Making Sense of the World Through Mapping

Michael Tischler brings fresh eyes to the National Geospatial Program at USGS.

Chet Susslin
Oct. 9, 2015, 5 a.m.

It’s early even­ing at the start of fall, and Mi­chael Tischler sug­gests we go for a walk. I’ve driv­en from D.C. through ter­rible traffic to meet him at the In­teri­or De­part­ment’s leafy, green U.S. Geo­lo­gic­al Sur­vey cam­pus in Re­ston, Vir­gin­ia, and I’m glad for the op­por­tun­ity to stretch my legs. So, it seems, is he. For a guy who got in­to his line of work in part to be out­doors, he’s spend­ing a lot of time in­side these days.

At 37, Tischler is the new dir­ect­or of the Na­tion­al Geo­spa­tial Pro­gram at the USGS, the com­pon­ent of the agency re­spons­ible for design­ing and pro­du­cing the na­tion’s to­po­graph­ic maps. It is a field he has long loved, he tells me. “I’m a very visu­al learner. When I see a map, things click,” Tischler says. “I also like the fact that people love maps. It doesn’t mat­ter what you’re talk­ing about, if you’re try­ing to de­scribe where you’re go­ing to build the next bridge or where you’re go­ing on va­ca­tion or where do you want to go to din­ner to­night, the first thing you do is look at Google Maps: How do I get from here to there? It’s something people un­der­stand. And I think part of the reas­on people like it is be­cause it helps them—it helped me—make sense of the world.”

Since he star­ted in the role on April 6, he has been over­see­ing a host of pro­jects; the one he’s most ex­cited about is the 3D El­ev­a­tion Pro­gram, the aim of which is to sys­tem­at­ic­ally gath­er high-qual­ity to­po­graph­ic­al data across the coun­try, which will be used for all kinds of mod­el­ing ap­plic­a­tions that in­form gov­ern­ment and in­dustry alike. The work will be done primar­ily through the use of LID­AR—which stands for Light De­tec­tion and Ran­ging—a tech­no­logy that provides de­tailed 3-D in­form­a­tion about the Earth’s land­scape and what’s on it by ana­lyz­ing the way ob­jects re­flect pulses of light from a laser. What’s so thrill­ing about that? “It’s go­ing to serve as a found­a­tion­al data set against which you can meas­ure change,” Tischler says. “It could be land­scape change, it could be cli­mate change, it could be de­for­est­a­tion—all of these things can be meas­ured if you have a good bench­mark.” The pro­ject is ex­pec­ted to save lives and money in a vari­ety of ways, in­clud­ing identi­fy­ing act­ive geo­lo­gic­al faults be­fore dis­aster strikes, im­prov­ing pre­ci­sion farm­ing, and boost­ing avi­ation safety.

Born and raised in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, Tischler had a sense of what he liked to do from early on. “I knew I wanted to be a sci­ent­ist, and I knew I wanted to do something out­doors,” he says, “so en­vir­on­ment­al sci­ence seemed like a good place to start.” He earned a B.S. in soil sci­ence from North Dakota State Uni­versity in 2000 and a mas­ter’s in soil and wa­ter sci­ence from the Uni­versity of Flor­ida. He worked as a con­tract­or to the NASA God­dard Space Flight Cen­ter, look­ing at high-res­ol­u­tion soil mod­el­ing, be­fore join­ing the U.S. Army Corps of En­gin­eers’ En­gin­eer Re­search and De­vel­op­ment Cen­ter as a re­search phys­ic­al sci­ent­ist. He spent 11 years there, be­com­ing as­so­ci­ate tech­nic­al dir­ect­or in 2011 and serving as act­ing tech­nic­al dir­ect­or of the Army Corps’ To­po­graph­ic En­gin­eer­ing Cen­ter for six months in 2013.

Dur­ing that time, Tischler was also pur­su­ing his doc­tor­ate in Earth sys­tems and geoin­form­a­tion sci­ence at George Ma­son Uni­versity, a de­gree he star­ted two years after join­ing the Army Corps and fin­ished this past spring. (His doc­tor­al work in­volved cre­at­ing in­ter­act­ive, col­or-coded, di­git­al maps that in­teg­rated his­tor­ic­al data to pre­dict where burg­lar­ies in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., were most likely to oc­cur based on where they had oc­curred in the past.) That peri­od of his life also in­cluded a four-month ci­vil­ian de­ploy­ment to Ir­aq, where he helped provide tech­nic­al sup­port for area-map­ping ini­ti­at­ives, and stints over­see­ing ground-pen­et­rat­ing radar sur­veys for haz­ard de­tec­tion in Ant­arc­tica and Green­land. His cur­rent work may be tamer than some of what he did over­seas, but it’s also some of the most ex­cit­ing he has ever done, he says. And every day is a new chance to use his fa­vor­ite lens for learn­ing about the world.

What We're Following See More »
HE WAS 92
Former Sen. Harris Wofford Dies
1 minutes ago
THE LATEST

Former Sen. Harris Wofford (D-PA), a "university president and lifelong crusader for civil rights who made a crucial contribution to John F. Kennedy’s slender victory in the 1960 presidential contest, died Jan. 21 at a hospital in Washington. He was 92."

APPEARED ON COLBERT
Gillibrand Announces Exploratory Committee
22 hours ago
THE DETAILS
TOURING IOWA
Sherrod Brown Also in 2020 Mode
22 hours ago
THE LATEST
FIRST KNOWN INCIDENT OF TRUMP DIRECTLY REQUESTING A COVER-UP
Report: Trump Told Cohen to Lie to Congress
22 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter. Trump also supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign, in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. 'Make it happen,' the sources said Trump told Cohen."

Source:
OFFICE WILL BE BASED IN BALTIMORE
Kamala Harris Announces for President
22 hours ago
THE LATEST
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login