NASA Spinoff

Modern Exploration of the Lewis and Clark Expedition

Perhaps the most notable feature of the interactive map is that the user can superimpose or hide a series of layers over it to help users form analytical perspectives of the various trail landscapes. Like transparent slides, the layers cover the map and show a variety of different features. Landmarks can be added and taken away. For example, a user can select a slide that superimposes markers showing the trail in different colors, each color depicting a different leg of the expedition, or a layer that shows all of the places the expedition camped.

The user can superimpose the state borders, or take them off for authenticity and to have a more contextually accurate view of the trip. The user can also choose whether to show the borders of Canada and Mexico, or even the Louisiana Purchase. There is even a feature on the map that will highlight or hide bodies of water. In short, the user can modify the map in a variety of ways according to interest, course of study, and intended use.

The online map has a bevy of additional features and capabilities that make navigation easy.

The user is able to zoom in or out and pan across the map, bringing the view as close as needed to examine details or as far out as needed to gain perspective. Crossing the terrain on this geospatial map is as simple as dragging the cursor, which is a far cry easier than how the early pioneers crossed the land. In fact, the expedition averaged 15 miles per day by land and 25 miles per day by river, with the explorers carrying all of their equipment and supplies. Now it only takes the modern researcher a flick of the wrist to cross terrain on this map.

Similarly, while the explorers had to set up their astrolabes and compasses to calculate coordinates, users of the Lewis and Clark Geosystem have it easier. By clicking on the map, it will re-center on that point. This tool gives the same results as the panning tool, except the user just needs to click where he wants the map to re-center. This feature can be used for an accurate coordinate calculation. Unlike the original explorers, the computer-bound user can measure any distance on the map in miles or even feet, with just the drag of the mouse.

And, while the expedition cartographers would have to unfold a table, unroll a sheet of paper, and dip quill into ink to make a new map, the system has a tool that rescales the map with a ratio set by the users and then allows them to print the map. The early pioneers would have appreciated the technology today just as much as the people of today appreciate the exploration efforts of the early pioneers.