Two GIS staff give presentations at GISRUK 2014

GISRUK 2014 took place in Glasgow between the 16th and 18th April. William Mackaness gave a presentation entitled “The ‘when, how and what’ of Text Based Wayfinding Instructions for Urban Pedestrians” on the first day, while Bruce Gittings talked on “Creating a Definitive Place Name Gazetteer for Scotland” on the Thursday morning. Both talks were very well-received. William and Bruce also chaired sessions at the meeting; Bruce was responsible for the final session as Chair of the GISRUK National Steering Committee. Next year’s conference will be in Leeds.

GIS students attend GISRUK 2014

Fifteen of the Edinburgh GIS Masters students travelled through to Glasgow for the three-day GIS Research UK (GISRUK) conference, organised this year by the University of Glasgow. The students were able to meet notable GIS researchers such as Prof Mike Worboys and Professor Alias Abdul Rahman from Malaysia, who both gave keynote addresses, together with the likes of Prof Chris Brunsdon and Dr Martin Charlton, responsible for developing Geographically Weighted Regression (GWR). The students were able to take a full part in the social programme – which included a reception in Glasgow City Chambers and a Ceilidh (traditional Scottish dancing) in the fine Bute Hall, as well as seeing something of the city of Glasgow. Bruce Gittings, GIS Programmes Director, said “we wanted our students to experience the cutting edge of GIS research and see that their own dissertation research is at a very similar level.  They very much enjoyed the event”.


EEO-AGI Scotland Seminar Review : Dr. Humphrey Southall : 11th Apr

The penultimate EEO-AGI seminar of the academic year, entitled ‘PastPlace: Rethinking Gazetteers for the Semantic Web’ was given by Dr. Humphrey Southall of the University of Portsmouth. His talk focused on the development of PastPlace, a global historical linked gazetteer created as part of the Great Britain Historical GIS research project based in the University of Portsmouth’s Geography department. The creation of PastPlace required what Dr. Southall described as a geo-semantic approach; history is about texts, not maps. Up until the 18th century there were almost no maps, and those which do exist can be difficult to interpret and digitise today. Furthermore, historical textual descriptions are often more accurate than other attempts to describe geography at the time. Itineraries and gazetteers are the main sources of information containing placenames.

Dr. Southall noted that a historical gazetteer differs to modern gazetteers in that they require references to places from various sources and time periods to be linked to one place, they must allow for uncertainties in geographical knowledge of the past and, in addition to the location of a place, should tell the user what places were like. However, as it was not possible to build PastPlace from scratch, it was necessary to use an existing modern gazetteer to form its core. A number of gazetteers were considered for this purpose. Ultimately, it was decided that Wikidata, a major geographical resource which integrates Wikipedia articles in different languages, would form the basis of the historical gazetteer. Pelagios 3 also forms the basis of PastPlace. This is a two year project which aims to annotate, link and index place references in digitised early geospatial documents, such as geographic descriptions and world maps, which originate prior to the European discovery of the Americas in 1492. The Portsmouth team aim to augment PastPlace with contemporary and historic settlements extracted from open gazetteers, such as the Gazetteer of the World. The team also plan to create a historical base map server, a gazetteer web mapping application and website and a program which generates a dump including the sources of information for each location. An API which allows the user to search the database of historical information has already been created.

Dr Southall concluded the seminar by noting that geo-semantic methods are generally inferior to geo-spatial methods, but are necessary in cases such as this when textual descriptions are all that is available and old maps which do exist tend to be inaccurate. Further information about PastPlace and access to the API can be found at

Caroline Broughton
(MSc in GIS at the University of Edinburgh)

Edinburgh GIS Student Conference

Wednesday 2nd April saw the Edinburgh GIS students involved in a conference where        tImagehey presented their dissertation ideas and research progress thus-far to an audience of their peers, lecturers and visitors, including staff from EDINA and Repsol. This marked the end of the taught component of the GIS programme for most of the students, with work on their dissertations moving from part-time to full-time, through until completion in mid-August. The conference was organised into seven sessions, their titles illustrating the breadth of topics: Tools, Energy, Conservation & Natural Resources, Spatial Analysis, Location-Based Services, Data Integration and Remote Sensing. The talks were assessed as part of the students Research Practice and Project Planning course and a prize was offered to the best. Such was the quality of the presentations that staff had a difficult decision, but decided the winner was Ryland Karlovich, for his talk entitled “Integrating Climate Information into the Gazetteer for Scotland“.

Programme Director Bruce Gittings said “It was a great day. The students put a lot of effort in and presented their ideas very professionally.”  Carol Blackwood from EDINA said “I was very impressed with the standard of the talks”.

EEO-AGI Scotland Seminar Review : Dr. Richard Kingston : 28th Mar

The EEO/AGI(S) seminar on 28 March was delivered by Dr. Richard Kingston from the School of Environment and development at the University of Manchester. The title of the talk was “Participatory online GIS for adapting our towns and cities to climate change” and was about ongoing work on the GRaBS Project (Green and Blue Space Adaptation for Urban Areas and Eco Towns Project).

The project has been undertaken by the University of Manchester’s PGIS research group, where they develop and test web-based Geographical Information Systems (GIS) aimed at improving public involvement and participation in local environmental planning and decision making; and that GIS will be a key mechanism for citizens to take an active role in local government.

This work is based on the understanding that citizens are able to make better informed decisions about their local environment if they have access to information and relevant data in the form of visualisations and maps in particular.

GRaBS project partners are a network of prominent European organisations who strive to integrate efforts at climate change adaptation into regional planning and development activities. The project aims to help key spatial planning and development bodies to improve their expertise in using green and blue infrastructure for adapting mixed use urban areas to projected climate scenarios; and to assess the delivery mechanisms that exist for development and urban regeneration in each partner country.

The project further supports project partners to develop and deliver strategic climate change adaption action plans based on a spatial approach and current good practice. Partners prepare their climate change adaption action plans using an interactive, web-based risk and vulnerability assessment tool developed by the PGIS Research Group. The GRABS Adaptation Action Planning Toolkit is used to visualise and highlight climate change vulnerabilities and risks in urban areas by mapping a range of spatial data provided by the project partners. The tool uniquely brings together EU level climate change data sets, requiring the handling of vast amounts of data. The project highlighted a number of deficiencies in the data.

Dr Kingston gave an overview of the technical development of the tool, which is built on open source software and uses mapserver to render vector and raster data over Open Street Map, Ordnance Survey Openspace, Google Maps and Bing Maps. The methodology was adapted from Checkland’s (2000) Soft Systems Methodology and has the following stages:

  • understand user needs
  • develop a rich picture (see OU guide)
  • functional specification
  • proto-type testing
  • feedback
  • update
  • deploy

User testing and prototyping was conducted using three storylines: the risk of flooding in Sutton, critical infrastructure protection in Styria and the risk of high temperatures in Catania.

Many challenges have been successfully overcome in the course of the project. These include designing the assessment tool to be able to meet the needs of a diverse set of stakeholders with different access to spatial data, different policy priorities and beliefs on climate change, different levels of understanding of GIS and speak different languages. Despite this, the project has succeeded in improving communication between planners, policy makers, local communities and other stakeholders.

You can explore the tool at the EcoCities Spatial Portal, which assesses the geography of Greater Manchester’s vulnerability to climate change.

Thank you to Dr Kingston for a very interesting talk!

Marguerite le Riche
(MSc in GIS at the University of Edinburgh)