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TOPAZ is a Software Gem

By Tara Weaver-Missick
April 2, 1999

A computer program that helps researchers investigate soil erosion and water runoff problems by giving a detailed analysis of land topography has been developed by Agricultural Research Service scientists and cooperators in Canada. ARS is USDA’s chief research agency.

ARS scientist Jurgen Garbrecht and professor Lawrence Martz from the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, developed the software program called TOPAZ. The name is an abbreviation of “Topographic Parameterization,” a computer analysis tool that defines, quantifies and analyzes land surface characteristics, watershed information and drainage features.

The collaboration between Garbrecht and Martz is part of an international research effort to develop and implement digital landscape technology to help address drainage- and runoff-related problems.

TOPAZ has already gone global. Researchers, engineers and educators in Europe, the Middle East and North America are using it.

TOPAZ does not create graphic images on the computer monitor, but derives important landscape data that can be displayed by a commercial Geographic Information System (GIS) package. Garbrecht, a hydraulic engineer with ARS’ Grazinglands Research Laboratory in El Reno, Okla., says this allows the user to select preferred or existing display software without being forced to adopt or buy another package. TOPAZ provides data in a basic format that is readable by most GIS systems.

New capabilities are being developed and incorporated into TOPAZ to further broaden its application. Copies of TOPAZ are available on request from Garbrecht.

An in-depth article on this research appears in the April issue of Agricultural Research magazine. The story is also on the World Wide Web at:


Scientific contact: Jurgen D. Garbrecht, ARS Grazinglands Research Laboratory, El Reno, Okla., phone (405) 262-4316, fax (405) 262-0133,

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