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 American Geoscience Institute’s (AGI) Critical Issues Program is an excellent earth science resource, providing information on issues at the intersection of geoscience and society, including energy, climate, water, natural hazards, and mineral resources. Its Critical Issues Website provide information in a variety of formats, from frequently asked questions, interactive maps and visualizations, webinars, and case studies, to a database of more in-depth research publications.
Of particular interest to GIS users is that many of the issues are linked to maps and mappable data. For example, the geology topic features links to 9 maps and visualizations, including the state of Virginia’s geology and mineral resources live web map with at least 15 data layers.
The AGI’s Critical Issues Program is thus a source outside of a standard GIS portal that often proves helpful in finding geospatial data. Give it a try and let us know if you find it useful in the comments below.
The UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), recently announced the release of a LIDAR point cloud, the raw data used to generate a number of digital terrain models (DTMs) that were released last year. In addition to providing terrain models for flood modelling and coastline management, the LIDAR data have also been revealing much about long-buried Roman roads and buildings, such as the Vindolanda fort just south of Hadrian’s Wall in northern England.
Environment Agency/Defra LIDAR data
The point cloud data have been released as part of the #OpenDefra project, which aims to make 8,000 datasets publicly available by mid 2016. The first release of point cloud data contains over 16,000 km 2 of survey data and is available to download from:
The data are licensed under version 3.0 of the Open Government Licence.
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.
A new web resource from Texas Tech University of playas and wetlands for the southern High Plains region of Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico offers a wide variety of spatial data on this key resource and region. The playa and wetlands GIS data are available for download here, including shapefile, geodatabase, and layer package formats. The data include 64,726 wetland features, of which 21,893 are identified as playas and another 14,455 as unclassified wetlands; in other words, they appear to be a playa but have no evidence of a hydric soil. The remaining features include impoundments, riparian features lakes, and other wetlands.
As we discuss in our book, (1) Many spatial data depositories seem to have been created without the GIS user in mind. Not this one. Careful attention has been paid to the data analyst. That’s good news! (2) Resources such as this don’t appear without a great deal of time and expertise invested. Here, approximately 5,000 person hours were dedicated to create the geodatabase and website. This project was made possible by Texas Tech University with funding from the USDA Agricultural Research Service – Ogallala Aquifer Program.
For users who only wish to view playas and other wetlands, a web map application exists and can be launched via the playa viewer. A “citizen science” feature is that the map viewer allows interactive comments to be added to the map for future consideration.
Southern Ogallala Aquifer Playa and Wetlands Geodatabase.
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.