by Jonathan Weaver
Two regional universities were of those that received grant awards by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for mine mapping.
Earlier this month, the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Research Institute in Indiana, Pa. and Saint Vincent College in Latrobe (Westmoreland County) received a combined nearly-$600,000 to digitally map mines during the next three years.
Robert Wilson has been the director for IUP’s Institute for Mine Mapping, Archival Procedures and Safety (IMAPS) since 2009.
In the past three years, Wilson said IUP’s program has grown from a team of six professors to about three dozen professors, graduate and undergraduate student from multiple majors and staff. IUP did work with DEP, the federal Office of Surface Mining and private industry before the latest grant was received.
“We have been tasked with several projects, but they really combine into two tasks: scanning – which involves a mediated collection of abandoned coal mine maps – and geo-registering. We’re going to take those scans and put them in the real world where they belong in digital mapping products,” Wilson said.
IUP and Saint Vincent will digitize maps from Western Pennsylvania while other universities digitize those in the eastern part of the state – such as those at Harrisburg Area Community College and Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, due to the two predominant coal seams in the state: anthracite in the east and the bituminous region. More than $1.6 million was granted to the programs overall.
“We’ll all working on the same bigger project, but we all have our own work tasks,” Wilson said. “I couldn’t even hazard a guess how many maps are out there – there’s a ton of work to be done, so it will be several years before it will be completed.”
About a dozen students are working full-time during the summer sessions at IMAPS – which is housed within Stabley Library. IUP received the most of any grant recipient – more than $480,000.
“It’s a good example of a private-public partnership, and the benefits it provides to the students (will) help fund their education as well as providing them employment and real-world experience after they leave here as far as something to put on their resume,” Wilson said.
Saint Vincent College Environmental Science Director Dr. Caryl Fish said the grant is a great opportunity for her students to start off with the experience.
“We haven’t really done any mine mapping before this (grant) – we’ve done some Geographic Information System (GIS) work in classes and special projects for quite a few years,” Dr. Fish said.
That GIS work includes with the neighboring -Monastary Run Improvement Project, which Dr. Fish said might also benefit indirectly from Saint Vincent working with the DEP on the historic mapping project.
“A lot of the maps we’re going to be working with are from the Connellsville area, so I’m hoping that at least some of those maps we can digitize will be of the Latrobe and St. Vincent area. If that’s’ the case, I can definitely see us using those maps as part of our studies that would continue,” Dr. Fish said. “It’s kind-of separate, but I’m hoping there will be some overlap.”
According to DEP, the grant-funded projects will geo-reference 7,200 maps, digitize 3,100 maps, scan 26,900 maps, and restore or preserve 259 maps.
Once the maps are digitized, they will be uploaded to DEP’s Mine Map Atlas—an online database of more than 15,000 mine maps that allows users to search for an area based on an address or latitude and longitude. Users can view the atlas from three perspectives: terrain, topographic or bird’s-eye.
Governor Tom Corbett spoke positively about the grants in his news release.
“These grants create an important partnership with higher education, develop a skilled workforce for the energy sector, and continue to ensure a safe working environment for Pennsylvania’s miners,” Corbett said.