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.
In 2011 the British Library set up the Georeferencer project to crowdsource the georeferencing of its collections of scanned historic maps. By adding georeference (coordinate) data to the old maps, they can be viewed alongside modern maps via the Old Maps Online data portal and the catalog of georeferenced maps.
Using illustrations extracted from digital books and public domain images posted on Flickr, many of the maps were identified and geo-tagged by a team of volunteers as part of a Maps Tag-a-thon event that ran from Nov 2014 to January this year. Among the collections of maps released so far are the Ordnance Surveyors’ Drawings (one inch to a mile maps for England and Wales 1780 – 1840) and the Amercian Civil War collection.
To date, over 8000 maps have been successfully georeferenced and quality checked by a panel of reviewers.
If you are a frequent reader of this blog or of technology related news feeds, it should come as no surprise that location has rapidly become one of the basic means of communicating, marketing, and crowdsourcing in our modern world. Is the data that you are inadvertently communicating through your mobile device that powers many web mapping services via crowdsourcing making our world more efficient and sustainable? Take the common example of your position moving through traffic, communicated from location information on your smartphone, calculated using the miracle of web mapping technology into speed, and combined with others to create real-time information about which routes are currently running sluggishly and which are running quickly in your metropolitan area. Most would argue that yes, this does make people’s commutes more efficient by saving time. Moreover, it saves fuel through a multiplier effect if even a fraction of the vast number of people commuting at any given time around the world adjust their behavior by avoiding traffic snarls and idling their engines.
Is that same data compromising your personal privacy? Most would probably argue that while each of us gives up a bit of location privacy for these real time traffic feeds, the resulting public benefit far outweighs the costs. An analogy from the 1990s might be the personal information that most of us shared with grocery businesses in order to obtain a ‘discount card’ from our local food store.
The “tipping point” of concern for some on the personal privacy seems to be where location services allow you, and by extension, depending on the application, anyone, to see your own personal location and movements over time. For example, examine this page describing how location reporting from an iPhone and iPad allows Google to store a history of your location devices where you are logged into your Google account and have enabled location history, or related articles about Android devices. There are ways to override this location history, but it takes just that–overriding the defaults, and–will this override be possible in the future?
I checked, and I don’t have any location history, at least in Google. But would it matter if I did? As a person who loves and works with maps on a daily basis, part of me was a little disappointed, actually, that I couldn’t see what I thought might be a fascinating set of maps showing some of my field work over the past few months, which included some brisk but pleasant walks along the lakefront in Chicago during the AAG annual meeting and a trek through a wetland in Wisconsin afterwards.
I frequently work with secondary and university students, and in my conversations with them, I’ve noticed that the younger generation generally doesn’t see a problem with sharing anything in the digital world, whether it is their location, photos, videos, links, whatever. So, is it just my generation that is a wee bit nervous about the potential harm that could result from personal data being mined? Should other generations be concerned? Our goal in this blog and in our book is to raise awareness of the power and utility of geospatial information, and also to critically assess its quality,use, and implications.
Over the last three years we’ve written about a few of the problems associated with some data portals, which although well-intentioned, haven’t always provided the level of access to geospatial information that they promised. Interoperability issues, interface design and a lack of on-going support have contributed to many such initiatives failing to deliver. With the experience gained from those earlier efforts and perhaps the benefit of hind-sight, new initiatives are being developed to provide better access to the plethora of public domain and open data geospatial information that is available online.
Among those new initiatives is the ENERGIC OD project (European NEtwork for Redistributing Geospatial Information to user Communities – Open Data). Launched at the end of 2014, the project aims to address some of the problems that have resulted from the evolution of disparate and heterogeneous GI systems and technologies by providing what are referred to as Virtual Hubs. These hubs will provide a single point of access to geospatial datasets, including access to INSPIRE compliant systems and Copernicus satellite and sensor data (Copernicus was previously known as GMES). The brokering framework at the centre of the solution will allow the hubs to connect to a wide range of European data sources making it easier for end users, public authorities and private organisations, and developers alike to access the data without having to resolve the interoperability and standardisation issues themselves.
The ENERGIC OD project will run for three years and deploy five national virtual hubs in France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain.
During their 69th General Assembly, the United Nations passed a resolution on a “global geodetic reference frame for sustainable development“. This resolution reaffirmed earlier endorsements of resolutions (1) concerning transport, search, and rescue operations that depend on GNSS, (2) concerning coordination among global observing systems and programs, including remote sensing efforts, and (3) concerning geospatial information for sustainable development policymaking, programming, and project operations.
Specifically with regard to work with geodetic reference frames, the resolution “recognized the economic and scientific importance of and the growing demand for an accurate and stable global geodetic reference frame for the Earth that allows the interrelationship of measurements taken anywhere on the Earth and in space, combining geometric positioning and gravity field-related observations, as the basis and reference in location and height for geospatial information, which is used in many Earth science and societal applications, including sea -level and climate change monitoring, natural hazard and disaster management and a whole series of industrial applications (including mining, agriculture, transport, navigation and construction) in which precise positioning introduces efficiencies.” The resolution also recognizes “the extraordinary achievements made by [many organizations] in measuring and monitoring changes in the Earth’s system on a best-effort basis, including the development of the now adopted International Terrestrial Reference Frame.”
It recognizes “the investments of Member States in developing satellite missions for positioning and remote sensing of the Earth, supporting a range of scientific endeavours that improve our understanding of the “Earth system” and underpin decision-making, and recognizing that the full societal benefits of these investments are realized only if they are referenced to a common global geodetic reference frame at the national, regional and global levels.” It acknowledges that “the global geodetic reference frame depends upon the participation of countries all around the globe, and the need to take action to strengthen international cooperation.” The UN mentioned a Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management to develop a global geodetic road map that addresses key elements relating to the development and sustainability of the global geodetic reference frame.
The resolution encourages UN Member States and other relevant international organizations to enhance global cooperation in providing technical assistance, especially for capacity development in geodesy for developing countries, with the aim of ensuring the development, sustainability and advancement of a global geodetic reference frame. It urges Member States to implement open sharing of geodetic data, standards and conventions, on a voluntary basis, (which we discuss in this blog frequently) to contribute to the global reference frame.” As an educator, I was especially glad to see that the resolution “invites Member States to develop outreach programmes that make the global geodetic reference frame more visible and understandable to society.”
To move the GIS field forward, and to ensure that geospatial data is available and is shared, we need grass roots efforts, but also recognition from high level organizations. These statements from the UN are welcomed, and it is our hope that the Member States will take these resolutions seriously and translate them into actionable items in their own countries and across countries to grapple with the 21st Centuries all around us — almost all of which transcend borders.
NASA recently announced the launch of a new data portal, hosting a data catalog of publicly available terrestrial and space-based datasets, APIs and data visualisations.
NASA’s Open Innovation team has been established to meet government mandates to make their data publicly available. The datasets, posted in a number of categories including applied and earth science, will be available to download in a variety of formats although at present not all the formats are available for all of the categories. However the data portal is work in progress so worth checking back as new datasets are posted.
From a quick search for some earth science data I found a sea surface temperature dataset acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments aboard NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites that I could download in a number of image formats, Google Earth or CSV format. One feature of the data portal I found useful was the accompanying basic, intermediate or advanced dataset descriptions, helping portal users identify the right datasets for their requirements.
A few years ago, I walked on the pier at Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and after mapping my route, reflected on issues of resolution and scale in this blog. After recording my track on my smartphone in an application called RunKeeper, it appeared on the map as though I had been walking on the water! This, of course, was because the basemap did not show the pier or the fill adjacent to the marina. Recently, following the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers, I had the opportunity to retrace my steps and revisit my field site. What has changed in the past 2 1/2 years? Much.
As shown below, the basemap used by RunKeeper has vastly improved in that short amount of time. The pier and fill is now on the map, and note the other differences between the new map and the one from 2012 below that appears below it–schools, trails, contour lines, and other features are now available. A 3-D profile is available now as well. Why? The continued improvement of maps and geospatial data from local, regional, federal, and international government agencies plays a role. We have a plethora of data sources to choose from, as is evident in our recent post about Dr Karen Payne’s list of geospatial data and the development of Esri’s Living Atlas of the World. The variety and resolution of base maps in ArcGIS Online and in other platforms continues to expand and improve at an rapid pace.
Equally significant, and some might argue more significant, is the role that crowdsourcing is having on the improvement of maps and services (such as traffic and weather feeds). In fact, even in this example, note the “improve this map” text that appears in the lower right of the map, allowing everyday fitness app users the ability to submit changes that will be reviewed and added to RunKeeper’s basemap. What does all of this mean for the the data user and GIS analyst? Maps are improving at a dizzying pace due to efforts by government agencies, nonprofit organizations, academia, private companies, and the ordinary citizen. Yet, scale and resolution still matter. Critically thinking about data and where it comes from still matters. Fieldwork that uses ordinary apps can serve as an effective instructional technique. It is indeed an exciting time to be in the field of geotechnologies.
The map from 2012 is below.