The World Resources Institute (WRI) has recently announced the launch of Global Forest Watch (GFW), a dynamic forest monitoring system that provides aims to provide ‘timely and reliable’ information about the state of the world’s forests. Using a combination of satellite imagery, open access data and crowd sourced information, GFW builds on earlier projects such as the Forest Frontiers Initiative and the Forest Atlases, one of the case studies we discussed in The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data, which promoted the sustainable management of forest resources.
One of the big issues for monitoring forest reserves has been, given the often inaccessible locations, by the time harmful and illegal logging was reported it was invariably too late to stop the deforestation. GFW aims to provide near real-time information on forest clearing activities so local authorities, governments, global business and the general public have access to the latest, and hopefully most accurate, status of forest reserves. The listed data sources include:
- Forest change ( many derived from MODIS data)
- Forest cover
- Forest Use
The GFW web site provides access to a global map based on the University of Maryland Tree Cover Loss and Gain data.
The GFW site also provides a time-lapse run through of the last twelve years change in tree cover.
Although the predominance of forest cover loss (pink) as opposed to gain (blue) in many areas tells a depressingly familiar tale, providing public access to the latest information like this should help shine a light on illegal logging activities.
The Government Accountability Office has updated its review of federal GIS activities. The study was conducted because “The federal government collects, maintains, and uses geospatial information–information linked to specific geographic locations–to support many functions, including national security and disaster response. In 2012, the Department of the Interior estimated that the federal government was investing billions of dollars on geospatial data annually, and that duplication was common.”
The report said that, “The President and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) established policies and procedures for coordinating investments in geospatial data. However, in November 2012, GAO reported that governmentwide committees and federal departments and agencies had not effectively implemented them. The committee that was established to promote the coordination of geospatial data nationwide–the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC)–had developed and endorsed key standards and had established a clearinghouse of metadata. GAO found that the clearinghouse was not being used by agencies to identify planned geospatial investments to promote coordination and reduce duplication. In addition, the committee had not yet fully planned for or implemented an approach to manage geospatial data as related groups of investments to allow agencies to more effectively plan geospatial data collection efforts and minimize duplicative investments, and its strategic plan was missing key elements.”
“Other shortfalls have impaired progress in coordinating geospatial data. Specifically, none of the three federal departments in GAO’s review had fully implemented important activities such as preparing and implementing a strategy for advancing geospatial activities within their respective departments. Moreover, the agencies in GAO’s review responsible for governmentwide management of specific geospatial data had implemented some but not all key activities for coordinating the national coverage of specific geospatial data.”
“GAO is making no new recommendations in this statement. In November 2012, GAO recommended that to improve coordination and reduce duplication, FGDC develop a national strategy for coordinating geospatial investments; federal agencies follow federal guidance for managing geospatial investments; and OMB develop a mechanism to identify and report on geospatial investments. Since that time, FGDC and several agencies have taken some steps to implement the recommendations. However, additional actions are still needed.”
Why are we not surprised? To be fair, coordinating any activity among federal agencies, particularly one as pervasive and cross-cutting as geospatial data collection and use, is an enormous task. Furthermore, coordination cannot be established and then just placed on “auto pilot”, but needs to be continually improved and adjusted with changing needs, stakeholders, priorities, and decision makers. On the other hand, the goal of coordination of federal geospatial activities has been a goal for 20 years now, since the signing of the NSDI back in 1994. We discuss the progress made and the challenges that are still outstanding at length in our book, The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data. It is disheartening to read that so much remains to be done but encouraging to see at least some progress and reports like this one to keep coordination moving forward.
Last year we wrote about the imminent influx of high resolution imagery from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones and the great potential this could offer those agencies responding to emergency situations where the effective provision of humanitarian aid relies heavily on access to current, accurate and readily available map data.
When Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), reportedly the strongest typhoon to ever make landfall, struck the Philippines on the 8th of November 2013 it caused catastrophic destruction and loss of life. The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (H.O.T) activated Project Haiyan to provide geographic base data for the affected areas.
However as Kate Chapman reported in a project update last month, although a large number of UAVs had been used to collect imagery immediately after the typhoon struck, much of the mapping activity was uncoordinated, resulting in fragmented data sources that were unavailable to the aid agencies. Although UAV imagery can provide much higher resolution data (5-10cm) than is currently available from satellite imagery sources (0.5m), if the data can’t be accessed when required, the relevant agencies don’t know what’s available and from whom or the licensing arrangements prohibit open access to the data, then the transient opportunities to put the data to good use are lost.
Given the increasing miniaturisation, reduced costs and availability of these devices, a register of publicly available UAV data sources, a crowdsourced OpenUAVImagery initiative or the “OpenReconstruction/Open Drone” platform described by the H.O.T. would seem to be the next step towards making the most of this data resource.
An online e-book entitled Open Government Data by Joshua Tauberer is, according to the author, “the culmination of several years of thinking about the principles behind the open government data movement in the United States.” In the book, he “frame[s] the movement as the application of Big Data to civics. Topics include principles, uses for transparency and civic engagement, a brief legal history, data quality, civic hacking, and paradoxes in transparency.”
The author is the creator of the US Congress-tracking tool GovTrack.us, which launched in 2004, helping to spur the national open government data community. He was also a co-founder of POPVOX, a platform for advocacy, providing a means for citizens to communicate with Congress about the issues they care about.
Tauberer mentions GIS data in part 2.2 where he uses Google Transit Feed Specification data as an example (three-quarters of the way down the page, in Figure 8) to visualize ridership in the Washington DC area. But despite the lack of overt GIS references, I believe this book could be useful to the readers of our book and this blog. Its chapters include “Big Data Meets Open Government”, “Civic Hacking by Example”, “Applications to Open Government”, “A Brief Legal History of Open Government Data”, “Paradoxes in Open Government”, and “Example Policy Language”. In particular, the chapter on “A Brief Legal History of Open Government Data” provides useful additional reading after reading Chapter 1 of our book, The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data. Through reading Tauberer’s book, one can better understand how spatial data can and should fit into larger open data and open government initiatives.