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 USGS National Elevation Dataset (NED) is transitioning to a Lidar-based elevation model. This transition is part of the 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) initiative, whose goal is to systematically collect enhanced elevation data in the form of Lidar data over the conterminous United States, Hawaii, and the U.S. territories, with data acquired over an 8-year period. Interferometric synthetic aperture radar (IFSAR) data will be collected over Alaska, where cloud cover and remote locations preclude the use of Lidar over much of the state (yes, physical geography still matters!).
This initiative was born in response to a study funded by the USGS named “The National Enhanced Elevation Assessment.” The study documented business uses for elevation needs across 34 federal agencies, agencies from all 50 States, selected local government and Tribal offices, and private and not-for profit organizations. Each need was characterized by the following:
- Data accuracy.
- A refresh cycle for the data.
- Coverage for geographic areas of interest.
Conservative annual benefits for flood risk management alone are $295 million; for infrastructure and construction management, $206 million; and for natural resources conservation, $159 million. Results are detailed in the Dewberry report on the National Enhanced Elevation Assessment, which details costs and benefits, how the data will be collected, standards and specifications, and organizations involved in the effort. An additional report details how the data could help in terms of taking action for climate change.
How will this affect us in the geospatial data community? The NED activities and website will continue until a full transition to 3DEP is completed. 3DEP planning and research is underway at the USGS to transition to a unified service that will provide both gridded bare earth data products and point cloud data, along with capabilities to produce other derived elevation surfaces and products from 3D data. When the data does appear, data users should notice the difference in resolution and quality. In our book, we detailed the rise of Lidar data, and since its publication, these data sets have greatly expanded in quality and availability.
The European Atlas of the Seas, launched in 2011, provides open access to a variety of global and European maritime and geographical datasets covering eight main themes:
- Nature – bathing water quality, protected areas
- Tourism – museums, aquariums
- Security and safety – major oil spills, accident density
- People and employment – coastal population, employment in the fishing industry
- Transport and energy – shipping for goods and passenger transport.
- Governance and European policies – fisheries local action groups (FLAGs), regional advisory councils (RACs)
- Fisheries and aquaculture – fishing quotas, state of fish stocks, fish farms
The Atlas is continually updated with revised and additional datasets provided by the contributing departments, agencies and international organisations including UNESCO, FAO, USDA FSA, USGS, NOAA, Esri and IHQ. Some of the datasets are available to download in shapefile and KML format, and the accompanying metadata provide details on the data sources referenced.
A central theme in the GIS Guide to Public Domain Data is data licensing; the emergence of licensing frameworks for spatial data, the types of licenses that are available for data producers and users, and what is means to place data in the public domain. Despite much attention there is as yet no universally accepted definition of the term ‘public domain’. A number of organisations have posted their own interpretations, including:
US Copyright Office: The public domain is not a place. A work of authorship is in the ‘public domain’ if it is no longer under copyright protection or if it failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection. Works in the public domain may be used freely without the permission of the former copyright owner.
UK’s Intellectual Property Office: The body of works not or no longer protected by Intellectual Property rights which are available for the public to use without seeking permission or paying royalties.
Creative Commons: When a work is in the public domain, it is free for use by anyone for any purpose without restriction under copyright law. Public domain is the purest form of open/free, since no one owns or controls the material in any way.
Common to all these definitions are the freedom from royalty payments and the absence of intellectual property rights and copyright restrictions on the use and reuse of the data. During the recent State of the Map US conference in Washington DC, some of the lingering issues regarding data licensing for spatial data were raised again. In his presentation on OpenStreetMap (OSM) Alex Barth of Mapbox discussed some of the current licensing challenges facing the current and future use of OSM data.
OSM data is open data licensed under the Open Data Commons Open Database License (ODbL), and the cartography in the map tiles and the documentation are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license (CC BY-SA). Common to both licensing frameworks is the share-alike clause that means any OSM data that is updated and improved, or third party data remixed with OSM data, must be shared under the same licensing terms.
For some organisations integrating OSM data with their own private data, or organisations who are mandated to make their data available in the public domain (for example the US Geological Survey), wider use of this data resource is not an option and the benefits of crowd-sourced, free and open datasets like OSM will never be fully realised. For many observers, the only sensible long-term option is dropping the share-alike clause from the OSM licensing arrangements. For others, designation as a public domain data set is the solution. It remains to be seen which licensing path the OpenStreetMap community will choose.