Animated map offers planners greater latitude Computer program plots sprawl from Baltimore, D.C.

April 23, 1996|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

Like a pair of oozing inkblots, development spreads out from Baltimore and from Washington until it blends into one vast stain on the computer-generated Chesapeake Bay landscape.

The high-tech, animated map, previewed yesterday before a Baltimore convention of geographic experts, dramatically portrays the growth and gradual merger over the past 200 years of the two cities 45 miles apart.

Hailed by one local planner as a valuable tool for showing the cumulative impact of decades of development, the mapping program is the product of a new partnership between the University of Maryland Baltimore County and two federal science agencies.

The program's creators say that once perfected, the animated map offers residents and government planners a powerful tool that could help manage the region's suburban sprawl.

"When you see how Baltimore and Washington merge closer together as the years tick by, it's clear that master planning is necessary and has, in some years, been absent," said Timothy W. Foresman, director of UMBC's Spatial Analysis Laboratory.

UMBC teamed with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and with the U.S. Geological Survey to produce the animated mapping program. NASA, which supplied satellite images and data from its $3 billion Mission to Planet Earth research project, has supported the project with $350,000 in grants so far.

Researchers incorporated historical maps and census information dating to 1792, as well as satellite photographs and other data collected from NASA satellites and space shuttles over the past 25 years.

They used computer software to create an animated video connecting the various "snapshots" of development in the region.

"A historical perspective of urban development provides insights into future development and expansion trends," said William Acevedo, a scientist with the Geological Survey's Ames Research Group in California.

Dr. Foresman said researchers hope to improve the program so that it can actually proj-ect development in the region, based on current land-use policies or proposals.

Don Auten, Baltimore County's chief of water quality and resource management, said the program is a "fascinating research tool." He said the video depicts only limited development in northern Baltimore County since 1975, which he attributed to the county's efforts to protect Loch Raven and Liberty reservoirs, the region's drinking water supplies.

Because development occurs so gradually, Mr. Auten explained, residents and government officials often fail to comprehend how much the landscape has changed over the years.

"When people see pictures, it's much easier to understand what's going on," agreed Rob Northrop, a forester with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. He said he intends to show the images in the next few weeks at community meetings organized to discuss restoring the Gwynns Falls, which flows from around Owings Mills to the Patapsco River in Baltimore.

The animated maps and other information about the project are available on the Internet's World Wide Web (http: //www.umbc.edu/bwrdc).

Pub Date: 4/23/96

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