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GISCorps volunteers assisting an Engineers Without Borders USA project Panama PDF Print E-mail

GISCorps volunteers assisting an Engineers Without Borders USA project Panama


Engineering students at the University of California, Berkeley, in cooperation with the Engineers Without Borders USA Group, worked with local groups in El Valle de San Francisco, Panama, to design a water distribution system to bring fresh running water to underserved and impoverished areas. The students in the EWB group solicited GISCorps for assistance compiling and creating GIS data for use in designing a water distribution system in El Valle de San Francisco. The group selected three GISCorps volunteers based on their GIS expertise:

  • Josh Shelton-GIS Manager at Pend Oreille County, Washington by day and principal consultant at GXT Consulting LLC by night
  • Eric Grimison-Terrain Database Engineer at Cornerstone Software Solutions
  • Adam Radel, GISP-GIS Program Manager at the Utah Department of Transportation by day and principal consultant at GXT Consulting LLC by night

 The site is located approximately 7 km north of Panama City along the the Autopista Panama-Colon, the main highway connecting the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal with the Caribbean/Atlantic entrance.  While the canal may be one of the most surveyed stretches of terrain in the world, the data was not readily available for this project.  The best available data was from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Center, and ArcGIS online. Andrew Efthimiadis, a family friend of Eric Grimison and early adapter of recreational Quad Copter drone technology, provided aerial mapping services of the site for this project. Captain Efthimiadis lives and works in Panama.


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Figure 3: Project boundary and hydrology shown on the digital elevation model (DEM)

The scope of the project was to collect and compile elevation and hydrology data, then deliver it to the group in CAD format. The team took a hybrid approach. Using elevation points obtained by the EWB group with a total station survey device, and digitized contours (10m) from a contour map of the area hosted on ArcGIS online, the volunteers combined the two data sources to create a digital elevation model (DEM). They soon discovered that the total station data was collected using a local coordinate system that was unfamiliar to them. After contacting the students, it was determined that they too could not distinguish the coordinate system. Using the drone imagery as a reference, the students marked the location of some key total station points on a map which the volunteers then used to correctly tie the total station points to actual locations on the ground. Once the total station points were correctly located, they were used in conjunction with the digitized contours to create a hybridized DEM.

Next, the team created 2-meter contour lines using the hybrid DEM and generated Hydrology data was from the DEM and from high resolution drone aerial imagery.

Andrew Efthimiadis used his DJI Phantom PRO 3 quad copter to capture high resolution orthogonal imagery. The images were combined to create a seamless mosaic which was the foundation to create a supportive basemap for use by the EWB group in its project.

Figure 4: High resolution imagery of the project area 

After projecting the data sets into a common coordinate system, the team delivered the dataset in both shapefile and CAD formats, and it will be used in efforts to design a water distribution system to provide water to underserved, impoverished areas within El Valle de San Francisco.