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A Geodata Fabric for the 21st Century, article reflections

December 15, 2019 4 comments

A recent article by on A Geodata Fabric for the 21st Century touches on many pertinent themes in geospatial technology in this column and beyond.

Jeff begins by reminding us of the 4 V’s of big data–volume, variety, velocity, and variability, telling us that we are firmly in the age of big data, with the NISAR satellite soon to be providing 85 TB of data per day, as just one example.  But he also states that geospatial and earth science is not the only field grappling with big data, giving impressive numbers coming out from astronomy and geomics (geonome science).  Jeff says, “We need a more unified approach such that each data provider—whether in the atmosphere, land surface, seismology, hydrology, oceanography, or cryosphere domain—can contribute to a shared and commonly accessible framework.”  To build it, he says we need (1) a new type of storage (such as object storage); (2) minimize the number of times we move data (I think of how many times in a typical project I move data around:  Can I reduce this number?); (3) to take advantage of the cloud; and (4) keep things simple.  Jeff says, “A user should be able simply to ask for—or directly visualize—a desired data set, time range, and area of interest while software behind the scenes automatically provides what was requested.”  Amen to that!  And he makes a good tie to the role that machine learning could play.   Could the Esri geospatial cloud help enable this?

Taking a step back from the technological and logistical aspects of collecting and managing large volumes of data, we also need to ask what we want from all this data, in the short, medium and longer term. Our aspirations and expectations are sometimes harder to define and maintain. What do we want to do with all this data and when do we need to do it? There are many great examples of some of the things we can do with spatial data but sometimes they seem to focus more on the technology, the latest version of a particular software or innovation in data management technology, than on progress towards achieving a longer term goal such as improved environmental and resource management.

The improvements in data collection, storage and management over the last 50 years have revolutionised what we can capture and what we can do with the data. To make the most of these invaluable data assets, we must also avoid the distraction of the bright shiny lights of technology for technology’s sake and keep in mind what we are trying to achieve. Starting with the desired end result:  What data helps achieve that, the best source/format/currency, regardless of how it is stored and whose server does it sits on.

–Jill Clark, Joseph Kerski

 

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Environmental Data from the SAGE Center at the University of Wisconsin

May 25, 2014 1 comment

In our book, The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data, we discussed where to find environmental spatial data and the merits of specific types of environmental data. One source that space did not permit us to include was the environmental resources available from the SAGE Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  The data focuses on the categories of terrestrial ecosystems, hydrological systems, and climate, including such items as freight emissions in the state of Wisconsin, soil carbon and nitrogen samples, irrigated lands, and much more, both for Wisconsin and for the globe.

Sage Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment

Sage Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment, an excellent source for environmental geospatial data, news, and information.

The holdings include some significant surprises, including east and southeast Asia urban expansion, global urban extents, land use, river discharges, crop lands, and much more.

This site is also the host of the Atlas of the Biosphere, a resource containing online maps and ArcGrid data sets about people, land use, ecosystems, and water resources.  We examined this data set in our book but it is worth mentioning here because of its ease of use and rich data sets viewable online and as downloadable files.

 

UN: Future trends in geospatial information management

September 29, 2013 1 comment

A new document from the UN describes a 5- to 10-year vision in geospatial information management.  Published by the UK Ordnance Survey at the request of the Secretariat for the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management, the lead authors are John Carpenter and Jevon Snell from the Ordnance Survey. The document was  commissioned in October 2011 and the first edition was just recently published.

UN:  Future trends in geospatial information management

UN: Future trends in geospatial information management document.

The document is worth examining for all those who are in the field of geospatial technology.  The language of the document is thankfully clear and concise, and quite thoughtful, something often lacking in documents such as this.  I especially like sentences such as these, “A number of important technology‑driven trends are likely to have a major impact in the coming years, creating previously-unimaginable amounts of location‑referenced information and questioning our very understanding of what constitutes geospatial information.

The authors have done an excellent job in recognizing the diversity of government, nonprofit, and private sector needs regarding geospatial information.  The authors also strike a nice tone by encouraging partnerships and progress so that everyday decisions can be enhanced with a greater volume and a better quality of data as we move forward.  Yet, they are realists and realize that this won’t happen overnight. Throughout, the bulleted paragraphs make the entire document accessible and easy to read and understand.

Chapters include key trends (cloud computing, open source, open standards), legal and policy (privacy, liability, funding), skill important in the future (education, extracting value, working with data), the role of private and non-governmental sectors, and the future role of governments.  Many of these topics are those that are core to the themes of the GIS Guide to Public Domain Data book, and thus the Public Domain Data book provides a good introduction to and background for the UN document for use on the job or in instruction.

GitHub, geoJSON and geodata

July 1, 2013 1 comment

In addition to hosting open source code and supporting documentation, GitHub has recently announced support for rendering geographic data encoded in geoJSON, an open format for encoding geographic data that is supported by a number of popular mapping applications. This means any .geojson file stored in a GitHub repository will be rendered automatically as ‘…an interactive, browsable map‘ with the base mapping provided by OpenStreetMap. Topologically structured data are supported via the TopoJSON format. GitHub have also provided a javascript template to allow users to embed the data in their own javascript-enabled HTML pages.

Visualising geodata in GitHub

Visualising geodata in GitHub

Although many of the .geojson files currently hosted seem largely experimental, GitHub could develop into a useful spatial data resource and one to remember when searching online for open data.

The Open Geoportal project

June 17, 2013 Leave a comment

The Open Geoportal (OGP) project is ‘…. a collaboratively developed, open source, federated web application to rapidly discover, preview, and retrieve geospatial data from multiple organizations‘. The project, lead by Tufts University in conjunction a number of partner organisations including Harvard, MIT, Stanford and UCLA, was established to provide a framework for organizations to share geospatial data layers, maps, metadata, and development resources through a common interface. Version 2.0 of the OGP was released in April 2013, providing an improved interface and interoperability for a number of web mapping environments.

OGP currently supports four production geoportal instances:

Harvard Geospatial Library

Harvard Geospatial Library

  • UC Berkeley Geospatial Data Repository: Geospatial data from UC Berkeley Library
  • MIT GeoWeb: Geospatial data from the MIT Geodata Repository, MassGIS, and Harvard Geospatial Library
  • GeoData@Tufts: Geoportal developed and maintained by Tufts University Information Technology, providing search tools for data discovery and for use in teaching, learning, and research.

The data may be streamed, downloaded or shared as required. Although many of the data layers are publicly available, access to some of the layers is restricted and requires registration with the geoportal.

Access to data layers

Access to data layers

A number of geoportals are currently in development including those from the universities of Colombia, Washington and Yale.