Thurber Engineering Case Study

Thurber1Thurber Engineering Ltd. is a Canadian consulting firm that provides a variety of geotechnical, geo-environmental, and construction materials engineering and testing services. The company takes a multidisciplinary approach to projects related to earth, environmental, and materials science.

One of the major components of the GIS-based analysis work that Thurber undertakes is identifying geological landforms and assessing their suitability for a specific purpose. This terrain analysis process includes:

  • Aerial photo interpretation and landform mapping
  • Site investigation
  • Terrain visualization using digital elevation models and LiDAR
  • Route selection for pipelines, roads, and power transmission lines
  • Slope stability and setback lines
  • Geo-hazard mapping and risk analysis
  • Aggregate mapping and testing
  • Field investigation (drilling, test pitting, geophysics)

Thurber is long-time user of Global Mapper, the multifunctional GIS application from Blue Marble Geographics. Global Mapper provides an excellent return on investment compared to other commercial GIS applications and with its flexible network licensing options, all of Thurber’s engineers have access to the software when they need it.

Thurber2Thurber Engineering uses Global Mapper to analyze LiDAR data to identify and assess the risk of hazards such as earthquakes, landslides, snow and rock avalanches, and debris flows. A USGS study of the Seattle coastline determined that the total number of landslides mapped using LiDAR is about four times that of previously published maps produced using aerial photographs, and the LiDAR-mapped landslides include all landslides depicted on those maps.

To map and characterize landslides Thurber looks for the distinct terrain characteristics, such as an arcuate, bow-like or curved shape near crest of the slope along with a steep sloping section below.

They are also looking for irregular topography and overridden features.

Starting with LiDAR data, Thurber generates digital elevations models in Global Mapper. These models are continuous surfaces of elevation data derived from the LiDAR elevations. If non-ground points are filtered from the dataset, the result is a terrain model that allows analysts to ‘see through’ the trees and view the landforms below.

Identification of the distinct landslide characteristics can be accomplished using Global Mapper’s analysis tools, such as generating contours and finding ridgelines. Thurber engineers can qualitatively assess the data as an oblique view with the 3D Viewer and by applying hill shading and varying the azimuth of illumination, they can generate a different perspective of the terrain to view in the 2D and 3D maps.

Thurber3The elevation models are quantitatively analyzed using the Path Profile tool to generate cross-sectional views and by generating slope maps with the configurable shader options, including the Slope and the Slope Direction Shaders.

Thurber’s decision to choose Global Mapper over traditional GIS applications and specialty LiDAR processing tools came down to:

  • Cost
  • Ease of use
  • Speed

These factors along with the suite of powerful functionality that it offers means that Global Mapper meets all of the GIS needs of the organization.

Bob Saunders from Thurber commented, “Global Mapper provides a huge return on investment compared to other commercial GIS applications. We can install the application on a desktop for around $500 compared to $10,000 for some of the alternatives. Site licensing means all engineers have access to the software when they need it. Combined with ease of use, the speed of analysis and the functionality available, Global Mapper provides the most benefit for the cost.”

“We are strong believers in putting the computing power into the hands of the engineers. Global Mapper makes this possible.”

Bob Saunders

Senior Geotechnical Engineer

Thurber Engineering Ltd.



About Global Mapper

Global Mapper is an affordable and easy-to-use GIS application that offers access to an unparalleled variety of spatial datasets and provides just the right level of functionality to satisfy both experienced GIS professionals and beginning users. Equally well suited as a standalone spatial data management tool and as an integral component of an enterprise-wide GIS, Global Mapper is a must-have for anyone who deals with maps or spatial data. The optional LiDAR Module provides a wide variety of powerful point cloud processing tools including ground point detection and reclassification, automatic building, vegetation, and powerline extraction, LiDAR filtering and noise removal, and custom feature extraction.

About Blue Marble Geographics

Trusted by thousands of GIS professionals around the world, Blue Marble Geographics is a leading developer of software products and services for geospatial data conversion and GIS. Pioneering work in geomatics and spatial data conversion quickly established this Maine-based company as a key player in the GIS software field. Today’s professionals turn to Blue Marble for Global Mapper, a low-cost, easy-to-use yet powerful GIS software tool. Blue Marble is known for coordinate conversion and file format expertise and is the developer of The Geographic Calculator, GeoCalc SDK, Global Mapper, LiDAR Module for Global Mapper and the Global Mapper SDK.


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