Esri’s Living Atlas of the World: New source and method of obtaining and using spatial data
Questions such as “How can I obtain geospatial data?” and “How do I know if that data is any good?” are central themes in this blog. One data source that merits attention is the Esri Living Atlas of the World. More than an expanding source of spatial data, it represents the new paradigm of obtaining and using spatial data.
The Living Atlas of the World is a collection of maps and apps on hundreds of topics focused around people, earth, and life. This includes data (1) created by the Esri ArcGIS Content Team, (2) contributed to the online basemaps through crowdsourced participation from the Community Maps program, and (3) authored by Esri partners. Basemaps include oceans, imagery, streets, terrain, and others, and is a mixture of global sets and regional/local sets, depending on who created it. Imagery includes events, basemaps, multispectral, and temporal. Other categories include demographics, lifestyles, landscape, Earth Observations, Urban Systems, Transportation, Boundaries and Places, Historical Maps, and Story Maps.
Navigating the graphics-rich site is quite easy and the metadata exists in an overview set of paragraphs and in a more detailed form as well. A nice touch is the inclusion of person responsible for the curation for each category as well as a short video from each person. Most of the maps and data sets can be opened in the ArcGIS Online map viewer or in ArcGIS Desktop, and in addition, the individual map layers making up the maps can also be accessed. The chief challenge, like with any large data portal, is to determine the most suitable search terms to use in order to obtain the desired data set. One gets the strong sense of the rapid expansion of this portal recently and that it will continue to rapidly evolve.
The Esri Living Atlas of the World represents a new paradigm of serving data for several key reasons. As we indicated in our book, industry is playing an increasingly important role in serving government and other data through their own methods and portals, of which Esri here is a prime example. Second, this portal allows users to immediately begin interacting with the data using cloud-based mapping services; in this case, within ArcGIS Online, but also, with just a click or two, within ArcGIS Desktop. Third, this atlas is not a standalone web page for data access, but rather, the atlas itself is a fundamental part of the ArcGIS platform. If one wanted to save some of the layers in standard vector and raster data sets, one would need to export them through the ArcGIS Desktop package. But if this type of portal is any indication, the need for saving data in a standard format may be quickly becoming “old school.” This may be the case if instead of exporting and importing data, one can use an online atlas and begin using the data for analysis right away.