Wednesday, February 19, 2014

R.I.P. Roger Tomlinson

Roger Tomlinson, the "Father of GIS" passed away last week. He developed the Canada Geographic Information System, the world's first computerized GIS.
Working as a government consultant for Canada in the early 1960's, he was asked to find a location for planting trees in Kenya to feed a paper mill. The location needed a suitable slope, appropriate weather conditions, and access to transportation. The location would need to be free of monkeys, which eat young trees, and away from elephant migration routes. The creation and manual overlay of this many maps made the labor cost too high for the client. Tomlinson began to think about how to put these maps on a computer and generate numbers to measure land suitability.

He brought this idea to several computer companies but they were not interested. In 1962 he met Lee Pratt, head of the Canada Land Inventory, on an airplane. Pratt was looking to generate land use maps for the country to determine suitable areas for agriculture, forestry and wildlife over a million-plus square mile area. Tomlinson published a feasibility study for computerizing overlays and was subsequently asked to join the government in developing its Geographic Information System.
Printed maps from the Canada Land Survey can be accessed online at the Canadian Soil Information Service. The map above is of forestry capability in British Columbia. The green areas (in this case the lowlands) have the most capability while the oranges and pinks are less suitable. Below is a 1967 agricultural soil capability map for the area around Ottawa, where the map was produced. Orange areas are the best, green areas have severe limitations and pink areas are unsuitable.   

Much of the information above came from Putting Canada on the Map by Lynn Greiner, published in the Globe and Mail.

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