The Marine Cadastre Data Viewer and Portal provides direct access to authoritative marine cadastral data from U.S. federal and state sources, including information on the tracks of vessels, bathymetry, administrative boundaries, and fish, bird, and other species. It provides baseline information needed for ocean planning efforts, particularly those that involve finding the best location for renewable energy projects. The MarineCadastre.gov National Viewer uses Esri web GIS technology and is also a helpful tool in the permit review process. Users can select the ocean geography of their choosing and quickly see the applicable jurisdictional boundaries, restricted areas, laws, critical habitat locations, and other important features. With the national viewer, potential conflicts can be identified and avoided early in the planning process.
The site offers two distinct advantages: 1) The ability to view over 75 data layers from a variety of sources in a single live ArcGIS Online-based web map viewer; 2) The ability to download those same layers from the map interface for additional analysis. We have been critical in this blog about sites that get the user tantalizingly close to downloading the data but never quite allow it. This one delivers. The only thing I have not been able to get to work during my review of the resource is the buffer tool.
See this site for additional information about the data layers and services. In addition, you can explore the set of layers on ArcGIS Online in the Marine Cadastre group.
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.
According to Esri’s 2014 Open Data year in review, over 763 organizations around the world have joined ArcGIS Open Data, publishing 391 public sites, resulting in 15,848 open data sets shared. These organizations include over 99 cities, 43 countries, and 35 US states. At the beginning of 2015, the organizations represent 390 from North America, 157 from Europe, 121 from Africa, 39 from Asia, and 22 from Oceania. Over 42,000 shapefiles, KML files, and CSV files were downloaded from these sites since July 2014. Recently, we wrote about one of these sites, the Maryland Open Data Portal, in this blog. Another is the set of layers from the city of Launceton, in Tasmania, Australia.
While these initiatives are specifically using one set of methods and tools to share, that of the ArcGIS Open Data, the implications on the data user community are profound: First, the adoption of ArcGIS Open Data increases availability for the entire user community, not just Esri users. This is because of the increased number of portals that result, and also because the data sets shared, such as raster and vector data services, KMLs, shapefiles, and CSVs, are the types of formats that can be consumed by many types of GIS online and desktop tools. Second, as we have expressed in our book and in this blog, while there were noble attempts for 30 years on behalf of regional, national, and international government organizations to establish standards, to share data, and to encourage a climate of sharing, and while many of those attempts were and will continue to be successful, the involvement of private industry (in this case, Esri), nonprofit organizations, and academia will lend an enormous boost to government efforts.
Third, the advent of cloud-based GIS enables these portals to be fairly easily established, curated, and improved. Using the ArcGIS Open Data platform, organizations can leave their data where it is–whether on ArcGIS for Server or in ArcGIS Online–and simply share it as Open Data. Esri uses Koop to transform data into different formats, to access APIs, and to get data ready for discovery and exploration. Organizations add their nodes to the Open Data list and their data can then be accessed, explored, and downloaded in multiple formats without “extraneous exports or transformations.” Specifically, organizations using ArcGIS Open Data first enable the open data capabilities, then specify the groups for open data, then configure their open data site, and then make the site public.
I see one of the chief ways tools like ArcGIS Open Data will advance the open data movement is through the use of tools that are easy to use, and also that will evolve over time. Nobody has an infinite amount of time trying to figure out how to best serve their organization’s data, and then to construct the tools in which to do so. The ability for data-producing organizations to use these common tools and methods represents, I believe, an enormous advantage in the time savings it represents. As more organizations realize and adopt this, all of us in the GIS community, and beyond, will benefit.
The city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, on the opposite side of the St Charles River from Boston, Massachusetts, USA, is home to over 107,000 people, some prestigious universities such as Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and numerous cultural and physical amenities. The city is exemplary with regards to how it serves spatial data to the GIS community and to the general public. The city’s GIS portal includes a map gallery of traffic, history, watersheds, community development, elections, wireless access, and other themes that are viewable online, downloadable, and many of which are viewable on a mobile device. One unique and interesting mobile map is the “street trees walking app” that allows a person to identify the type of tree species that are nearby as they walk through the streets of Cambridge. The city’s GIS portal includes numerous interactive maps in their CityViewer utility, including a historical viewer dating back to 1947 with imagery and 1865 with maps. GIS data downloads are one of the richest data sets I have seen from any local government, with over 60 layers on infrastructure, public safety, hydrography, topography, health, demographics, and much more.
One of the unique features of the city’s GIS portal is the use of a story map. The story map was created because, in the words of its creators, “The city has all of these great programs and offerings but they aren’t necessarily advertised in the most efficient manner, and the information isn’t always easily accessible.” Besides showing the public where the city services are located, a side benefit for the GIS community is that the story map itself is a thorough and compelling tutorial of how to build your own story map.
Last but not least, the data dictionary for the City of Cambridge GIS is extremely thorough and easy to use, providing shapefiles and file geodatabases. The dictionary contains information on how and why a GIS layer was created, the city’s procedure for maintaining each layer, departments that contribute to the development of each layer, history, and the intended use of the data. The metadata even includes what some dictionaries leave out–a thorough description of the attributes and how the attributes are defined.
In our book, we discuss the costs and benefits of local governments serving their spatial data to the GIS community and to the public. The City of Cambridge has gone to great effort to make their data interesting, relevant, and easy to find and use to a broad spectrum of data users.
Maryland’s mapping and GIS “iMap” data portal takes an innovative approach to serving data. It allows the user to zoom to a specific area on the map and then conduct a data search for that specific area. Yes, other sites have done this for years, but the Maryland data portal uses a dynamic ArcGIS Online map to launch searches. In addition, the 20 data categories listed–from agriculture to demographics, health to imagery, structures to weather–are rich in content, and the data user is offered numerous data formats to receive the data. The site also goes the extra distance by providing step-by-step instructions on how to add web and WFS services, how to geocode, how to join data, and how to cartographically display results.
The GIS data portal is run by the Geographic Information Office (GIO), and by collaborating with partners, it seeks to “provide access to a large collection of data via the Maryland iMap that can be leveraged for use in many applications and analyses.” The GIS data portal is a part of the state’s open data portal, which claims to be #1 in the USA for its commitment to open data.
We are honest in our book and in this blog about describing data portals that seem to be there “just for show” and that had no input from GIS professional staff. The Maryland iMap portal, by contrast, is quite innovative, extensive, and GIS-user friendly, and seems to be a good model for other organizations to follow. Such portals do not appear overnight, and this is obviously the product of a good deal of collaboration among government, private, academic, and nonprofit organizations,
One of the most useful sites of the past 15 years for GIS users, in my judgment, has been the National Atlas of the United States. It contains a “map maker” that allows you to create online maps of climate, ecoregions, population, crime, geology, and many other layers, and a “map layers” repository that houses all of the raster and vector data layers that are displayable in the map maker. All of those hundreds of layers are downloadable in standard formats that are easy to use with GIS.
Sadly, the National Atlas is scheduled to disappear on 30 September 2014. According to the transition FAQ, “the National Atlas and The National Map will transition into a combined single source for geospatial and cartographic information. This transformation is projected to streamline access to maps, data and information from the USGS National Geospatial Program (NGP). This action will prioritize our civilian mapping role and consolidate core investments while maintaining top-quality customer service.” Thus, the National Map is scheduled to be the content delivery mechanism for the National Atlas content.
But, data users take note: Not all of the National Atlas content is migrating to the National Map. According to the FAQ’s question of “Will I still be able to find everything from the National Atlas on The National Map web site”, the answer is, “No. Most National Atlas products and services that were primarily intended for a broad public audience as well as thematic data contributions from outside the National Geospatial Program (NGP) will not be available from nationalmap.gov.”
I think this is most unfortunate news. In my opinion, and that of many students and educators that I work with in courses and institutes, and the other data users I have worked with over the years, the National Map is almost as clunky and difficult to use as it was 10 years ago. I use it frequently because it is still one of the richest sources of data, but it is by no means easy to obtain that data. And equally importantly, it serves a different audience than the National Atlas does. Yes, the National Atlas viewer is dated, but it requires little bandwidth, making it accessible to schools and other institutions contending with poor connectivity. How much effort is required just to leave national atlas alone and leave it online, with an understanding that it will not be updated?
In an era where more geospatial data are needed, not less, and improved geographic literacy is increasingly critical to education and society, the disappearance of the National Atlas seems like a giant step backward.
We have written many posts over the last two years on open data and the many data portals that are now available, providing open access to a range of datasets. However as Anders Pedersen (Open Knowledge Foundation) recently remarked during a data skills training initiative, open data does not end with setting up an open data portal; it’s not enough to just make the data available, the data also has to be ‘reusable and redistributable’.That means publishing the data in more open formats, such as .csv and .txt as opposed to pdfs, to provide the widest possible access to the data.
Pedersen also urged those responsible for establishing data portals to remember that once a data portal is operational the work doesn’t end there. Much remains to be done to keep the site and its content up to date, and promoting the portal to make sure people know about it and what information it provides access to. This means those who maintain portals must have the necessary data collection, management and visualisation skills to support this ongoing effort. Improved access should widen the potential audience for the data, something Pedersen argues will be good for data quality; other agencies and interested citizens will help validate the data, hence ‘more eyes, better data’.
We have reported some examples of portals that have slipped into obsolescence due to a lack of continued support and the comments from Frank Biasi (National Geographic Maps) who reflected on the demise of a conservation geoportal noting, amongst other things, that “.. the concept of sharing data is much more advanced than the practice“. Training initiatives like those offered by the OKF will hopefully help those involved with open data learn from the experiences of others and avoid some of the mistakes of earlier projects.