In Depth The Digital Coast Act would authorize NOAA to enact a comprehensive coastal mapping effort.

Published on August 30th, 2013 | by Travis Korte


Digital Coast Act of 2013

House bill would enact a comprehensive national coastal mapping effort and facilitate coordination of mapping activities between the National Atmospheric and Oceanographic Administration (NOAA) and other agencies.

Arguing that demand for more robust coastal geospatial data is present at federal and state levels, Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) introduced H.R. 1382, The Digital Coast Act of 2013 on March 21, 2013.

“America’s 95,000 miles of shorelines are home to more than half of our country’s population and millions of businesses that supply most of our gross domestic product,” Congressman Ruppersberger told the Center for Data Innovation. “Yet current coastal maps and geospatial data are woefully inaccurate, outdated or even nonexistent. Without a comprehensive national mapping effort, we will continue to pay the price in lost lives, homes and jobs as well as higher insurance costs and taxes when disaster strikes.”

In the event of a major maritime disaster on the scale of Hurricane Katrina or the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, comprehensive and standard maps could help rescue teams prioritize responses and save lives and property.

The bill would authorize NOAA to establish a program to collect high-value geospatial data and make it available, along with decision support tools and training, to federal and state agencies as well as private sector stakeholders. It would establish Coastal Services Centers, community information and technology hubs tasked with bringing together local, state and regional actors to identify coastal management needs and contribute data to the federal effort.

The information called for in the section detailing data collection ranges broadly from land use and socioeconomic data to aquatic vegetation data. The interoperability standardization demanded by such a proposal may be considerable, but the bill does not make clear whether the data will be standardized for interoperability across data types, or merely within data types. For example, it is not clear that an environmental study tracking changes in aquatic vegetation that result from particular land usage could be readily assembled, even though standardization of both data types is called for individually. To address this, the bill might be revised to provide for consistent primary key identifiers among datasets whose collection is mandated.

As it stands, the legislation does not include provisions requiring machine readability or public access to raw data. These provisions are important to facilitate future open releases that will maximize the utility of the data being collected, and should be added to the bill upon revision.

The bill is currently pending consideration by the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs.

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About the Author

Travis Korte is a research analyst at the Center for Data Innovation specializing in data science applications and open data. He has a background in journalism, computer science and statistics. Prior to joining the Center for Data Innovation, he launched the Science vertical of The Huffington Post and served as its Associate Editor, covering a wide range of science and technology topics. He has worked on data science projects with HuffPost and other organizations. Before this, he graduated with highest honors from the University of California, Berkeley, having studied critical theory and completed coursework in computer science and economics. His research interests are in computational social science and using data to engage with complex social systems. You can follow him on Twitter @traviskorte.

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