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Spotlight on Los Alamos: Pearson gets the lay of the land

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By Katy Korkos

Joel Pearson loves maps– new maps, old maps, topographical maps, satellite maps and even 3-D maps. “I love my job,” Pearson said. In a perfect blend of avocation and vocation, Pearson works as the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) coordinator as part of the Information Technology Department in Los Alamos County.It was his love of maps that led him to leave a successful insurance business in Arkansas and move to New Mexico to study geography and applied geography, with an emphasis in remote engineering, in graduate school at the University of New Mexico in 1988. His bachelor’s degree is in public administration. Pearson first visited New Mexico on a backpacking trip with friends in 1983, and was so impressed with the landscape, he always kept it in the back of his mind. “I always wanted to come back,” Pearson said. He began work in his field, with the New Mexico Engineering Research Institute in the Earth Data Analysis Center, before he could complete his master’s thesis, and he has never looked back.That experience led him to a job working for a private company contracting with the military, doing mapping in Grafenwoehr, Germany, a small town outside Nurnberg. He said he enjoyed his time in Germany, but was also happy to return to New Mexico in 1997.“I hired on at the Santa Fe County assessor’s office to oversee mapping, to help them convert from analog to digital GIS,” Pearson said. Then, in 2001, he started work with Los Alamos County. “They needed somebody to flesh out the county digital parcel,” Pearson said. “The data sets were quite good, but I built on top of that.”He said that the job of GIS coordinator includes “capturing, maintaining and updating the county’s spatial data.” That includes data about structures, road centerlines and fire hydrants, among many other features. He emphasized that the orthophotographic maps he produces are not the whole picture when it comes to accurately locating lot lines –  that they must be backed up with an on the ground survey. In his work, he coordinates with emergency management, the public works department, parks and open space and with Los Alamos National Laboratory.The GIS lounge website states that “at the simplest level, GIS can be thought of as a high-tech equivalent of a map. GIS technology integrates common database operations such as query and statistical analysis with the unique visualization and geographic analysis benefits offered by maps.”Pearson returned from a conference of his peers in the global informationing field with an award for a three-dimensional map he created of the Airport Basin site. The Southwest User’s Group conference of GIS users from New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming met in Santa Fe in late October to discuss projects, share knowledge and receive training. The image Pearson created appears three-dimensional when viewed through the special anaglyphic glasses, which have one blue and one red lens. The map will be useful when demonstrating the visual impact of construction in Airport Basin.Pearson commutes from east of Santa Fe daily, a drive he doesn’t mind “because the scenery is so beautiful.” His hobbies still include backpacking, and he has revisited the Pecos Wilderness many times since his first trip back in 1983. Photography is another of his hobbies well suited to New Mexico. He said that the only problem with collecting maps is that he doesn’t have the space to display them all.Complete maps of the county are available to purchase through the KanDu center, now located in the County Annex building at 901 Trinity, by calling 311 or by going to the county’s website, www.lac-nm.us, and finding GIS Services on the pull-down menu labeled “Services.”