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 map provides a brief description of the exercises.

Harmonising UAS Regulations and Standards: Article Review

October 23, 2016 Leave a comment

A recent article in GIM International about harmonising UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems, or UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), or “Drone” technologies) regulations and standards is definitely worth reading, providing an excellent summary of this rapidly evolving sector of the geospatial industry.  The article, beginning on page 6, is in a special issue of GIM International dedicated exclusively to UAS, available here.  Peter van Blyenburgh summarizes developments in regulations and standardization in Europe, the USA, Japan, and China, and then provides some down-to-earth advice for companies who are seeing the potential for profits only but may not see the bigger picture about liability, regulations, and safety.  The GIM issue also includes articles about integrating UAS and multibeam echosounder data, multispectral and thermal sensors on UAVs, UAS applications in agriculture, and the article “Airborne laser scanning” provides an excellent introduction to the two main platforms:  fixed-wing and rotorcraft.

If I am reading the “tea leaves” correctly, in the world of education, just about every GIS program offered at a technical college and university will include at least one course in UAS technology and data by this time next year.  And I would expect that a whole host of online MOOCs and other courses will appear from universities, companies, and GIS organizations to help people effectively use these new tools and technologies.  I attended, for example, a multi-hour course at the recent Geo’Ed community college GIS conference on this topic.  This reinforced my opinion that while online courses and programs will be helpful, the face-to-face component, actually working with the software and hardware, is particularly useful when working with UAS:  There is no perfect substitute for rolling up one’s sleeves and working with these devices.

As publishing director Durk Haarsma states in his editorial for this special issue, UASs are disruptive technologies, because they are influencing so many geospatial fields and subfields, such as cadastral surveying, cultural heritage, and precision agriculture, just to name a few.  Because UAS influence how people in an increasing number of professions map and model the world, interpreting the data from those UAS is central to our book and this blog–understanding your data, and how they are obtained, is more critical than ever.


Launching a fixed wing UAV at the Geo’Ed conference, Louisville Technical College, Kentucky. Photograph by Joseph Kerski.  Video here and analyzing thermal imagery here.

New Alaska Elevation Data Now Available

October 9, 2016 Leave a comment

Exciting news from the Arctic! Version 2 of the Arctic DEM has been released. Topographic elevation of the Arctic can now be viewed and analyzed like never before. This release extends the detailed 2 meter Alaska elevation data with additional 2m data for Novaya Zemlya and Franz Josef Land, as well as preliminary 8 meter data for the entire Arctic.  Additional detailed 2 meter elevation data will be released in quarterly installments over 2017 until the arctic data is complete.  This is the result of a partnership between Esri, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, the National Science Foundation, and the Polar Geospatial Center at the University of Minnesota.

In September 2016, the US at the White House hosted an Arctic Ministerial meeting, with over 20 countries represented, where this data was showcased and new commitments on data provisions were sought. The goal of the meeting and the new data is to help people better understand, adapt to, and address the changing conditions in the Arctic.

The four key themes include:

  • Understanding Arctic-Science Challenges and their Regional and Global Implications.
  • Strengthening and Integrating Arctic Observations and Data Sharing.
  • Applying Expanded Scientific Understanding of the Arctic to Build Regional Resilience and Shape Global Responses.
  • Using Arctic Science as a Vehicle for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Education and Citizen Empowerment.

To access the data, start  with the NGA Arctic Support story map here and spend time on the ‘Arctic Digital Elevation Model (ArcticDEM) ’ tab.  The embedded apps provide interactive access to the elevation. The data is described in an article here from Medium.com and an article from National Geographic here.  This story map illustrates the visualizations that can be generated with the click of the mouse for any user selected area, and a swipe story map explains the background on Digital Elevation Models and compares the new elevation data to the older elevation data by providing the ability to swipe between the maps. The DEMs have been computed from high resolution stereo Digital Globe satellite imagery.

The DEM Explorer is a web app that allows the data user to zoom to any area and review different visualizations such as hillshade, slope, aspect, contours. As the data is temporal in many areas, users can see how the data is changing over time and summarize elevation change for a selected areas.  The Change Viewer is a simpler app that allows a user to click a point and graphically view the historical elevation of that location. Access to these services is also available in a wide range of applications through the Arctic DEM Group in ArcGIS Online.   Most of the apps use the polar projections to reduce distortions which would become severe in generic mapping applications.  Finally, a video tour of the story map highlights many of the above products and services.

The actual data are available–not just press releases, and the data will be of great benefit for anyone doing research in the Arctic, as the map below should make very clear.


Alaska DEMs showing the heretofore available data (left) and the new data (right).

Connections between Geospatial Data and Becoming a Data Professional

September 25, 2016 Leave a comment

Dr. Dawn Wright, Chief Scientist at Esri, recently shared a presentation she gave on the topic of “A Geospatial Industry Perspective on Becoming a Data Professional.”

How can GIS and Big Data be conceptualized and applied to solve problems?  How can the way we define and train data professionals move the integration of Big Data and GIS simultaneously forward?  How can GIS as a system and GIS as a science be brought together to meet the challenges we face as a global community?   What is the difference between a classic GIS researcher and a modern GIS researcher?   How and why must GIS become part of open science?

These issues and more are examined in the slides and the thought-provoking text underneath each slide.  Geographic Information Science has long welcomed strong collaborations among computer scientists, information scientists, and other Earth scientists to solve complex scientific questions, and therefore parallels the emergence as well as the acceptance of “data science.”

But the researchers and developers in “data science” need to be encouraged and recruited from somewhere, and once they have arrived, they need to blaze a lifelong learning pathway.  Therefore, germane to any discussion on emerging fields such as data science is how students are educated, trained, and recruited–here, as data professionals within the geospatial industry.  Such discussion needs to include certification, solving problems, critical thinking, and ascribing to codes of ethics.

I submit that the integration of GIS and open science not only will be enriched by the immersion of issues that we bring up in this blog and in our book, but is actually dependent in large part on researchers and developers who understand such issues and can put them into practice.  What issues?  Issues of understanding geospatial data and knowing how to apply it to real-world problems, of scale, or data quality, of crowdsourcing, of data standards and portals, and others that we frequently raise here.  Nurturing these skills and abilities in geospatial professionals is a key way of helping GIS become a key part of data science, and our ability to move GIS from being a “niche” technology or perspective to one that all data scientists use and share.


This presentation by Dr. Dawn Wright touches on the themes of data and this blog from a professional development perspective.


OpenAddresses: A global address collection

September 20, 2016 1 comment

An integral part of many successful GIS projects is access to reliable address information, providing a consistent locational context for a variety of phenomena. One such address resource is OpenAddresses, a collection of authoritative address data sources. The address data are ‘open and free to use’ and made available under both attribution and share-alike (ODbl) licences. Although not yet a global resource, for those countries where address information is available, the data sets may be downloaded as a .zip file (.csv and GDAL .vrt files).

OpenAddresses - global coverage

OpenAddresses – global coverage

Anyone interested in contributing an address dataset to the project can either submit a request to have the data added or submit the data themselves to the repository on Github.

Dusting off the spatial data hidden in museum collections

September 11, 2016 2 comments

This installment of Spatial Reserves is authored by:  Shelley James and Molly Phillips. iDigBio, Florida Museum of Natural History.   We thank these authors very much for their contribution!

If you’ve ever had a need to document where a plant or animal species occurs today, or 100 years ago, perhaps the 1 billion biological specimens housed in natural history collections across the USA, and 5 billion around the world can help!  Each of these specimens imparts knowledge about their existence in time at a specific location.  Fish, fossils, birds, skeletons, mushrooms, skins – all with a date and location of collection.  The data, found on the labels attached to the specimens, in field notebooks and catalogues, is being transcribed by museum professionals and citizen scientists alike, revealing information about the world’s living organisms dating back to the 1600’s, some with very accurate spatial data, others much less so depending on the geographic knowledge of the collector at the time.  iDigBio – Integrated Digitized Biocollections – a project supported by the US National Science Foundation – is collaborating with biological collections across the globe to help combine and mobilize voucher specimen data for research, education, and environmental management uses.

All of this biodiversity data is in a format known as Darwin Core, a standardized set of descriptors enabling biological data from different sources to be combined, indexed, and shared.  The iDigBio data Portal allows open access to this aggregated data, allowing filtering for types of organisms, a spatial region using latitude-longitude co-ordinates, polygons or place descriptions, and many other options.  The data is delivered dynamically, and can be downloaded for use.  Currently about 50% of the biological records in iDigBio (over 30 million records) have a geopoint and error, and georeferencing is something the collections community continues to work on in order to improve this valuable dataset.  Any tools or improvements to data the geospatial community can provide would be a great help as iDigBio expands beyond 65 million specimen records, and we invite you to join the conversation by participating in the iDigBio Georeferencing Working Group.


Pigeons and doves from around the world.  The iDigBio Portal maps the distribution of species and provides specimen record details “on the fly” as filters are applied by the user.  The dataset can be downloaded, or data can be accessed through the iDigBio API.



On Geospatial Information and the Sustainable Development Goals

August 28, 2016 4 comments

In a white paper entitled Transforming Our World:  Geospatial Information Key to Achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable DevelopmentDigitalGlobe and Geospatial Media and Communications tie the need for geospatial data to meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

On related topics, we have written about the UN resolution on geospatial data, and the UN Future Trends in geospatial information management, and in our book we wrote about the 8 Millennium Development Goals adopted by UN member states.  The white paper brings together some key connections between the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and GIS.  The 17 goals include–no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well being, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, decent work and economic growth, industry, innovation, and infrastructure, reduced inequalities, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and production, climate action, life below water, life on land, peace and justice/strong institutions, and partnerships to achieve the goals. The 17 SDGs and the 169 associated targets seek to achieve sustainable development balanced in three dimensions–economic, social, and environmental.  The article focuses on a topic that is central to this blog and our book--the need for data, specifically geospatial data, to monitor progress in meeting these goals but also to enable those goals to be achieved.

The report ties the success of the SDGs to the availability of geospatial data.  One finding of the report was that many countries had not implemented any sort of open data initiatives or portals, which is an issue we have discussed here and in our book.  The main focus of the report is to identify ways that countries and organizations can work on addressing the data gap, such as creating new data avenues, open access, mainstreaming Earth observation, expanding capacities, collaborations and partnerships, and making NSDIs (National Spatial Data Infrastructures) relevant.  For more information on the authors of the paper, see this press release by Geospatial World.

I especially like the report because it doesn’t just rest upon past achievements of the geospatial community to make its data holdings available to decision makers   To be sure, there have been many achievements.  But one thing we have been critical of in this blog in our reviews of some data portals is that many sound fine in press releases, but when a data user actually tries to use them, there are many significant challenges, including site sluggishness, limited data formats and insufficient resolution, and the lack of metadata about field names, to name a few.  The report also doesn’t mince words–there have been advancements, but the advancements are not coming fast enough for the decisions that need to be made.

The report’s main message is that the lack of available geospatial data is not just a challenge to people in the geospatial industry doing their everyday work, but that the lack of available geospatial data will hinder the achievement of the SDGs if not addressed fully and soon.


White paper connecting the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to geospatial information, from DigitalGlobe and Geospatial Media and Communications.