Edinburgh Costume wins ESRI competition

tempThis is the second year that Esri has run their Geoween contest on their Instagram page, esrigram. This year, the contest started with Esri posting suggestions for geographically themed Halloween costumes.

The Edinburgh GIS students enjoyed a Halloween party at their field trip in the Scottish Highlands. Amongst various amazing costumes, demonstrator Dave got into the Geoween spirit and dressed up with a quite-amazing drone hat. Dave built a hat which was a remarkable copy of one of our DJI Phantom UAVs . Posing him in front of a large map of Perthshire, I took his photo and posted it on my Instagram account in order to enter us into the contest. This was quickly reposted on the Esri account, and it has been liked by 140 people. We have since found out that Dave’s costume was one of the winners, and that Esri is shipping the two of us a set of Esri pint glasses!

Kathryn Murphy
MSc in GIS


GIS students in the Field

On the 1st November, the Edinburgh GIS students are back from another successful outing to the Kindrogan Field Centre in Highland Perthshire.  Seven groups of students undertook a range of projects overseen by staff members Bruce Gittings, Nick Hulton, Iain Woodhouse, William Mackaness, Alasdair MacArthur, Zhiqiang Feng and Owen Macdonald, together with postgraduate demonstrators Sarah Donoghue and David Cooper and field assistant Ivona Hubova, all members of the GIS and remote sensing team in the School of GeoSciences in Edinburgh.

The students are undertaking a range of projects from mapping using a diversity of UAV platforms, to hydro-power potential, analysing mobile phone signal strength, and marketing the remarkable local archaeology and geomorphology to tourists, all using GIS and remote sensing methods.

EEO-AGI Scotland Seminar Review : Dr. Joanne Nightingale : 16th Oct

What is National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and what sort of work do they undertake? We were fortunate enough to have Joanne Nightingale, Head of Earth Observation, give a fascinating seminar about what NPL does and projects she is involved with.

NPL is a world leading National Measurement Institute that aims to work towards the growing demand for high quality, robust measurements in all aspects in our lives. The uncertainty in measurement is important to consider because they want the most accurate measurement and as the saying goes “measure thrice, cut once.” As a centre for carbon measurement, they support climate change research and a low carbon emission future.

Joanne explains about the department she works in (EO, Climate and Optical Group) and how they strive to provide traceability for all EU earth observation data products for calibration and algorithms applications. This group is working on projects such as Fidelity and Uncertainty in Climate data records from Earth Observation (FIDUCEO) and FOREST (Fully Optimized and Reliable EmissionS Tool). Joanne’s group focuses with TREES (Traceability in tErrestrial vEgetation Sensors and biophysical products) to establish an essential climate variable “traceability through modelling, reference measurements and test-site characterizations.” Their current areas of interest are in fAPAR and Leaf Area Index.

Megumi Sasaki
(MSc in GIS at the University of Edinburgh)

Using Remote Sensing to Scan Egypt’s Pyramids

A Guest Post by Jenny Reilly (MSc in GIS)

The 21st century has come to archaeology and it’s here to stay. The Egyptian Minister of Antiquities has just announced that a technique called Cosmic Ray Radiography (among others) will be used to scan several of the pyramids. This technique was notably used to assess the damage at the No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in Japan. Researchers will measure the energy and trajectory of Muons, a particle similar to an electron, which changes trajectory based on the density of what it hits. Researchers hope to make a 3D model of the interior of the pyramids, perhaps finding hidden rooms. This project will be carried out by Cairo University, Université Laval, and Nagoya University and will continue until the end of 2016.

The “Scan Pyramids” project is one of many that will help us to learn more about the ancient world around us. Work like this is imperative to the improvement of the field of archaeology. Up to, and including, the present, archaeology has been a destructive science. In an effort to save the artefacts of the past that we hold so dear, archaeologists must learn how to use and develop remote sensing techniques.

To learn more, visit:



New Staff member joins GIS Team at Edinburgh

The Edinburgh GIS team has been strengthened with the arrival of Dr Zhiqiang Feng on 1st October.  Dr Feng has joined us as Senior Lecturer in Quantitative Human Geography & Geographical Information Science. His research interests include population geography, health geography, health inequalities, GIS, spatial analysis, longitudinal models, multilevel models, migration, commuting and fuzzy classification.  His experience with and expertise in helping lead major data science initiatives such as the Longitudinal Studies Centre Scotland and the ESRC’s Administrative Data Research Centre-Scotland will help us build on our rapidly growing reputation for excellence in quantitative social sciences.  Dr Feng graduated in Geography from Beijing University in 1984, completed his Masters degree in Remote Sensing and Cartography at Changchun Institute of Geography, Academia Sinica and his PhD at Lancaster University in 1999.  He was previously a lecturer at the University of St. Andrews.

EEO-AGI Scotland Seminar Review : Cecilia MacIntyre : 2nd Oct

Cecilia MacIntyre presented her talk on Scotland’s Census 2011: How National Records of Scotland are making the most of data. Few data gathering exercises of human statistics can rival national censuses for scale, attention to detail and accuracy. Unsurprisingly, wanting to know the kind of data collected in a census is not solely a recent ambition. Governments and leaders have always been interested in knowing whom it is they govern. In fact, an attempt at gathering this kind of data goes back almost 1000 years, to William the Conqueror’s commissioning of the famous Domesday Book. The UK has had a census every 10 years since 1801, with the exception of 1941 (due to the Second World War), and last Friday we were lucky enough to be visited by Cecilia Macintyre to learn a little about Scotland’s census data from 2011 and what it can offer us today.

The 2011 census was the first web-census and consisted of 50 questions. It includes data on origin-destination (flow) statistics to track alternative population statistics like home-to-work travel and where to identify the spatial location of ‘daytime’ population. The results of the census are being released in three phases with accompanying statistical bulletins and a highlight of the data’s key points. This pro-active approach of data release is to facilitate access to data, one of Scotland’s Census and the National Records of Scotland stated objectives.

An example of three reports Scotland’s Census have recently produced includes reports on: Gaelic Language, The inhabited islands of Scotland’s west coast and Household composition by population groups. Emphasis was made that anonymity is kept by keeping the smallest set of data at the scale of at least 40 households, which is referred to as an Output Area (OA).

Scotland’s Census is keen to have the data used in valuable and innovative ways by people outside the organization and recently ran a pilot study with statisticians from Scottish Government on equality statistics. The study revealed that, for instance ‘…people of Polish ethnicity in Scotland were the most economically active…’ and yet were also ‘…likely to be in lower skilled employment…’. The results ended up widely discussed in the UK press.

Cecilia highlighted some of the places and in what form data can be found. Below are the links to the major resources highlighted:

www.scotlandcensus.gov.uk – Scotland’s Census main page

http://www.scotlandscensus.gov.uk/census-results – The table index

http://www.scotlandscensus.gov.uk/events-and-workshops – Upcoming events and workshops

http://www.usp.scot/ – Understanding Scottish Places: Visualises population data

http://scotland.datashine.org.uk – Datashine: A contextual and highly visual way of portraying census data visually

https://knowfife.fife.gov.uk/dataviews/ – Know Fife Dataset: Showing thematic map data in Fife

Though the 2021 census is still 6 years away, Scotland’s Census are already beginning to consider what questions will be asked. Consultation with users of the census data will begin this month! A lot of great questions can be asked of census data, so perhaps we all ought to start considering…what might be a valuable question for the census to ask the people of Scotland?

Trevor Draeseke
(MSc in GIS at the University of Edinburgh)

O Canada O Canada

My Canadian friends are celebrating the Liberal landslide in last night’s election – in fact most of them are probably still asleep.  From watching the coverage, I have two geographical reflections, posted from a position of ignorance, so please correct me if I am wrong.  Perhaps with the bias of the British electoral system, I found it bizarre that the Canadian media were broadcasting their predicted results within minutes of the polls closing in Atlantic Canada.  Nothing wrong with that you would think, except that the polls remained  open in British Columbia for another four hours – such are the joys of a vast country which spans multiple time-zones.  This means that those in the west knew how those in the east had voted and surely this must affect their voting habits – Liberals would stay at home thinking it a ‘done deal’ while Conservatives would be running to the polling stations to try to change the developing situation.  That’s illegal in Britain – and apparently it used to be in Canada.

Second, was the process of declaring results on the basis of counts from very few polling stations within a “riding” (constituency).  Hopefully using some complex algorithm, previous performance and a magic wand, candidates were declared as “elected” when only a few thousand votes has been counted from sometimes less than a quarter of the polling stations.  I presume the geographical diversity of the constituencies was taken into account, and certainly the final result seemed to reflect these early estimates, so the process must have worked.  I did cringe however when the presenter said xxxx was elected and then occasionalyl qualify it with “well they should be when all the votes are counted”. Interesting!

In the example below, Nathan Cullen was declared “elected” on 2,800 votes with only the votes from 26 of 219 polling stations actually counted.
Example Result

Geographer Royal for Scotland

Professor Charles Withers

It was announced this afternoon by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and the Scottish Government that our own Professor Charles Withers will serve as Geographer Royal for Scotland – a post that has been dormant for 118 years but which will provide a national and international ambassador for geography and the geosciences.

The Royal Scottish Geographical Society campaigned to rejuvenate the post at a time when geography is even more important to our understanding of the world and is being challended as a key subject within the Scottish schools curriculum.

Professor Withers is an historical geographer who, amongst many publications and projects, has done excellent work with the National Library of Scotland (NLS) in preserving and digitising historical maps for Scotland including Charting the Nation (1999-2002) and Project Pont (1996-2001), which led directly to the world-leading services now hosted by the NLS that provides historical map layers to geographical information web mapping services.

Annual GIS Alumni Conference records another success

Friday 12th June saw the GIS Update conference take place in the Geography Building in Edinburgh.  This annual event brought together an audience of 55 current and former students together with the staff involved in the GIS programme to hear about current research and trends in industry and academia. It also gives students access to those working in the GIS industry to discuss careers and employment opportunities.

Speakers coming from a range of organisations gave talks discussing the use of GIS in organising major sporting events, the future of cartography, heatmapping, the delivery of cloud-based GIS solutions, climate change and the use of GIS in geomorphological and geological applications. The day also included demonstrations of work currently being developed as part of ongoing student dissertation projects as well as the popular ‘question time’ which concluded the formal programme for the day.

The conference also provides an effective means of maintaining contacts with our widely-spread alumni network, spilling over into social events on Friday evening and Saturday.

Bitcoins, Blockchains, Hash and the Registration of Land Interests Among Vulnerable Communities

I am reliably informed that hash is the name given to resin collected from the flowers of the cannabis plant. I put ‘hash’ in the title to peak your interest but you are now being tracked by GCHQ and the NSA – hey ho! The title is meant to read: Bitcoins, Blockchains, Geohash and Registration of Land Interests Among Vulnerable Communities. When I write ‘Bitcoin’ you think ‘dark web’, I imagine you have not heard of blockchains, but everyone knows about the challenges faced by displaced communities and the desire to create a register of land ownership in developing countries, that we might create order from chaos, et cetera et cetera.

There are complex debates around the notion of developed and developing countries (I think Brettton Woods), around ideas of vulnerable communities (read Tanya Murray Li), and the necessity of the alientation of land (away from customary rights) as a start point to various aid initiatives and incentivisation schemes (particularly in the context of REDD). But in a single sentence I step deftly over such matters.

What do I think the problem is:

Many countries do not have a registry of land ownership. There are various cultural, political and logistical reasons for this. But in the absence of such legal frameworks that define interests and ownership over land, we are increasingly seeing people being forcibly evicted – the land ‘purchased’ in the name of large carbon investment programmes. Where a centralised Land Registry does exist, there is the risk that government officials can corruptly lay claim to land that is apparently ‘unsettled’ (reminds me of the ‘finders keepers’ argument of ‘Terra Nullius’ applied by the British when they colonised Australia).

What do I think the solution is:

Could we not equip such vulnerable communities with the power to record their own interests in the land? Could we not use the ‘spatial’ wisdom of the masses to verify such occupancy? Could we store such information in a way that prevents its corruption and fabrication? Can we do it in a way that is simple and does not require a Masters Degree in GIS from The University of Edinburgh? Which brings me nicely onto bitcoins, blockchains and (geo)hash.

What is a bitcoin?

A bitcoin is a form of digital currency, created and held electronically. Interestingly, no one individual controls it. It facilitates online transactions. A bitcoin can be divided into as many pieces as you like. It can be used to buy anything (including hash).

What is a blockchain?

A blockchain is an encrypted digital ledger. Every bitcoin has a blockchain. It contains the record of every transaction that that bitcoin has been involved in (which is why it is encrypted!). An analogue would be to take a coin from your pocket and have a way of knowing every transaction that that coin had been involved in. The encryption is shared among many machines around the world such that it is impossible to decrypt.

What is geohash?

Geohash is a public domain service by which latitude and longitude can be recorded as a simple alphanumeric sequence. Invented by Gustavo Niemeyer, the length of the character string is proportional to a point’s locational precision (ie analogous to the postcode, the first part being coarse, and the second part affording finer resolution). In that sense it is much more sophisticated and logical than what3words.


So, for bitcoin, read ‘landcoin’ – stored in the cloud. Each landcoin has a blockchain that records the provenance of the property (its sale, partioning, or disbursement). The transactions are encrypted and not alterable by any single institution or individual. Lets use geohashing to create an alphanumeric encoding of a property boundary (perhaps the four corner points of a property for example).

Coming to a cinema near you

Let us remember that technology is inherently undemocratic. For this to work, people need to know about such a service, a person needs the technical know-how, and access to a machine that can record a series of geohash locations, access to the internet, and a proforma that enables current (and future transactions) to be recorded in the blockchain, and a mechanism of informing adjoining properties of any changes so that the crowd can verify its veracity. This is truly a big ask!

But I thought it was intriguing to take the idea of bitcoin and apply it in the context of a global land registry rather than just the purchase of hash! One day these pieces will fall together.