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Posted 9/6/2013

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -  In 1983, GRASS (Geographic Resources Analysis Support System), a free and open source Geographic Information System (GIS) software suite, began a developmental journey under the direction of ERDC’s Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) that, 30 years in later, is considered to be the most widely-used software ever developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

GRASS GIS is used for geospatial data management and analysis, image processing, graphics and map production, spatial modeling, and 3D visualization. Currently users include academia, commercial entities, government, and environmental consulting companies.

In 1982, under the direction of CERL’s Bill Goran, two GIS development efforts were undertaken – a University of Illinois engineering student began developing a new computer program that allowed analysis of mapped data and Jim Westervelt, also from CERL, developed a GIS package called “LAGRID – the Landscape Architecture Gridcell analysis system”— as his master’s thesis.

On July 29, 1983, the user manual for this new system, “GIS Version 1 Reference Manual,” was first published by J. Westervelt and M. O’Shea.  With the technical guidance of Michael Shapiro, CERL, the software continued its development and after further expansion, version 1.0 was released in 1985 under the name Geographic Resources Analysis Support System (GRASS). The GRASS GIS community was established the same year with the first annual user meeting and the launch of GRASSnet, one of the programmers’ mailing lists archives.

In the mid 1990s, development of this software was transferred from CERL to The Open GRASS Consortium (later renamed Open Geospatial Consortium or OGC).

Since these early days, GRASS development has progressed and grown, adjusting with, and often at the forefront of, new technologies as they became available. Today, GRASS’s software development is maintained by a team of domain experts as visualized in a video animation, which details the codebase evolution and modifications from 1999 to 2013, up to and including the latest GRASS GIS 6.4.3 stable release.

According to Westervelt, GRASS GIS is actively developed world-wide and, in addition to being the most widely-used software developed by the Corps, continues in popularity with about 50,000 unique visitors representing more than 150 countries to its website each month.

GRASS GIS can be downloaded, at no cost, at http://grass.osgeo.org/download/software.