In this blog, we have reviewed many international, national, regional, and local data portals over the past 5 years, those that are useful and those that still need “some work.” One of the oldest USA state data portals is from Utah’s Automated Geographic Reference Center (AGRC). I remember as a young US Census Bureau geographer, working with the AGRC on building the TIGER system back in the late 1980s, and they were thinking about data distribution even back then. As GIS has evolved, so has the AGRC, and they remain one of the organizations I respect most in GIS. Besides the wide variety of raster and vector data sets they offer for download, the AGRC also provides geocoding and point-in-polygon map queries via their own APIs, from api.mapserv.utah.gov. In addition, the AGRC provides access to Utah’s TURN high resolution GPS base station network.
Utah has also established an open data site with a wide variety of data sets, in a multitude of formats, with extensive metadata, for download and also in GeoJSON and GeoService formats. In short, the Utah portal is everything a geodata portal should be, modern and responsive, with links to web based GIS services, designed with the data user in mind. I am not surprised by this, as I have long had a high regard for the way that those in academia, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, private companies, and even primary and secondary schools work closely together in the Utah GIS community, as I document in this video on one of my trips there.
This Utah story map created by my colleague at Esri shows how some of these data sources can be used to tell the story of demographic change and the natural resources of Utah. Scroll down to the links at the end of the map to explore the data sources behind the map. I encourage you to give the Utah AGRC data portal a try.
Today’s guest blog essay comes from Linda Zellmer, Government Information & Data Services Librarian, Western Illinois University. Linda can be contacted at LR-Zellmer @ wiu.edu.
Several years ago, I worked with a class in our Recreation, Parks and Tourism Administration department. The students in the class were getting their first exposure to GIS, and used it to analyze the populations served by a park to develop a plan for managing and expanding its services. At the time, students had to obtain geospatial data on park locations and boundaries from local or state government agencies or download Federal lands data from the National Atlas of the United States. Then they combined the park boundary data with data from the Census Bureau to learn about the population characteristics of the people in the area. Finally, they visited the park of interest to get information on park usage and amenities. A new data set, the Protected Areas Database of the United States (PAD-US) will make this class and related research much easier, because it provides data on all types of protected areas for either the entire United States, a U.S. Region, by landscape region, or by US State or Territory. PAD-US data is available for downloading, viewing and as a web map service from the PAD-US website.
The PAD-US data was developed as part of the Gap Analysis Program of the U.S. Geological Survey. The Gap program collects data on land cover, species distribution and stewardship to determine whether a given species’ habitat is protected, so that plans for further protection (if needed) can be developed. According to the PAD-US Standards and Methods Manual for Data Stewards, the data set contains geospatial data on “marine and terrestrial protected areas” that are “dedicated to the preservation of biological diversity and to other natural, recreation and cultural uses.” The data set contains geospatial data showing the extent and location of Federal, State, Local and private lands set aside for recreation and conservation. It also provides information on the owner name and type, whether the site is publicly accessible, and information on whether the site is being managed for conservation.
The position of spatial data librarian is not commonplace at universities, but it is growing. I have met at least 10 new librarians in this position over the past several years. The small but expert and energetic group of spatial data librarians has been making headway in several key innovative projects germane to the themes of this blog and our book. These include the creation of useful data portals, moving the digital humanities field forward, and coordinating data production, dissemination, and use–not only between departments on their own campuses, but between universities, government agencies, industry, and nonprofit organizations. A group of these spatial data librarians recently met at a “Geo4Lib” camp, for example, and among other topics, explored a solution called GeoBlacklight to host geospatial data.
One group from Colorado is considering the use of GeoBlacklight tools to host a statewide Colorado GIS data portal. Colorado is sorely in need of such a portal as Colorado has no curated and supported statewide data organization or portal as exists in Texas with TNRIS or Montana with NRIS, for example. To see GeoBlacklight in action, see Stanford University’s instance of it here, led by my colleague Stace Maples.
Try the Stanford University instance of GeoBlacklight. What are your reactions to its usefulness, as a geospatial data professional? Do you have a geospatial data librarian at your local or regional university? What can the GIS community do to advocate that universities hire such staffpersons in the library?
Open Data continues to make progress as manifested in data portals, organizations adopting it, and associated literature. Are private companies also involved in Open Data? Yes. As early as two years ago, we wrote about Esri’s initiatives in ArcGIS Open Data. Imagery and geospatial data company DigitalGlobe have created DigitalGlobe’s open data portal, as part of their efforts to provide “accurate high-resolution satellite imagery to support disaster recovery in the wake of large-scale natural disasters”. This includes pre-event imagery, post-event imagery and a crowdsourced damage assessment. Associated imagery and crowdsourcing layers are released into the public domain under a Creative Commons 4.0 license, allowing for rapid use and easy integration with existing humanitarian response technologies. For example, their imagery for areas affected by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 is available here.
On a related note, I have worked with DigitalGlobe staff for years on educational initiatives. They provided me with high resolution imagery for an area in Africa I was conducting a workshop in, and more recently with imagery in Southeast Asia that I needed in conjunction with helping Penn State prepare exercises for their GEOINT MOOC (Massive Open Online Course in Geointelligence). They have always been generous and wonderful to work with and I salute their Open Data Portal initiative. In the MOOC we also used their Tomnod crowdsourcing platform with great success and interest from the course participants.
In this blog and in our book, we have reviewed many geospatial data portals. One of the oldest and yet most useful of all regional or state portals is that of the Texas Natural Resources Information System, or TNRIS. Indeed, TNRIS predated digital spatial data, for it was founded in 1968, housing paper topographic and geologic maps and aerial photographs for years before hosting digital spatial data. TNRIS allows searches by county or by data theme. If one zooms in on a the statewide map with county boundaries, the familiar USGS 7.5-minute grid is displayed, from which one can download such data as digital raster graphics, elevation, wetlands, geology, and historical and current satellite imagery. Statewide themes include bathymetry, land cover, soils, census data, transportation, and many others. Metadata is not only available but it is conveniently packaged, and the site doesn’t burden the data user with needless frills and fancy ways to download–it is, in my view, what a data portal should be–with the ability to quickly go in and get what one needs, in a variety of formats.
As GIS technologies have evolved, the TNRIS portal has evolved as well. One of the most innovative and useful sections of their site is its online mapping services. Here, high resolution imagery (30 cm in many places), land cover, and other themes are hosted as ArcGIS services and OGC WMS services. The site conveniently enables the data user to preview the services on their website or to copy the URL for the service so that it may be used in ArcGIS Online. Therefore, not everything from TNRIS needs to be downloaded–a growing amount can be streamed.
Texas is an excellent location for other useful data portals as well: The General Land Office hosts data on habitat, minerals, oil and gas, and other themes. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality hosts data on air and water quality, toxic hazards, and other layers. Texas Parks and Wildlife hosts data on bays, ecosystems, trails, and wildlife management areas. And other gems exist, such as the railroads and other data hosted by Entergy on the Texas Site Selection Center.
A section of the Texas Natural Resources Information Systems geospatial data portal.
We have been writing this geospatial data column since 2012, when our book The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data, was published. Over the 5 years that have elapsed, in addition to keeping issues such as data quality, copyright, privacy, and fee vs. free at the forefront of the conversation, we have tested and reviewed many geospatial data portals. Some of these portals promise more than they deliver, some have been frustrating, but some have been extremely valuable in GIS work. We have decided to list 10 of those that we have found most useful, rich with content, easy to use, and with metadata that is available and understandable. In considering such a list, we realize that “most useful” really depends on the application that one is using GIS for, but the following sites should be useful for users in many disciplines. Some allow for data to be streamed from web servers into your GIS software, and all allow data to be downloaded.
- The FAO GeoNetwork. This portal contains global to regional scale data from administrative boundaries and agriculture to soils, population, land use, and water resources.
- The Esri Living Atlas of the World is an expanding, curated set of data and maps on thousands of topics that can be used and also contributed to by the GIS community.
- The European Space Agency’s Sentinel Online data portal includes a wide variety of image-related data sets on the five themes of land, marine, atmosphere, emergency, and security.
- CIESIN at Columbia University has been serving data for over 20 years on climate, population, soil, econonics, land use, biodiversity, and other themes, including its Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC).
- The Global Land Cover Facility at the University of Maryland remains one of the best and easiest to use sources and methods to obtain Landsat, MODIS, Aster, SRTM, and other satellite imagery.
- The Atlas of the Biosphere serves global data, largely in grid format, of human impact, land use, ecosystems, and water resources themes.
- Natural Earth is a public domain dataset at small scale (1:10,000,000, 1:50,000,000, and 1:110,000,000) for the globe, in vector and raster formats that are easily ingestible in GIS software.
- The World Resources Institute hosts a variety of data geospatial data sets for specific areas of the world, such as Kenya and Uganda.
- The GIS Data Depot from the GeoCommunity is one of the oldest data depositories, dating back to the 1990s, but still very useful for international and USA specific data on such themes as elevation, transportation, imagery, scanned topographic maps, and hydrography, many of which have been re-served from more-difficult-to-use government sites.
- There have been many “lists of data sites” over the years, and these invariably are not kept up to date and end up being less useful over time. However, those that are still quite helpful that we have reviewed are Dr Karen Payne’s list from the University of Georgia, and Robin Wilson’s list of free spatial data. A few others that are useful are this list from the USGS that I started back when I worked there, and this list from Stanford University.
A few selected others are also useful that “almost make the top 10” above are The National Map from the USGS, data.gov from the US Government, environmental and population data from TerraPopulus, Diva-GIS’s data layers for each country, the UNEP Environmental Data Explorer, the NEO site at NASA Earth Observations, and OpenStreetMap.
For more details on any of these resources, search the Spatial Reserves blog for our reviews, remain diligent about being critical of the data you are considering using, and as always, we welcome your feedback.
A Top 10 List of Useful Geospatial Data Portals.
An article co-authored by Benjamin Pross, Christoph Stasch, and Albert Remke, of the 52°North Initiative for Geospatial Open Source Software GmbH; and Satish Sankaran and Marten Hogeweg of Esri describes a development that should interest anyone who uses geospatial data. The 52°North Initiative for Geospatial Open Source Software has developed an open-source extension to ArcGIS for Desktop that enables access to Open Geospatial Consortium, Inc. (OGC), Web Processing Services (WPS). The result? This initiative makes it possible for these services to be used in the same manner as native ArcGIS geoprocessing tools. In other words, they appear in the list of tools just as a standard buffer or overlay tool would appear. Yes, it could be just that easy.
The article explains that “while ArcGIS allows geoprocessing tools to be published as a WPS, [ArcGIS] does not offer a WPS client interface. Consequently, it is not easy to access external non-ArcGIS geoprocessing tools such as simulation models, rich data interfaces, or processing capabilities from any other legacy software that supports the WPS interface.” This points to the reason why this initiative offers such promise: “The 52°North Extensible WPS Client for ArcMap was implemented as an open-source extension to ArcGIS that fully integrates into the ArcGIS for Desktop environment. It enables OGC WPS to be accessed and used in the same manner as native ArcGIS geoprocessing tools. This makes it easy to run WPS-based processes and integrate the results of that processing into ArcMap for use with other applications.”
In plain language, because the complex issues grappled with by GIS analysts often require major investments of time to generate models, services, and customized workflows and code, why should each analyst have to create all of this from scratch? An enormous time savings could be realized if there was an easy way to share these things. This article both explains recent progress in this area but also encourages the community to think creatively about how to pursue further collaborative methods.