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Archive for May, 2015

A United Nations resolution on geospatial data

May 31, 2015 2 comments

During their 69th General Assembly, the United Nations passed a resolution on a “global geodetic reference frame for sustainable development“.   This resolution reaffirmed earlier endorsements of resolutions (1) concerning transport, search, and rescue operations that depend on GNSS, (2) concerning coordination among global observing systems and programs, including remote sensing efforts, and (3) concerning geospatial information for sustainable development policymaking, programming, and project operations.

Specifically with regard to work with geodetic reference frames, the resolution “recognized the economic and scientific importance of and the growing demand for an accurate and stable global geodetic reference frame for the Earth that allows the interrelationship of measurements taken anywhere on the Earth and in space, combining geometric positioning and gravity field-related observations, as the basis and reference in location and height for geospatial information, which is used in many Earth science and societal applications, including sea -level and climate change monitoring, natural hazard and disaster management and a whole series of industrial applications (including mining, agriculture, transport, navigation and construction) in which precise positioning introduces efficiencies.”  The resolution also recognizes “the extraordinary achievements made by [many organizations] in measuring and monitoring changes in the Earth’s system on a best-effort basis, including the development of the now adopted International Terrestrial Reference Frame.”

It recognizes “the investments of Member States in developing satellite missions for positioning and remote sensing of the Earth, supporting a range of scientific endeavours that improve our understanding of the “Earth system” and underpin decision-making, and recognizing that the full societal benefits of these investments are realized only if they are referenced to a common global geodetic reference frame at the national, regional and global levels.”  It acknowledges that “the global geodetic reference frame depends upon the participation of countries all around the globe, and the need to take action to strengthen international cooperation.”  The UN mentioned a Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management to develop a global geodetic road map that addresses key elements relating to the development and sustainability of the global geodetic reference frame.

The resolution encourages UN Member States and other relevant international organizations to enhance global cooperation in providing technical assistance, especially for capacity development in geodesy for developing countries, with the aim of ensuring the development, sustainability and advancement of a global geodetic reference frame.  It urges Member States to implement open sharing of geodetic data, standards and conventions, on a voluntary basis, (which we discuss in this blog frequently) to contribute to the global reference frame.”  As an educator, I was especially glad to see that the resolution “invites Member States to develop outreach programmes that make the global geodetic reference frame more visible and understandable to society.”

To move the GIS field forward, and to ensure that geospatial data is available and is shared, we need grass roots efforts, but also recognition from high level organizations.  These statements from the UN are welcomed, and it is our hope that the Member States will take these resolutions seriously and translate them into actionable items in their own countries and across countries to grapple with the 21st Centuries all around us — almost all of which transcend borders.

A global geodetic reference frame for sustainable development from the United Nations.

A global geodetic reference frame for sustainable development from the United Nations.

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NASA’s New Data Portal

May 25, 2015 1 comment

NASA recently announced the launch of a new data portal, hosting a data catalog of publicly available terrestrial and space-based datasets, APIs and data visualisations.

NASA Data Portal

NASA Data Portal

NASA’s Open Innovation team has been established to meet government mandates to make their data publicly available. The datasets, posted in a number of categories including applied and earth science, will be available to download in a variety of formats although at present not all the formats are available for all of the categories. However the data portal is work in progress so worth checking back as new datasets are posted.

From a quick search for some earth science data I found a sea surface temperature dataset acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments aboard NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites that I could download in a number of image formats, Google Earth or CSV format. One feature of the data portal I found useful was the accompanying basic, intermediate or advanced dataset descriptions, helping portal users identify the right datasets for their requirements.

MODIS Sea Surface Temperature dataset

MODIS Sea Surface Temperature dataset

 

Walking on Water? Revisiting Reflections on Resolution and Scale

May 17, 2015 2 comments

A few years ago, I walked on the pier at Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and after mapping my route, reflected on issues of resolution and scale in this blog.  After recording my track on my smartphone in an application called RunKeeper, it appeared on the map as though I had been walking on the water!  This, of course, was because the basemap did not show the pier or the fill adjacent to the marina.  Recently, following the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers, I had the opportunity to retrace my steps and revisit my field site.  What has changed in the past 2 1/2 years?  Much.

As shown below, the basemap used by RunKeeper  has vastly improved in that short amount of time.  The pier and fill is now on the map, and note the other differences between the new map and the one from 2012 below that appears below it–schools, trails, contour lines, and other features are now available.  A 3-D profile is available now as well. Why?  The continued improvement of maps and geospatial data from local, regional, federal, and international government agencies plays a role.  We have a plethora of data sources to choose from, as is evident in our recent post about Dr Karen Payne’s list of geospatial data and the development of Esri’s Living Atlas of the World.  The variety and resolution of base maps in ArcGIS Online and in other platforms continues to expand and improve at an rapid pace.

Equally significant, and some might argue more significant, is the role that crowdsourcing is having on the improvement of maps and services (such as traffic and weather feeds). In fact, even in this example, note the “improve this map” text that appears in the lower right of the map, allowing everyday fitness app users the ability to submit changes that will be reviewed and added to RunKeeper’s basemap. What does all of this mean for the the data user and GIS analyst? Maps are improving at a dizzying pace due to efforts by government agencies, nonprofit organizations, academia, private companies, and the ordinary citizen.  Yet, scale and resolution still matter.  Critically thinking about data and where it comes from still matters.  Fieldwork that uses ordinary apps can serve as an effective instructional technique.  It is indeed an exciting time to be in the field of geotechnologies.

Walking on Water?  Reflections on Resolution and Scale, Part 2

Walking on Water? Reflections on Resolution and Scale, Part 2. My walk on the north pier at Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

The map from 2012 is below.

Map from 2012 of my same route on the pier.

Map from 2012 of my same route on the pier.

Public Domain Data and the Data Manifesto

Last year the UK’s Royal Statistical Society released their Data Manifesto, highlighting ‘….the potential of data to improve policy and business practice’, and stressing the importance of what the Society referred to as data literacy. A central theme in the manifesto is the role of public domain data, both the quality of the information that is available and the trust placed in it by the individuals and organisations who use that data. Although much has been accomplished over recent years with respect to providing better access to government data, the Society specifically mention the value in continuing to open up addressing and geospatial data as ‘..core reference data upon which society depends and also act as a catalyst to release economic value from other open datasets’.

Royal Statistical Society Data Manifesto

Royal Statistical Society Data Manifesto

Just as important as having access to data sources are the skills required to analyse and interpret that data; the data literacy skills that will be the foundation of the new data economy – basic data handling, quantitative skills and the ability to interpret data using the best technologies for the task.

As data users in this new data economy we also need the critical skills described by Joseph Kerski in his post on being critical of data; yes we need access to the public domain and open data, yes we need to be able to find data and yes we need the skills to work with the data, but we also need to be able to determine the quality of the data and how appropriate the data are for our individual requirements.