Since 1986, personnel from the Placenames Research Center have conducted funded research for the US Geological Survey (USGS). Through the research efforts provided by the Center for nearly twenty separate awards, the University has received over 2.5 million dollars in federal grant money to update the USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) database. Placenames Center personnel conduct research that is included in the GNIS, one of the largest geospatial databases for the country. The GNIS database is a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) compatible data layer that contains information for over two million administrative, natural and historic geographic features. As the official geographic names layer for federal digital and print publications, it is a vital source of geographic information for a host of government and private sector produced print and digital gazetteers, GIS and GPS (Global Positioning Systems) related products.
UA’s Placenames Center personnel use a wide variety of cartographic, textual, traditional print and digital research sources to locate, verify, assimilate and convert to digital format current information concerning features, such as schools, hospitals, shopping centers, industrial and business parks, municipal and other public buildings, fire, rescue and other emergency facilities, bridges, dams, energy and water treatment facilities, as well as streams, summits and other physiographic features. This information is used in a host of applications, including emergency planning, homeland security, business, engineering, geology, geography, history and genealogy to name a few.
The University of Alabama is the largest academic contributor to the GNIS. Currently, Placenames Center personnel are engaged in six funded research projects totaling over one million dollars. The geographic focus of this work includes the states of New York, Alaska, Kansas, Texas and Arizona, as well as areas that are located within fifty miles of the Gulf Coast, the Pacific Coast, and portions of the US-Mexican and US-Canadian borders.