EEO-AGI Scotland Seminar Review : Dr. Anne Kemp : 10th Oct

Increasingly technology is used to solve problems in our rapidly changing world. Along with this comes the production of data at a greater volume that ever before in history. This data has the potential to provide a critical contribution to overcome the challenges we face in society. This potential can only be fully realised if data is produced, maintained and interpreted in an appropriate way.

The seminar by Dr Anne C. Kemp, a leading figure in the GI world, addressed the issues of data management suggesting systematic ways to ensure the quality of geospatial data. Among Dr Kemp’s many credentials is her title as Chair of the Association for Geographic Information (AGI). The seminar Dr Kemp gave addressed data production and management in line with the mission of AGI which is “…to maximise the use of geographic information (GI) for the benefit of the citizen, good governance and commerce.”  In order to successfully meet this aim it is argued that quality and management of GI has to meet certain standards.

Although the need for data quality and management may sound obvious to many of us in the GEO world it is an immensely important issue that others may not have explicitly thought about let alone implemented strategies to ensure their data is the best it can be and fit for purpose. GI (and its management) is a new concept for many fields, Dr Kemp gave the example of engineers using spatial data to improve the planning stages of projects by modelling outcomes. Techniques such as this are well established in the field GIS but a new concept to others.

Having known and clearly defined standards for data enables greater trust in the data and between stakeholders for a given project. Dr Kemp gave the example of use of GI in BIM and the Crossrail project where spatial data is shared through a common information portal. Through a concerted effort to manage and standardise the data quality metadata is made available. This enables all stakeholders to fully understand and trust the data.

With cities growing at an unprecedented rate it’s not just building management that needs to be addressed but also the services a city has to provide e.g. water, sewage, efficient transport networks. This type of development has major social, economic and environmental impacts. ‘Smart’ technology has been suggested to enable us to monitor cities.

The danger of ‘Smart’ cities is that technology replaces us as decision makers. Dr Kemp argued that ‘smart’ technology needs to be harnessed in such a way that makes it easier to for humans to make informed and democratic decisions, rather than it being an automated process.

The hope is that though better information management, out of the age of Big Data and information overload will come the ‘Knowledge Age’ where information is critically and effectively used to create new knowledge. ‘Better Information Management’ strategies and qualified professionals who understand all elements of data production and use are needed for this to happen.

Christine Ratcliffe
(MSc in GIS at the University of Edinburgh)

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EEO-AGI Scotland Seminar Review : Prof. Iain Woodhouse : 26th Sep

Professor Iain H. Woodhouse has made mapping the world’s forest one of his primary goals, in both research and practice. He co-founded Carbomap Ltd. in 2013 in order to apply his knowledge of mapping carbon from forests, and contributes to Ecometrica, helping businesses to become more environmentally conscious. He works in Malawi with REDD Horizon to help keep the forests sustainable for both the environment and the people who rely on them. And of course, as a professor he teaches and works with students, passing his knowledge along to the next set of environmentally conscious individuals.

His talk on Friday 26th September, entitled “Mapping the world’s forests, long ways and short ways” highlighted the issues centric to mapping the carbon in the world’s forests. Deforestation is not the problem of a single country even though it may take place in one, but a global issue, as changes in one area can affect not only that region, but people around the world. Forests are a key factor in the carbon cycle, and because they cover approximately 30% of all land area on earth, any change in the amount of land area covered can have drastic effects. The problem, however, is how to tackle the problem, and Professor Woodhouse has narrowed it down to three main criteria: global, timely, and detail.

Economies and personal use drive deforestation at an individual and global scale, making it an issue that spans country and political boundaries, and yet there is a disconnect between science and policy: Malawi’s carbon loss is negligible on a global scale, but small changes in the amount could be disastrous for individuals relying on the forests within the country. What works for one country may not work for another, or even for the global problem as a whole.

Timeliness of data collection can influence political decisions either too late or not enough—such as getting to illegal loggers fast enough—due to the number of satellites and regular coverage of an area. The data is difficult to process even when the clouds and canopy height are not affecting the quality of the data collected. Data quality is also affected by the detail of the data, and while the saying is “the Devil’s in the details,” in the case of global deforestation, too much data can be a hindrance rather than help. Detail at a local or national level is ideal, but too much on a dataset covering large sections of the Earth does not work well.

Perhaps the biggest issue in regards to deforestation, and one that covers all three main criteria in one, is that of control. Who has control of the data? Is it researchers in the United States, for example, giving the data to countries that need it, or is it people on the ground who then have to deliver the data elsewhere? How much lag time is there between data gathering and processing to the delivery of the data to the people who need it? Are the people who requested the data capable of processing or using it once they can get it?

Besides these questions, there is a matter of what system to use. Since no one way or method can solve all the problems involved with gathering and using data related to deforestation, there is no single software or data type that will give all the answers. Optical satellites and UAV LiDAR both work well, but cannot be used for the same thing. In the end, a multi-scale system—one that allows each country to decide cost and runtime, as well as control their data—is the only definite answer, but even that is not very specific, because every country is unique in their data needs.

While vampires are slain with a stake to the heart, faeries are kept away with iron, and are werewolves taken down with a silver bullet, deforestation is not an easy or simple thing to fix, and so researchers like Professor Iain H. Woodhouse continue their quest to find the best way (or ways) to slay their dragon.

Annika Lewis
(MSc in GIS at the University of Edinburgh)

EEO-AGI Scotland Seminar Review : Dr Gesche Schmid : 27th Sep

Dr Gesche Schmid visited the University of Edinburgh on Friday 27th of September to give a presentation on the value of geospatial data in local services. Schmid presented the challenges that hinder local governments and demonstrated how geospatial data can help tackle these challenges and save time and money.

Geographical information can improve local services, emergency planning, carbon emission cuts, and sustainable environmental management. There are several organisations which allow accessibility and sharing of spatial data; Ordnance Survey, OS Open Data, INSPIRE, etc. In particular, INSPIRE has many European regulations which define standards for data storing related to the environment. This will eventually lead to a large European database and thus more transparency.

Dr Schmid ended her presentation with a forward looking view of geospatial services and concluded that there will be more demand, more user-centric applications, common linkable standards, and seamless open data services in the future.

— Liann Rafter and Maud van Haeren
(MSc in GIS at University of Edinburgh)

Further information on the EEO-AGI Scotland Seminar Series