Welcome

April 16, 2012 4 comments

Welcome to the Spatial Reserves blog.

The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data was written to provide GIS practitioners and instructors with the essential skills to find, acquire, format, and analyze public domain spatial data. Some of the themes discussed in the book include open data access and spatial law, the importance of metadata, the fee vs. free debate, data and national security, the efficacy of spatial data infrastructures, the impact of cloud computing and the emergence of the GIS-as-a-Service (GaaS) business model. Recent technological innovations have radically altered how both data users and data providers work with spatial information to help address a diverse range of social, economic and environmental issues.

This blog was established to follow up on some of these themes, promote a discussion of the issues raised, and host a copy of the exercises that accompany the book.  This story board provides a brief description of the exercises.

High-resolution SRTM elevation data to be released globally

October 12, 2014 1 comment
Comparing SRTM data resolutions

Comparing SRTM data spatial resolution:  90 meters on the left, 30 meters on the right.

High-resolution elevation data from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission-Level 2 (SRTM-2), previously only available for the USA, will be made publicly available over the next 12 months, the White House announced recently at the United Nations Heads of State Climate Summit. The first elevation data set to be released will be over the African continent and is available on the United States Geological Survey’s Earth Explorer website, by choosing the “SRTM 1 Arc-Second Global” data set, with future regions to be released within the coming year.

“I look forward to the broader impact that the release will have on the global scientific and capacity building community,” said National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) Director Letitia Long.  Until now, SRTM data was only publicly available at a lower 90-meter resolution (see above image). The newly-released global 30-meter SRTM-2 dataset will be used worldwide to improve environmental monitoring, climate change research including sea-level rise impact assessments, and local decision support, the White House said.

The SRTM mission began in 2000 as a venture between NASA and NGA that used a modified radar system on board the Space Shuttle Endeavour to acquire elevation data for over 80% of the Earth’s land mass. The Department of Defense and intelligence community continues to use this topographic data for multiple applications – from developing navigation tools and supporting military operations, to geological and environmental purposes.  In August 2014, Long authorized the removal of the Limited Distribution caveat from the SRTM-2 dataset, making it available to the public on a phased-release schedule. The 30-meter topographic dataset was then sent to USGS for public distribution.

When I heard Shuttle pilot Dom Gorie speak about his work with the SRTM at a GIS conference about 10 years ago, it was one of the most memorable keynote addresses I have ever heard.  I look forward to investigating this new data set and the delivery mechanism.  Keep an eye on this blog for further updates.

 

Mapping forgotten places

October 6, 2014 2 comments

Reported in the Guardian newspaper today are plans to map the world’s forgotten places. As the report discusses a surprisingly large number of the world’s cities in some of the poorest countries are unmapped. While local agencies can muddle along using photocopies or out of date and low resolution aerial images for day to day activities, the problems associated with the lack of accurate and current maps are exacerbated during times of conflict or natural disaster. Without access to reliable digital maps, local emergency response teams and humanitarian agencies often lack the necessary spatial data, such as accurate road network information, that they rely on to provide aid and help reconstruct local communities.

One solution to the problem is the soon to be launched Missing Maps Project, a collaborative project involving among others Médecins Sans Frontières, the American and British Red Cross, the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap. The plan is quite simple – create digital maps for every settlement on Earth as part of what is described as ‘ nothing less than a human genome project for the world’s cities‘. Building on the volunteer crowd sourcing data capture techniques developed by OpenStreetMap, the project will make satellite imagery available via the OpenStreetMap mapping interface.

Tracing building outlines in OpenStreetMap

Tracing building outlines in OpenStreetMap

Volunteers can then log in from anywhere in the world and start digitising road and river networks, building outlines and other infrastructure, in effect creating basic but current digital maps of the cities. Local volunteers then add street and building names and the completed maps are posted back to the Missing Maps head office in London. With end-to-end crowd sourcing and the probably largest team of volunteer mappers ever mobilised, the project aims to map the world’s poorest urban areas within two years and provide a global open access and open source dataset to support local communities.

Maryland’s Mapping and GIS Data Portal

September 29, 2014 1 comment

Maryland’s mapping and GIS “iMap” data portal takes an innovative approach to serving data.  It allows the user to zoom to a specific area on the map and then conduct a data search for that specific area.  Yes, other sites have done this for years, but the Maryland data portal uses a dynamic ArcGIS Online map to launch searches.  In addition, the 20 data categories listed–from agriculture to demographics, health to imagery, structures to weather–are rich in content, and the data user is offered numerous data formats to receive the data.  The site also goes the extra distance by providing step-by-step instructions on how to add web and WFS services, how to geocode, how to join data, and how to cartographically display results.

The GIS data portal is run by the Geographic Information Office (GIO), and by collaborating with partners, it seeks to “provide access to a large collection of data via the Maryland iMap that can be leveraged for use in many applications and analyses.”  The GIS data portal is a part of the state’s open data portal, which claims to be #1 in the USA for its commitment to open data.

We are honest in our book and in this blog about describing data portals that seem to be there “just for show” and that had no input from GIS professional staff.  The Maryland iMap portal, by contrast, is quite innovative, extensive, and GIS-user friendly, and seems to be a good model for other organizations to follow.  Such portals do not appear overnight, and this is obviously the product of a good deal of collaboration among government, private, academic, and nonprofit organizations,

Maryland's iMap Mapping and GIS Data Portal

Maryland’s iMap Mapping and GIS Data Portal.

Autonomous cars and location data privacy

September 22, 2014 Leave a comment

Location data privacy issues continue to challenge both the providers and consumers of location based services. With news last week that Audi has become the first car maker to obtain a permit from the state of California to test autonomous or self-driving cars on public roads, the prospect of so-called robot cars on the roads and highways gets ever closer. This will not only herald a new age in car usage and traffic management, but there will also be some far reaching implications for the collection and use of personal location data. The recording and archiving of navigation histories, monitoring individual driving behaviour, potential links to social media and other online accounts, and the insatiable desire from advertising companies to know as much as they can about where we are going to and what we do when we get there, exposes a minefield of location data privacy issues (What If Your Autonomous Car Keeps Routing You Past Krispy Kreme?). As one motor industry VP of marketing commented at CES earlier in the year, ‘We have GPS in your car, so we know what you’re doing”.

 

US government research into in-car location services has already prompted a call for location data privacy legislation. The Location Privacy Protection Act, updated and reintroduced this year, would require all companies who provide such location based services to obtain explicit permission from their customers before collecting and reusing their personal location data. If passed the bill would also require companies to publicly disclose how the location data is being used.

Should traffic management and law enforcement authorities have access to an individual’s location data while they are on the road? Would the fear of being ‘caught’ violating road and traffic regulations make us more responsible drivers and would the prospect of safer car operation and a reduction in accidents due to the extra surveillance be sufficient to persuade us to relinquish some control over our personal location data? It will be interesting to see what the response to these data privacy issues will be when self-drive cars finally hit the roads.

 

 

Data Drives Everything (But the Bridges Need a Lot of Work)

September 14, 2014 1 comment

A new article in Earthzine entitled “Data Drives Everything, but the Bridges Need a Lot of Work” by Osha Gray Davidson seems to encapsulate one of the main themes of this blog and our book.

Dr Francine Berman directs the Center for a Digital Society at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in Troy, New York, and as the article states, “has always been drawn to ambitious ‘big picture’ issues” at the “intersection of math, philosophy, and computers.”  Her project, the Research Data Alliance (RDA), has a goal of changing the way in which data are collected, used, and shared to solve specific problems around the globe.  Those large and important tasks should sound familiar to most GIS professionals.

And the project seems to have resonated with others, too–1,600 members from 70 countries have joined the RDA as members.  Reaching across boundaries and breaking down barriers that make data sharing difficult or impossible is one of the RDA’s chief goals.  Finding solutions to real-world problems is accomplished through Interest Groups, which then create more focused Working Groups.  I was pleased to see Interest Groups such as Big Data Analytics, Data In Context, and Geospatial, but at this point, a Working Group for Geospatial is still needed.  Perhaps someone from the geospatial community needs to step up and lead the Working Group effort.   I read the charter for the Geospatial Interest Group and though brief, it seems solid, with an identification of some of the chief challenges and major organizations to work with into the future to make their vision a reality.

I wish the group well, but simple wishing isn’t going to achieve data sharing for better decision making.  As we point out in our book with regards to this issue, geospatial goals for an organization like this are not going to be realized without the GIS community stepping forward.  Please investigate the RDA and consider how you might help their important effort.

Research Data Alliance

Research Data Alliance.

Sentinel-1A Satellite: Transforming the analysis of earthquake data

September 8, 2014 1 comment

We’ve previously written about the launch and progress of the Sentinal-1A satellite, part of the European Union’s Copernicus earth observation project. Although still being commissioned and not yet in full production mode, the satellite recently provided radar imagery from Northern California captured before and after the Napa Valley earthquake on 24 August.

Using a technique known as ‘Synthetic aperture radar interferometry’, two images of the same area were compared to identify areas of significant change. Changes to the ground surface modify the reflected radar signal detected by the satellite, and those modified signals can be plotted as an ‘interferogram’ (Source: Radar vision maps Napa Valley earthquake.) The result is both colourful and striking; the fault responsible for the 6.0 earthquake was confirmed as the West Napa Fault, and both the scale and the extent of the surface rupture was immediately apparent.

Napa Valley Quake interferogram

Napa Valley Quaket: © Copernicus data (2014)/ESA/PPO.labs/Norut/COMET-SEOM Insarap study

Imagery like these examples captured for the Napa Valley quake looks set to transform how scientists and data analysts map and respond to earthquakes. With the launch of second Sentinel satellite (1B) in 2016, the imagery update cycle will be reduced from 12 to 6 days. The timely and open publication of high resolution data to support activities on the ground and post quake analysis after each event, should provide unprecedented monitoring of the Earth’s surface.

 

Playas and Wetlands of the Southern Ogallala Aquifer Data Released

September 1, 2014 2 comments

A new web resource from Texas Tech University of playas and wetlands for the southern High Plains region of Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico offers a wide variety of spatial data on this key resource and region.  The playa and wetlands GIS data are available for download here, including shapefile, geodatabase, and layer package formats.   The data include 64,726 wetland features, of which 21,893 are identified as playas and another 14,455 as unclassified wetlands; in other words, they appear to be a playa but have no evidence of a hydric soil.   The remaining features include impoundments, riparian features lakes, and other wetlands.

As we discuss in our book, (1) Many spatial data depositories seem to have been created without the GIS user in mind. Not this one.  Careful attention has been paid to the data analyst.  That’s good news!  (2)  Resources such as this don’t appear without a great deal of time and expertise invested.  Here, approximately 5,000 person hours were dedicated to create the geodatabase and website.  This project was made possible by Texas Tech University with funding from the USDA Agricultural Research Service – Ogallala Aquifer Program.

For users who only wish to view playas and other wetlands, a web map application exists and can be launched via the playa viewer.  A “citizen science” feature is that the map viewer allows interactive comments to be added to the map for future consideration.

Southern Ogallala Aquifer Playa and Wetlands Geodatabase

Southern Ogallala Aquifer Playa and Wetlands Geodatabase.

 

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