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.
A few years ago, I walked on the pier at Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and after mapping my route, reflected on issues of resolution of 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.
Last year the UK’s Royal Statistical Society released their Data Manifesto, highlighting ‘….the potential of data to improve policy and business practice’, and stressing the importance of what the Society referred to as data literacy. A central theme in the manifesto is the role of public domain data, both the quality of the information that is available and the trust placed in it by the individuals and organisations who use that data. Although much has been accomplished over recent years with respect to providing better access to government data, the Society specifically mention the value in continuing to open up addressing and geospatial data as ‘..core reference data upon which society depends and also act as a catalyst to release economic value from other open datasets’.
Just as important as having access to data sources are the skills required to analyse and interpret that data; the data literacy skills that will be the foundation of the new data economy – basic data handling, quantitative skills and the ability to interpret data using the best technologies for the task.
As data users in this new data economy we also need the critical skills described by Joseph Kerski in his post on being critical of data; yes we need access to the public domain and open data, yes we need to be able to find data and yes we need the skills to work with the data, but we also need to be able to determine the quality of the data and how appropriate the data are for our individual requirements.
An article in The American Surveyor by Michael J. Pallamary highlights a recent case where the author states that the US Supreme Court has recently introduced confusion and conflict in boundary law. The intention of the law, it was hoped, would settle a decades-old dispute over the location of California’s offshore boundary, a line common with the United States’ boundary in that part of the world. The conflict stemmed from 1946 when the federal government sued California for leasing land for oil drilling offshore from Long Beach. The federal government stated that the submerged lands belonged to the federal government and not the state. The location of the state boundary is apparently three geographical miles distant from its coastline.
Any geographer or GIS analyst must see the “red flags” fly when they read “coastline” as the basis for any boundary, realizing that coastlines change, sea levels change, the definition of the coastline itself means different things to different people, and, remember the good ol’ coastline paradox? Scale matters! The author, a 50 year professional surveyor who knows what he is talking about, gets right to the point: The notion of “absolute certainty” in the recent law and prior laws “appears to be derived from the misunderstood notion of significant figures and little to no understanding of geodesy.” He goes on to state that one organization in California still uses nautical miles and most other agencies use geographical miles, and points out the differences between low water, ordinary low water, mean low water, lower low water, mean high water, and well, you get the idea. He also states that the coordinate values in the law are expressed as both NAD 83 and WGS 84 UTM, when it is well known that these are not the same, and moreover, they are in an “endless state of flux.”
Why does all this matter? The locations of boundaries are of critical concern to our 21st Century world. In terms of coastal boundaries, yes, energy extraction remains important as it was during the 1940s, but think of additional issues: Measuring and assessing property and boundaries of all sorts along coasts, zoning, natural resource protection, shipping, defense and security, responsibilities for emergency management, and a whole host of other coastal and national concerns.
I couldn’t help but sigh and scratch my head upon reading the complexities detailed in this article. It provides a good update to our discussion in our book about the intricacies of boundaries, about the importance of datums, about precision and accuracy, and about knowing what you are doing when you are working in the field of geotechnologies. In talking with the author, I understand that a petition has been filed, asking that the legislation be redone. That is good news, but I wonder in how many other cases around the world are boundary related laws passed without consulting the surveying and geodesy community. Maybe I don’t want to know the answer! So, until we get our ideal world, I think it is important for all of us in the geospatial community to keep promoting why what you are doing is important to our 21st Century world. It is my hope that your work will be visible so that you will be called upon from time to time by decision makers at all levels to advise them on legislation that affects us all.
GIS analyst Nathan Lowry has written a paper on geospatial information coordination and consolidation options for the US Federal government. The paper examines recent reports by the US Government Accountability Office that criticize federal departments and agencies for their lack of progress on supporting, managing, and coordinating geospatial information, and analyzes these criticisms and the effectiveness of these and other proposed solutions.
Mr. Lowry begins the paper by providing an extensive background of US federal government involvement in mapping, through the formation of the Federal Geographic Data Committee and the National Spatial Data Infrastructure, with each section of the paper, provides thorough references. As such, this section is an excellent supplement to Chapter 5 of our book, where we discuss national and state data portals and metadata standards.
Mr. Lowry cuts right to the heart of the matter in statements such as “centralization never seems to work out the way it’s planned” and the focus by the GAO on three large government data producing agencies “may indicate some systematic issues, but will never redirect the redundant efforts of the federal government as a whole because the scope is too small”. He recommends that “If the problem is that the US federal government wastes money by duplicating expenditure for geospatial data(and hardware, software and personnel) required across many agencies and underfunds activities that could most effectively and efficiently meet those needs (my assertion), then more time needs to be spent understanding the problem culturally, procedurally, organizationally and comprehensively in order to craft the right solution”.
One of the most interesting sections of the paper is an analysis of several models for geospatial portfolio management, beginning with the concept of the Geographic Information Officer for the state of California, and other states, federal agencies, and local governments, continuing with a consideration of how the US intelligence community funds and staffs its geointelligence activities, and discussion of principles of intergovernmental relations as a way to implement the NSDI.
As a fellow resident of the same state in which Mr. Lowry resides, I can attest that he is a strong proponent of geospatial technology and a valued member of our GIS community, and his comments and reflections about the problems surrounding geospatial data coordination are thoughtful and insightful. In other words, he knows what he is talking about, he cares deeply about the value that geospatial technologies brings to decision making, and he’s not afraid to make strong recommendations. I hope that many decision makers read his paper… and act upon his recommendations.
Last month Amazon announced the release of Landsat 8 data on its AWS S3 platform. The data are freely available in GeoTiff format and are not subject to any restrictions on use. The imagery is updated on a 16 day cycle and is available on AWS within hours of reception by USGS.
All of the scenes from 2015 are available, along with a selection of scenes from 2013 and 2014. For those interested in downloading the data (no Amazon account required), each scene’s directory includes the following:
- a .TIF GeoTIFF for each of the scene’s up to 12 bands
- .TIF.ovr overview file for each .TIF
- a _MTL.txt metadata file
- a small rgb preview jpeg, 3 percent of the original size
- a larger rgb preview jpeg, 15 percent of the original size
- an index.html file including the RGB preview and links to the GeoTIFFs and metadata files
As a partner in the initiative to provide easier access to the imagery, Esri has created a set of Landsat Web Services that are available through ArcGIS Online. The services provide dynamic access to the entire collection of Landsat 8 data on AWS.
In the past, we have written about Robin Smith’s free geospatial data listing. Dr Karen Payne at the University of Georgia has published a geospatial data list which is also quite useful. Her list of geodata links is done on Google Spreadsheets and contains over 1,000 links to different portals, data types, and services. Because it is listed in a spreadsheet, make sure you pay attention to and investigate each of the tabs. Categories include scales (global, regional, country), thematic (disaster, imagery, physical, conservation), data types (web apps, tabular, live services), and more. The list’s focus is on freely available data sets used in international humanitarian work, which is Dr Payne’s major concentration in her work. The challenge with all GIS data listings, as we point out in our book, is the updating and curation of such lists, but Dr Payne is committed to updating this one as is evident in the breadth and scope of the listing and in my conversations with her.
Dr Payne is also working with the United Nations, converting their Common Operational datasets into services; specifically, populated places, admin boundaries, their names and codes. This effort could prove to be very helpful to all of us in the geospatial technology community.