April 16, 2012 5 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 map provides a brief description of the exercises.


COVID-19 and Privacy Concerns

March 25, 2020 2 comments

Geospatial technology and spatial data are being used to tackle all major world issues, including the current COVID-19 situation.  And because the COVID-19 situation is so tied to individuals and their movements over space and time, it is no surprise that needs for data bump into privacy issues.   A recent article entitled, “As COVID-19 Accelerates, Governments Must Harness Mobile Data to Stop Spread” with a subtitle of, Despite privacy concerns, “contact tracing” using GPS data may be our best bet to contain this large and fast-growing pandemic, was recently published here, via MIT Press.

In the article, the authors, Shekhar and Shekhar, from the University of Minnesota and the Yale School of Medicine, respectively, argue that smartphone-enabled location tracing without explicit permission from the smartphone owner needs to be implemented without delay to save lives.  The authors even lay out a specific plan for it to happen, and also comment that, “If smartphone trajectories of non-infected individuals need to be excluded for privacy reasons, the locations and times of potential exposure could be publicly shared without divulging patient names or sensitive medical information.”

No doubt that in the days and weeks to come, societies will have to make some difficult decisions regarding data and privacy, given the challenges before us.

–Joseph Kerski


Potential Harm from Geotagging Photographs

March 22, 2020 9 comments

Recently, National Geographic staff wrote an interesting and thoughtful piece about the potential harm of “over-loving” a place resulting from tourists posting geotagged photographs:   https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/features/when-why-not-to-use-geotagging-overtourism-security/

As a geographer, I confess that I have mixed feelings about this.   As someone keenly interested in the protection of natural places such as caves (as a lifelong caver and a geographer), riparian zones, beaches, lava fields, prairies, woodlands, and many other special places, part of me wants to see few visitors tramping on those places.  Hence, I see the point that the article makes about overexposure to places, whether from guidebooks, tweets, Instagram posts, Google map posts, or other means.  But as someone who at the same time wants to know about these places so I can too can explore them, I appreciate the crowdsourcing happening on our planet–the sharing of ordinary and extraordinary places on our planet for the sheer joy of them, and telling others about them, from ordinary people–citizen scientists.  Does a solution exist reconciling these two viewpoints?  Please share in the comments section.

On the potential downside of geotagging photos, we wrote a synopsis of the following story a few years ago; in this case, potential harm to rare species from location-tagged data:  https://spatialreserves.wordpress.com/2017/11/20/potential-harm-to-rare-species-from-location-tagged-data/

–Joseph Kerski, showing one of my favorite places and viewpoints on the planet, below.  Should I share where I took this photo so others can go there and enjoy the view?  Or just leave it untagged so only a few will visit?


Mystery location. 

Possible implications to census data from Disclosure Avoidance System

The new Disclosure Avoidance System (DAS) being used for the 2020 US Census counts could have implications for all users of census data.  First, from the National Conference of State Legislatures, see this informative overview: https://www.ncsl.org/research/redistricting/differential-privacy-for-census-data-explained.aspx.   To dig deeper, see this US Census Bureau story map and this dashboard as well as this NY Times article.

From a GIS perspective, here is an essay about spatial analysis and differential privacy from Lauren Scott Griffin: https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/ec6d9711a3364d3db5c18fc9061e312f

And for a map-based set of examples, compare places on this Esri dashboard: https://arcgis-content.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/04451f90e7b049f39aa6647a41b986ac

Why should you care?  This is all extremely relevant to the central theme of this blog–be critical of the data.  Know what methods are used to gather the data, and the models or algorithms employed to generate the results, and be a more informed data consumer.

–Joseph Kerski

Categories: Public Domain Data Tags: ,

Geospatial Commission: Best practice guide for data publishers

February 24, 2020 1 comment

The UK’s Geospatial Commission and its six partner bodies, British Geological Survey, Coal Authority, HM Land Registry, Ordnance Survey, UK Hydrographic Office and Valuation Office Agency, have published a new guide with practical advice on how to optimise access to geospatial datasets across all search engines. The main recommendations highlighted in the guide are:

  • Complete all the metadata fields on your data portal.
  • Restrict page titles and URLs to 50-60 characters; longer titles tend to be truncated and longer URLs tend to be give a lower ranking.
  • Optimise your data abstracts; write clearly, write concisely.
  • Use keywords appropriately in abstract and avoid keyword lists.
  • Avoid the use of special characters that may not display correctly on a webpage.
  • Page longevity improves search engine ranking; try to keep your URL the same even if your data changes..
  • Remove out of date or pages that are no longer maintained; these are less likely to be shown in search results that more recently updated pages.
  • Avoid metadata duplication; the same information available from multiple publishers or available in more than one place makes it likely the search results will have a lower ranking than one good metadata record.
  • Consider using user surveys, interviews and some of the analytic tools available, such as Google Analytics and Search Console applications, to understand what geospatial information the target audiences are looking for and finding. If necessary adjust data portal abstracts and keywords to better reflect those search parameters.
  • Apply all abstract and keyword changes to all pages on your portal to ensure a consistent search ranking.

It would interesting to know if the Geospatial Commission and partners will follow up with any agencies and organisations that implement these recommendations to see how much of an improvement is possible with respect to finding and accessing online geospatial datasets.

Creating fake data on web mapping services

February 16, 2020 2 comments

Aligned with our theme of this blog of “be critical of the data,” consider the following recent fascinating story:  An artist wheeled 99 smartphones around in a wagon to create fake traffic jams on Google Maps.  An artist pulled 99 smartphones around Berlin in a little red wagon, in order to track how the phones affected Google Maps’ traffic interface.  On each phone, he called up the Google Map interface.  As we discuss in our book, traffic and other real-time layers depend in large part on data contributed to by the citizen science network; ordinary people who are contributing data to the cloud, and in this and other cases, not intentionally.  Wherever the phones traveled, Google Maps for a while showed a traffic jam, displaying a red line and routing users around the area.

It wasn’t difficult to do, and it shows several things; (1) that the Google Maps traffic layer (in this case) was doing what it was supposed to do, reflecting what it perceived as true local conditions; (2) that it may be sometimes easy to create fake data using web mapping tools; hence, be critical of data, including maps, as we have been stating on this blog for 8 years; (3) the IoT includes people, and at 7.5 billion strong, people have a great influence over the sensor network and the Internet of Things.

The URL of his amusing video showing him toting the red wagon around is here,  and the full URL of the story is below:

I just wonder how he was able to obtain permission from 99 people to use their smartphones.  Or did he buy 99 photos on sale somewhere?

–Joseph Kerski




Key Global Biodiversity and Conservation Data Sources

February 2, 2020 Leave a comment

Advances in the following two resources and the sheer volume and diversity of data they contain merit mention in this data blog and, I recommend, considering investigating as part of your own work.

  1.  The Global Biodiversity Information Facility (www.gbif.org) contains point data on an amazing number and diversity of species.  It also over 12 million research-grade  observations from the i-Naturalist citizen science using community.
  2. IUCN:  The International Union for Conservation of Nature:  You can filter and use the data with IUCN Spatial data downloads for polygon boundary layers from their data portal, at https://www.iucnredlist.org/resources/spatial-data-download.  The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ contains global assessments for 112,432 species. More than 78% of these (>88,500 species) have spatial data.  The spatial data provided on the site are for comprehensively assessed taxonomic groups and selected freshwater groups.  The site indicates that some species (such as those listed as Data Deficient) are not mapped and that subspecies, varieties and subpopulations are mapped within the parental species. The data are in Esri shapefile format and contain the known range of each species, although sometimes the range is incomplete. Ranges are depicted as polygons, except for the freshwater HydroBASIN tables.

To use either resource, all you need is a free account.  The data sets can be combined, after which you can examine potential outliers, perform hot spot analysis, use the data in space time cubes, create habitat suitability models and risk models, and much more.

Joseph Kerski


Some of the resources available from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).  

Curated list of thousands of ArcGIS server addresses

January 19, 2020 1 comment

Joseph Elfelt from mappingsupport.com recently added many government ArcGIS server addresses to his curated list. The list features over 2,200 addresses for ArcGIS servers from the federal level to the city level. All links are tested by his code once per week and bad links are fixed or flagged, and a new list is posted every Wednesday morning. The list is here,  While we have written about this very useful list in the past, such as here, this is a resource that is worth reminding the community about. And, as a geographer, I find the geographic organization of this list quite easy to follow.

While browsing the list recently, I found, among many other things, an Amtrak train route feature service (shown below), resources at the Wisconsin historical society, and water resources data from the USGS Oklahoma Water Sciences Center.

Joseph is also actively maintaining his “GISsurfer” application, which allows the user community to examine GIS data in a map-centric manner.


Amtrak routes data service, which I found to be fascinating and which I discovered on Joseph Elfelt’s server listing.

I highly recommend that you browse this list if you are in need or anticipate being in need of geospatial data!

–Joseph Kerski