GIS Students head for the Field

Students from our world-leading Master’s programme in GIS are currently in Highland Perthshire undertaking project work.  34 students are resident at Kindrogan Field Centre with staff members Bruce Gittings, Nick Hulton, William Mackaness, Alasdair MacArthur, Owen Macdonald and Dimitrios Michelakis, together with Honorary Fellow Robin McLaren and field assistant Blair Wereshchuk, all members of the GIS and remote sensing team in the School of GeoScienceUAVs in Edinburgh. The students are undertaking a range of projects from mapping using our two new UAVs, to hydro-power potential, archaeology and geomorphology, all using GIS and remote sensing methods. In an interesting historical connection, the Kindrogan Field Centre was extended through the initiative of the Late Professor J. Terry Coppock, Secretary of the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland, but also Professor of Geography at the University of Edinburgh and Founding Editor of the International Journal of Geographical Information Science.


Recognition of Geographical Information Science Expertise

The School of GeoSciences at The University of Edinburgh is delighted to announce two Honorary Fellowships this year, recognising the commitment and achievements of some of the most influential individuals within the GIS arena.

The first is to Adrian Tear, a former student of the University (who graduated with Distinction in MSc GIS in 1992). Adrian’s passion and skills coupled with an entrepreneurial spirit allowed for a diverse and awe-inspiring career. Adrian’s successes have spanned satellite imagery mapping to the launch of the uniquely geospatial dating website LoopyLove – which served more than 25% of the online market! Not one to rest on his laurels, Adrian continues to manage his own company advising corporate clients!

The second Fellowship is granted to Professor Michael Worboys – a leading academic within the field – who has worked for many years at the exciting and ever-evolving boundary between the computer sciences, mathematics, and GIS. Until recently, Mike was Director of the School of Computing and Information Science, and a professor in the National Centre for Geographic Information and Analysis (NCGIA) at the University of Maine, USA. Mike’s CV boasts such highlights as co-authoring GIS: A Computing Perspective and acting as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Spatial Information Science.

Bruce Gittings, Programme Director for MSc in GIS at Edinburgh said: ‘The School looks forward to working closely and collaboratively with Mike and Adrian – we are really excited to have them on board and I am certain the students will benefit not just from their knowledge and research interests but also learn from their achievements and successes. They promise to be excellent role models for our aspiring Geographical Information Scientists.’

Further information in GIS Professional (Oct 2013) or Geoconnexion Magazine.

EEO-AGI Scotland Seminar Review : Dr Steve Carver : 18th Oct

This week’s seminar topic was “Mapping Scotland’s Wild Land… from idea to policy in 7 years,” presented by Dr Steve Carver from the University of Leeds. Steve was inspired by the work of early wilderness mappers to use GIS to map wilderness in Britain. The presentation began with an introduction to wilderness mapping in Scotland which, in a country with
a developed wild land policy, has been ongoing longer than most European countries.

A challenge in mapping wild lands is that it is impossible to come up with a universal definition of wilderness. The 2002 Scottish Natural Heritage Policy Document lists attributes of wild land which relate to physical features that can be mapped, together comprising a definition for wilderness. To map wild lands in national parks, Steve integrated layers with characteristics such as naturalness, absence of human artefacts, impacts of wind energy, rugged terrain, and remoteness. With the aid of a public perception survey, the features were appropriately classified and weighted to form an overall wilderness map. Success in this process led to its adaptation into wilderness maps for larger regions, across Europe.

The presentation concluded with some thoughts on future directions, including additional viewshed modelling, catchment based models, and cultural aspects of wilderness mapping. Several audience questions were discussed on topics of coastal modelling, land ownership issues, species habitat, and the political dangers possible with such mapping, leaving us with a reminder of the care that must be taken when producing new maps.

— Ryland Karlovich
(MSc in GIS at University of Edinburgh)

Further information on the EEO-AGI Scotland Seminar Series

Something Old – Something New

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has revived a number of old Gaelic place names, which no longer appear on maps, according to the BBC. Working with Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba (the Place Names of Scotland), SNH launched a booklet Gaelic in the Landscape: The Rough Bounds of Lochaber, was launched at the Royal National Mod in Paisley in Tuesday (15th Oct). The booklet records place names collected from the community in Lochaber, providing an insight into the landscape and its links with people and the Gaelic language through local place name knowledge passed down through the generations. This publication adds to a series which encompasses the islands of Islay and Jura, and Gaelic and Norse in Caithness and Sutherland.  The guides are free and also available online as PDFs.

— Bruce


Some of you might know that I like to grind an axe over the deprofessionalisation of science. Just as I wouldn’t ask one of my GIS students to pull out my sore tooth, or go to the nearest pub when I need a medical problem diagnosed, I have similar worries about projects like Open Street Maps or Wiki****a (can’t even bring myself to type the word!).  As an alternative to professional reference editing, Wiki****a brings bad research together with opinion and gives a here-today-gone-tomorrow cesspit of pseudo-facts over-used in student essays. It discourages academics from popularising their work because it is a massive plagiariser, which rarely credits sources. It is amusing that one of my 2012 GIS students is credited with the invention of a notable GIS data structure, which was actually conceived several years before he was born.  Anyway, to return to the point, we expect poorly-researched articles from the tabloid press, but this one tickled me – the Sun (that paragon of journalistic integrity) seems to have confused the gamer geeks (see my earlier post) with reality and become convinced a cybernetic eyeball is reality, rather than just a figment of a computer-gamers imagination!  Probably got its facts from Wiki****a.

Who’s got a mobile signal?

The BBC reports that the Advertising Standards Authority has ordered EE (the conjunction of T-Mobile and Orange) to change its mobile coverage checker after a customer complained it had wrongly told him he would receive excellent service in his area. Most phone suppliers proudly state they cover 99% of the UK population. Sounds great!  But as someone who regularly travels around Scotland and finds myself equally regularly without a signal, this got me thinking about what coverage actually means. Large areas seem to lack even a basic 2G service and often you can’t even send a text – which needs even less of a signal. I think its rather unreasonable to quote a percentage of the population when you are talking mobile communications, surely when you are moving around its the area covered which is important?  Its pretty obvious that 99% of the population isn’t going to be anything like 99% of the land area in Scotland.  But how much is it?

Of course mapping mobile phone coverage is a classic example of spatial analysis, involving the locations and power of transmitters and a digital terrain model.  A little online investigation found a recently-published Scottish Government report “Mobile Performance and Coverage in Scotland” which gives results of such analyses. This report is revealing: basically 27.5% of Scotland doesn’t even have 2G coverage from any operator.  I am usually looking for a 3G signal to hook up the laptop and keep my Gazetteer for Scotland up-to-date, yet something around 75% of the Highlands and Islands, along with sizeable areas (c.50%) of Aberdeenshire, the Scottish Borders, Stirling and Dumfries & Galloway, has no 3G coverage from any operator – a dire situation.  Perhaps acceptable if roads and railways were covered, but there are notable “no-spots” along many of these transport arteries.  There are anomalies: North Uist has better 3G coverage than 2G. I’ve experienced that, its basically because “3” aka Hutchison-Whampoa have a solitary transmitter on South Clettraval.  So why so much concern about 4G when there is still so much to do on the existing network?


What’s in a name?

If you hadn’t realised, I am fascinated by places, how they are named and how these names evolve.  So listening to the BBC World Service tonight, it was interesting to learn that the New Zealand Geographic Board officially gazetted names for the country’s two principal islands.  After considerable thought and research, these names have been officially recorded as “North Island” and “South Island” – think we might have heard these before somewhere, but apparently they were never formalised. They have also included Maori names for each: “Te Ika-a-Maui” and “Te Waipounamu”, which mean “the fish of Maui” and “the waters of greenstone”. The BBC has more information.  Shame the UK doesn’t have an equivalent body to record our names.  There is the “The Permanent Committee on Geographical Names for British Official Use” which is funded by the British Government, and tries to regularise and record names for every country in the world EXCEPT the UK (and Antarctica). Incredible!  In Scotland we have tried to fill this space with a Definitive Gazetteer of Placenames (created by yours truly), although its uptake around Government is as yet limited.

— Bruce

Let the gamers out of their darkened bedrooms?

It’s interesting that Ordnance Survey have released their OpenData in Minecraft format. Perhaps this might get some spotty teenagers out of their bedrooms and they may realise what an interesting REAL world we actually live in.  However, I doubt it will persuade many parents that the real world may actually be safer than the online world these days.  Am I being cynical?  I don’t think I could ever be called a Luddite, I love useful technology, and even have an appreciation that the online world itself provides an interesting new ‘space’ for geographers to explore and map, but I also constantly renew my interest in the world around us and its infinite complexity.

— Bruce

Natural Neighbourhoods

I met with Edinburgh Council 10 days ago in relation to their desire to draw boundaries around “natural neighbourhoods” in the city.  The purpose is to ensure that ‘official’ administrative boundaries take account of neighbourhoods in which people actually feel they live, rather than some area created as an official convenience. This turns out to be rather an interesting project. The idea was that a sample of citizens would be polled to determine the name of their neighbourhood, tying this to a postcode and then mapping it.

Of course there are all manner of problems here:

  1. The ‘estate agent’ problem – when you are selling your house suddenly “Craigmillar” becomes “South Duddingston”
  2. What do you do with the inevitable overlaps – spatial analysis can help with a quantitative resolution, but does that leave some people unhappy?
  3. Do people actually know where they live?  Yes, they know the street, but in a world where we rarely think local, do they associate themselves with that which is nearby and perhaps more familiar – not realising that crosses a traditional district boundary?
  4. I like history and think history should inform the present day, including present day geography.  It doesn’t take long looking at a First Edition Ordnance Survey map to realise there is often “area creep” – the farm or mansion which gave an area its name can be a surprising distance from the modern-day neighbourhood.
  5. Developers curdle to pudding; we are lucky to have fairly sensible street naming in Edinburgh – due to robust policies on the part of our Council – but we still have inane names like “Oak Lane” and developers just love to move “nice” names from one place to another.  So Wardie has marched west, Royston and Crewe are used by those who really don’t want to live in Pilton, some people just say they live in the “suburbs” or “North West” or the “city centre”, or give a set of choices.

We did an interesting comparison of a pilot list of names with those held in the Gazetteer for Scotland, which was revealing – well-known areas were well-represented, but the majority of areas didn’t appear in the pilot survey at all.  Does it matter?  Yes, I think it does – place names are emotive, personal and give a sense of belonging.  What we do today will colour the future.  The moral of the story is that people need to be asked at the beginning and end of the process to make sure they are happy, but in between some proper research is required to make sure that the blind are not just leading the blind.

Update: The Council’s Natural Neighbourhood Questionnaire is now online.

– Bruce Gittings