Archive for December, 2012

10 Geospatial Predictions for 2013

December 30, 2012 Leave a comment

In our book The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data, we included several items from our colleague Matt Ball, who  has been writing about spatial data for many years.  His recent 10 geospatial predictions for 2013,, touch on several key themes in our book, including growing scrutiny on location privacy, the growth of unmanned aerial vehicles and systems, cloud computing, government cuts, an increased ability to use place and location and associated tools in documentation and reporting, and government data “decrees.”

10 geospatial predictions for 2013

10 geospatial predictions for 2013







Which of these predictions do you think will come true?  Which have already happened and simply will gain momentum?  Which of these predictions do you believe have the most important implications for the field of GIS?

Partnerships for public data access

December 24, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s usually about this time of year that rain-sodden, sun-deprived minds like mine often turn to thoughts of heat, sun, and planning next year’s summer holidays. So when the All Points Blog recently reported a data partnership deal which had produced a shoreline map for Oahu,  Hawai’i, I had to go check it out.

The data partnership in question involved the City and Council of Honolulu, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Fisheries, the State Department of Hawaii of Land and Natural Resources, and the Office of Planning. The new shoreline map, hosted on, provides a combination of field survey and local / central authority data describing the numerous access points along the shoreline of the island of Oahu. The map will provide tourists, local fishermen, and residents alike with updated information about the type of shoreline and the nature of the access at various locations along the shoreline.

Oahu shoreline map

One of the themes we discuss in the book, The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data, is the increasing popularity of such data partnerships, with organisations working together to collect, manage, and host a variety of public domain spatial data. Initiatives like these allow those involved to make the most efficient use of resources and organisational expertise, and avoid data duplication. Coming so soon after the release of US Government Accountability Office (GAO) report into the lack of coordination and data sharing between central government departments we blogged about earlier this month, it is encouraging to see that partnerships like this do exist and can work.

Walking On Water? Reflections on Resolution and Scale

December 16, 2012 1 comment

I recently gave presentations at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee for GIS Day, and took the opportunity, as most geographers would, to get out onto the landscape. I walked on the Lake Michigan pier at Manitowoc, enjoying a stroll in the brisk wind to and from the lighthouse there, recording my track on my smartphone in an application called Runkeeper. When my track had finished and been mapped, it appeared as though I had been walking on the water!

Walking on Water?  My track on the map

Walking on Water? My track on the map.

Lighthouse on pier

Lighthouse on the end of the pier.

According to my map, I walked on water. Funny, but I don’t recall even getting wet! It all comes down to paying close attention to your data, and knowing its sources. This provides a teachable moment in a larger discussion on the importance of scale and resolution in any project involving maps or GIS. In my case, even if I scrolled in to a larger scale, the pier did not appear on the Runkeeper’s application’s base map. It does, however, appear in the base map in ArcGIS Online.

In the book that Jill Clark and I wrote entitled The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data, we discuss how scale and resolution can be conceptualized and put into practice in both the raster and vector worlds. We cite examples where neglecting these important concepts have led not only to bad decisions, but have cost people their property and even their lives.  Today, while GIS tools allow us to instantly zoom to a large scale, the data being examined might have been collected at a much smaller scale.  Much caution therefore needs to be used when making decisions when the analysis scale is larger than the collection scale.  For example, if you are making decisions at 1:10,000 scale and your base data was collected at 1:50,000 scale, you are treading on dangerous ground.

Or, one could say, you are “walking on water”!

Data sharing in principle but not in practice

December 10, 2012 1 comment

According to a recent US Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, despite numerous initiatives and administration goals, the lack of coordination between three major departments has led to significant amounts of duplicated geospatial data. One area of overlap specifically highlighted in the report is in the acquisition of road data, with all three agencies independently collecting the same information.

It transpires the departments, Commerce, Interior and Transportation, do not have an effective plan for advancing the sharing of geospatial data despite the specific remit of the Federal Geographic Data Committee to promote coordination among the three agencies. To date, the only goal all three department have achieved was making data available on a clearinghouse. Although the necessary policies for sharing data do exist, implementing those policies hasn’t been a priority as the agencies involved have been focussed on other activities.

Geospatial data silos and data duplication are not new; both have been around for almost as long as people have been collecting the data. Recent technological innovations  – cloud computing, improved bandwidth, better data capture techniques, improved search engines and so on – were supposed to revolutionize our access to spatial data and make duplication like this a thing of the past. Instead they only serve to highlight how the major stumbling blocks to progress in sharing data continue to be organizational and administrative. Just how far up the collective ToDo list these data sharing initiatives will go in the wake of this report remains to be seen.

The National Geologic Map Database Map Viewer

December 2, 2012 1 comment

As we describe in the book The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data, the AASG-USGS National Geologic Map Database (NGMDB), is one of the most useful resources to access geologic maps and data.  The NGMDB, through its Geoscience Map Catalog, provides access to  more than 89,000 maps and reports by  more 630 publishers.  More than 23,000 of these publications are geologic maps.  A significant leap forward since the book was published is the new NGMDB Map Viewer.  This Mapviewer is built using Esri ArcGIS Server and the Image Server Extension. With the viewer, inside ArcGIS Online inside an ordinary web browser, data users can access a significant component of the national archive of the systematic, regional mapping of  bedrock and surficial deposits, conducted by Federal, State, University, and private entities, stretching back to the 1800s.

Why access the NGMDB through this map viewer?  There are several advantages to doing so:  You can view numerous maps in the NGMDB Map Catalog in one seamless interface running in your web browser.  You can toggle between selected map types, search by keyword to find a record in the Map Catalog, find related publications, and best of all, access the Map Catalog to download high resolution geotiffs and other GIS-compatible formats.  I formerly worked at the USGS, and have been in touch with colleagues there over the past year, eagerly awaiting the arrival of this map viewer.  If you have read our book or have been reading this blog, you know that Jill Clark and I cast a rather critical eye on any data portal or viewer, assessing whether any of them are truly useful for the GIS data user.  I am pleased to report that after testing the NGMDB Map Viewer, it met all of my expectations.  True, the database is largely (but not entirely) US-based, but the interface is easy to use and allows the data users to obtain what they came for–GIS-compatible geologic data of different areas, scales, and themes.

To access the database, go to ArcGIS Online: and search for “USGS NGMDB Map Viewer 2012”, or directly to

National Geologic Maps Database Viewer in ArcGIS Online

National Geologic Maps Database Viewer in ArcGIS Online