Location, Location, Location

Taxi operator Uber is proving that its not just about location, but the best possible location, as they are reportedly investing $500 million to build a better mapping system. Following Apple’s hasty decision to ditch google’s mapping in 2012,  Uber are intent on doing something similar, regarding Google’s product as being expensive, restrictive and of limited accuracy outside North America auber-map_3457218and Western Europe. This announcement by Uber is a logical extension of their acquisition of Microsoft’s data collection business in June last year.  Last year too they ‘poached’ Brian McClendon Google’s former head of mapping to lead their mapping initiative.  Uber are intending to use data captured by their own cars to help create the mapping.  So what does this all mean?  It does seem a bit daft to create yet another mapping product in addition to those produced by venerable national mapping agencies, Google, Microsoft, Navteq, TeleAtlas, Here, OpenStreetMap etc. etc., but owning the best data might be everything in a competitive world.  Comparing the likes of Ordnance Survey’s data in the UK with Google shows there is much room for improvement  in the ‘global’ products, but equally the copyright and cost of OS data continues to restrict its use in broader marketplaces.  The bottom line is more data must be a good thing, it builds our industry and increases employment.  Whether the Uber data is ever available outside that company, to whom, and at what cost, represent a number of unanswered questions.

Edinburgh Students visit Greenwich

Fifteen of the Edinburgh GIS students were in Greenwich (London) between 29th March and the 1st April, along with staff members Bruce Gittings and William Mackaness for the annual GIS research UK (GISRUK) conference.  The students enjoyed the mix of formal conference sessions, social events and the networking opportunity, together with the chance to see some of London.  The student group are encouraged to attend the event through a conference grant, and a good time was had by all.  Inspirational keynote lectures were given by Prof Ross Purves of the University of Zurich in Edinburgh (who had previously been a lecturer on the GIS programme in Edinburgh), Prof Nye Parry (Guildhall School of Music and Drama) and Jeremy Morley Chief Geospatial Scientist at the Ordnance Survey (the UK National Mapping Agency). 35 other presentations were included in the conference.gisruk 2016b


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