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Technology

Cartography on the cutting edge

By Nick Easen for CNN

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Geographical text searching is like "Googling" the globe.
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The ancient art of cartography, with the help of technology, is now on the cutting edge.

Recent advances are making searching for the locations of criminals, oil, terrorists and even environmental disasters a lot easier.

Digital mapping used be the preserve of car navigation systems or as a tool to find a nearby bar or restaurant on a Web site map -- there were few applications.

Now a new age of cartography is in the offing, driven by global positioning systems (GPS), space photography, search engines and the ability to store a lot more information.

Adding a geographical dimension to an existing application is already changing businesses and operations the world over, from mopping up the recent damage caused by Hurricane Frances, to protecting the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

With technology known as geographic information systems (GIS) the real world can be documented, integrated and referenced in a geographical context.

"We see interest growing significantly in GIS...it has tremendous potential," John Frank, CEO of MetaCarta, a company that provides GIS services, told CNN.

Compared to paper, digital maps now bring greater precision, flexibility and a broader range of applications. And now you can attach any amount of information.

"The whole area of mapping is exploding in a lot of different directions," Tom Bailey, an executive at Microsoft's Map-Point division told Newsweek magazine.

During Hurricane Frances, Florida State authorities used GIS to provide maps on its Web site of evacuation routes, flood and storm surge areas, as well as the location and status of shelters.

Anybody could view this information on the Internet in real time in order to determine when, how, and where to evacuate.

Energy companies involved in the discovery and production of oil, gas and minerals also use it. Firms now view exploration and pipeline information overlaid on digital maps.

News documents on energy, geological data, land and oil leases can all be anchored to a digital map and referenced by location.

In Queensland, Australia fishermen who stray into forbidden no-fishing zones on the Great Barrier Reef could soon be warned by an alarm, when a new computerized mapping system becomes available.

Atherton Tableland Geographic Information Systems plans to combine reef mapping, global positioning systems and physical alarms to provide alerts.

Geoparsing

MetaCarta, which is funded by a CIA enterprise and ChevronTexaco, has gone one step further. It brings together GIS and geographical text searching (GTS).

"(The software) has the ability to fuse geography and unstructured text information. (This) has value across any industry, where data needs to be represented geographically," says Frank.

Geographical references can be given to many pieces of information such as e-mails, military messages, intelligence briefings and news reports. It is a process called geoparsing.

You can then search by key words and phrases and then view them on a digital map.

It is expected that many of the Internet's countless databases and referenced web logs will eventually provide digital descriptions of millions of places around the globe.

It could revolutionize the whole experience of traveling, when you can use an up-to-date guide and digital map to find information about a place.


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