 1:1,000,000. Her innovations in the use of color, symbols, and generalization are now incorporated into a USGS standard for generating topographic maps.

Introduced at the 125th anniversary of the USGS Topographic Mapping Program in 2009, the award commemorates Gannett's varied contributions and passions for American geography and cartography while recognizing sustained and distinguished contributions to contemporary USGS topographic mapping.

Brewer was presented with the award Nov. 12 at USGS headquarters in Reston, Va.

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Last Updated November 21, 2013