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Open Data Sharing for Earth Observations: The Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS)

December 6, 2015 1 comment

Data discover-ability, accessibility, and integration are frequent barriers for scientists and a major obstacle for favorable results on environmental research. To tackle this issue, one that is raised in our book and in this blog, the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) is leading the development of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), a voluntary effort that connects Earth Observation resources world-wide, acting as a gateway between producers and users of environmental data.

Barbara Ryan, Director, GEO Secretariat, says that, “The primary goal is the assurance of Earth observations so that we can address society’s environmental problems. While many of our activities are targeted toward monitoring global change, we’re actually more concerned about the assurance, continuity, sustainability and interoperability of observing systems, so that monitoring across multiple domains can be done. Governments, research organizations and others actually do the monitoring. We just want to make sure that the assets are in place, and that the data from these monitoring efforts is shared broadly. One of GEO’s primary objectives is to advocate broad, open data sharing, particularly if the data was collected at taxpayer expense—the citizens of the world should have access to that information”

“In this regard, during the first part of GEO, 2004-2009, we looked at the GEO mission as a massive cataloging effort. Then, about two years ago, we changed strategies. We transitioned to a brokering approach whereby interoperability agreements were established with institutions that have datasets and/or databases, rather than us seeking out individual datasets. An example of this approach is illustrated with our agreement with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). WMO
members have generally registered their data in the WMO Information System (WIS). So we worked on an interoperability arrangement between GEOSS and the WIS resulting in data from one system being discovered by the other system. We are now hearing, particularly from some members in the developing world, that they are getting access to information that they didn’t know existed.”

“WMO members are getting biodiversity and ecosystem information that wouldn’t normally be delivered through the WIS that focuses on weather, climate and water, and GEO members are gaining increased visibility to information in the WIS. It’s a win-win story, and we’d like to have interoperability brokering agreements with any institution that wants its environmental information broadly viewed and accessible throughout the world.”

“Many of the 25 countries that produce 80% of the world’s crops have global forecasting capabilities. GEO is advocating that information from these countries be shared more broadly and openly, and that algorithms be harmonized so that forecasts are improved around the world. Global transparency will help create more stability and a more food-secure world.  A related aspect of the security issue is that governments do not want another government having easy access to what is happening over their domain with the fear that this information will be used against them. While this concern is recognized, most of the information that GEO is interested in transcends national boundaries. Atmospheric, oceanic and many terrestrial processes do not respect national boundaries, and actions in one part of the world often have wide-spread consequences. The benefits of broader data sharing almost always outweigh the risks associated with not sharing data.”

These are welcome words to us here as authors of Spatial Reserves and also most likely will be welcome words for the entire geospatial community. I look forward someday soon to be able to search for and use data using the GEOSS.

The Group on Earth Observations (GEO) is leading the development of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS)

The Group on Earth Observations (GEO) is leading the development of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS).

Using GeoSeer to find geospatial data

GeoSeer (https://www.geoseer.net) is a search engine for spatial data covering (at the time of this writing) over 1.2 million distinct spatial datasets from over 180,000 public OGC services (Web Map Services (WMS), Web Feature Services (WFS), Web Coverage Services (WCS), and Web Map Tile Services (WMTS)).

There are a huge number of OGC services online but they’re largely invisible. GeoSeer is designed to solve this “discoverability problem”, similar to how regular search engines like Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo find web pages, but GeoSeer is focused on OGC services.  In fact, I was originally drawn to GeoSeer because of their statement, “We created GeoSeer to solve a problem: it’s an absolute pain to find spatial data.”  Indeed, this was one driving force for our book and this blog!  Another thing that attracted me was its simple interface (see below), which reminded me, after years of using 37.com, Webcrawler, AltaVista, and other web search tools over the 1990s, the first time I saw the simple but powerful Google search interface.

The GeoSeer bot scrapes over 350 Open Data portals looking for OGC services to add to the index, including the ArcGIS Hub Open Data Portal [1], the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) Portal [2], and many others. By scraping all of these portals and combining all of the discovered services into a single search engine, GeoSeer makes it easy to find open and public spatial data.  One can search by bounding box, lat-long, and service type, as explained here.

For end users, the benefits are a much easier data discovery process, while for the data providers it improves uptake of services and data that would otherwise be invisible and unused.   GeoSeer also includes an API to allow organisations to use the search functionality in their own WebGIS or application, allowing non-expert users to easily find and use these services.  I also liked working with the map-based interface to find data (see below).

How do you obtain data once you have found it?   GeoSeer is designed to demonstrate how the API can be integrated into a webGIS. Rather than trying to be a full webGIS, it was created to demonstrate how smooth the entire search-add process can be for end-users with the API.  It is a search engine to data, but unlike some of the other resources we have reviewed here, itself does not contain data.  Data can be downloaded via WFS or WCS.  WFS are raw vector/Feature data, while WCS are raw raster/Coverage data. If data is WMS/WMTS, then what the user sees is a pre-rendered map only.  Some datasets are available via multiple services, which is why GeoSeer says “distinct” in its “1.2 million distinct spatial layers” statements.  A statistics page shows how many of each data type GeoSeer has in its index: https://www.geoseer.net/stats/

To properly interact with the resulting data, the user will need to load the data into a proper (web) GIS.  The simplest way to do that is to use the regular search, which for me was to search for trails along the Front Range of Colorado, which netted me this link to the Denver Regional Council of Governments page: https://www.geoseer.net/rl.php?ql=7aa26a5ae9fe3e4c.    Not all services findable on GeoSeer are available via WFS or WCS. For example, if my trails data service was only a WMS, I could not download the data.  At the top of my search results, I had two URLs: “WMS GetCapabilities URL” and “WFS GetCapabilities URL”. The WMS version gets me to the pre-rendered map, which is what I saw displayed on the GeoSeer map screen; and the WFS allowed me to download the raw vector data.

I invite you to give GeoSeer a try!

[1] – https://spatialreserves.wordpress.com/2018/12/10/finding-data-on-arcgis-hub-open-data-portal/

[2] – https://spatialreserves.wordpress.com/?s=geoss

geoseer_mapping_interface0

Search screen for GeoSeer. 

geoseer_mapping_interface

GeoSeer Mapping Interface.

With thanks to the GeoSeer team for technical assistance with this post.

–Joseph Kerski

 

 

A Review of the Geoportal

March 19, 2018 1 comment

The GEOSS is a portal run by the European Space Agency (ESA) Group and the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) that provides one way to access earth observation data from around the world.   The site focuses on satellite imagery–Sentinel and Landsat data.  One helpful feature about the site is the ability to send search results to social media or via email.  A list of Popular Searches is a good place to start with the site.  The site is definitely worth investigating as it features a wealth of data.  I found myself wishing that there were more predefined searches listed there (currently 4).  The site also offers a login option and the ability to save your “workspace” which is an intriguing idea; using this feature, you could come back to the site and continue searching and downloading with the knowledge of what you have done previously.  There are different formats available, although at many points in my work with the site, I was confused as to how to proceed, or what format my file would be in, and if I was truly downloading the extent shown in the interface.

geoportal2

Interface for the Geoportal.

Like other portals, this one allows search terms, but without knowing what is there, the user is left with some confusion knowing what search terms to use.  I found myself really wanting a tutorial and a list of data sets I could browse through.  Searching is good but the users also need to know what the possibilities are.  I am intrigued by the data offerings on the site but had trouble navigating and discovering resources; I frequently encountered this message below and even had trouble drawing the bounding box for my desired search area.

geoportal1

Given the data holdings that are available via this portal, I think it is worth investigating further.  The about page on Geoportal lists enhancements to the site that are continually being made, and the mission of the page states that one goal is to make the site intuitive and easy to use.  I therefore have high hopes that it will be moving in this direction.  Give it a try!

COBWEB: Gathering crowd-sourced environmental data in Europe

July 15, 2013 Leave a comment

The advent of crowd-sourcing and volunteered geographic information (VGI), facilitated by easy access to relatively cheap, GPS-enabled devices and cloud-based mapping services, have transformed our ability to record and respond to natural and man-made hazards and emergencies. VGI can provide an invaluable local commentary on rapidly changing situations that would otherwise be bereft of real-time, detailed observation.

This VGI resource is also increasingly valued in the documentation of more insidious regional and global phenomenon such as climate change. The high cost of traditional scientific data capture and the lack of a consistent, regional overview prompted a re-think of how such information should be captured. The pan-European research Citizen Observatory Web (COBWEB) project, launched at the end of 2012 and due to be released in 2016, aims to develop an observation framework to support the collection of crowd-sourced environmental data throughout Europe. The emerging COBWEB infrastructure is set to be trialled in study areas that come under the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere reserves (WNBR). The COBWEB consortium (made up of 13 European organisations) hopes the motivation to retain the unique characteristics of the biosphere reserves will encourage local citizens to become involved in monitoring the local environment.

To address some of the inherent problems with VGI – data quality, interoperability and validation – COBWEB will integrate the crowd-sourced observations with authoritative reference data published by public authorities under the INSPIRE directive, from compliant spatial data infrastructures (SDI) and the Global Earth Organisation System of Sensors (GEOSS). If these  integrated data sources are accepted as a reliable source of information to support further research and as a basis for policy making, this will be significant a achievement for COBWEB. Another major challenge for the project is to develop a workable accessibility framework for the data sources, which will combine publicly available crowd-sourced data with information from more restricted sources.