Informatics at the 4th Digital Earth Summit

Informatics will be at the  4th Digital Earth Summit next week in Wellington. As well as staff presenting a number of papers at the Summit, Informatics will have a stand at which those attending will be able to see demonstrations of the on-line services and applications that have been developed by the team. Members of team will also be on hand to answer questions about the research we undertake and discuss opportunities for collaboration.

Take the opportunity of the summit to come by and meet us.

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Report on the New Zealand AuScope Spatial Information Services Stack (SISS) workshop

Written by Alistair Ritchie.

In November 2011 Landcare Research co-presented a workshop on the AuScope Spatial Information Services Stack (SISS) with CSIRO in Wellington. SISS is a suite of software tools designed to enable the sharing of information between computer systems distributed across the internet.

The workshop was hosted by NIWA and was sponsored by NIWA, GNS Science and Landcare Research. The NZ Geospatial Office was instrumental in the organisation and promotion of the workshop. The workshop attracted the attention of senior figures  within the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), and a blog representing their view of the day can be found at http://www.opengeospatial.org/node/1513.

One of the great challenges facing the environmental informatics community is the management of what has become known as the ‘data deluge’. The increasing complexity of the environmental problems faced by modern society has required the capture and processing of large volumes of relevant data. No one organisation has sole responsibility for the storage and management of these data, or the necessary processing and analysis. Instead this is spread across a wide variety of organisations (government, academic and private), each with their own information systems but also a need for access to information and computational resources maintained elsewhere.

These systems must be networked, and in a way that allows translation between the languages of different information systems. The internet is an ideal platform for these ‘interoperable spatial data infrastructures’ (SDIs), but the protocols of the internet needs to be extended to define consistent structures for information, and the behaviour of systems that deliver or process the information.

Bodies such as the International Standards Organisation (ISO) and the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) have defined technical specifications for the network information systems (web services). They have also defined a syntax for representation of geospatial data that has been adopted by a growing number of scientific communities and extended into data models that meet their specific needs.

Well documented standards are only a part of the solution, there must also be a concrete means of implementing them. The Australian National Collaborative Research Infrastructure project addressed this by funding AuScope – a not for profit company, run by CSIRO – to develop a variety of tools to enable the conduct of research on a grid of networked computer systems. The SISS is one of their key products and incorporates the following tools:

  • Web feature and maps services (WFS, WMS – Geoserver)
  • Web coverage services (WCS – THREDDS, ERDDAP)
  • Web catalog services (CS/W – GeoNetwork)
  • Vocabulary services (SISSVoc)
  • Unique identifier services (SISS URI resolver)
  • Information modelling (FullMoon)

A full description of the SISS, and an explanation of the purpose of these tools, can be found at the project’s web-site (http://siss.auscope.org) and in the workshop summary and presentations (https://www.seegrid.csiro.au/wiki/Siss/SissWorkshopNZ2011). It builds on existing open-source technologies, focussing on making enhancements where necessary and only developing new tools where no candidates already exist.

There is a web portal, specifically constructed to demonstrate the capability of the data infrastructure (http://portal.auscope.org). Its content reflects AuScope’s earth science focus and its active support of the deployment of the stack at all the Australian geological surveys. SISS should not, however, be considered a tool set for earth science only; it is being adopted by other domains. It is also a proposed means of implementing the local SDI defined by the New Zealand Geospatial Office.

Landcare Research has a long-standing interest on these SDIs, and a number of staff with significant expertise in the area. Alistair Ritchie presented at the workshop, having worked with AuScope since the project’s inception. In his experience, the success of SDI’s depends on well-organised communities willing to make an effort to define and implement infrastructures specific to the their needs. The workshop had a large turnout with 42 people, from 18 organisations from government, academia and the private sector. However, interest is not enough.  The challenge for the New Zealand information community is to translate this interest into an actual, functioning infrastructure with collaborative communities of do-ers all willing to support each other are essential.

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FOSS4G and OGC TC, Colorado, USA – September 2011

FOSS4G is taking place in Denver, USA this year and four staff from the Informatics team are attending for the week.

FOSS4G is the global conference focused on Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial, organized by OSGeo.  It attracts the best Open Source geospatial software projects and their developers making it the gathering of the tribes. FOSS4G addresses the needs of users and developers alike but this year also intends to consider how business models can be used to address the needs of small and large organisations. Its a busy week with technical workshops, parallel sessions, panel discussions, lightening presentations and BOF. Some 800+ delegates are expected to attend.

The Informatics team are active users of open source software, and geospatial open source software in particular (PostGIS, Geoserver, MapServer, OpenLayers, Mod_GeoCache and so on) and FOSS4G is a great opportunity to catch up on the latest developments, engage with developers and  users of the software and learn about large and mature projects.

The week after FOSS4G, members of the Open Geospatial Consortium will just up the road from Denver in Boulder for a technical planning meeting. Two of the Informatics staff, Science Leader Robert Gibb and Team Manager David Medyckyj-Scott will be staying on in Colorado to attend. It will be another busy week for alongside the meetings of the standards working groups and domain working groups there are a series of parallel events including a Ocean/Met/Hydro Water Cycle Summit and a GEOSS Workshop XLIII: Sharing Climate Information and Knowledge.

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Post event report – ‘‘End to End Spatial Infrastructures for Environmental Science’ – 6th December 2010

Following on from the  ‘Journeying Toward Geospatial Interoperability’ event on the morning of the 6th December (see previous post), the Informatics team hosted an afternoon workshop ‘End to end spatial infrastructures for environmental science’.

Twenty three participants had the opportunity to hear the progress being made internationally in the area of environmental research infrastructures followed by discussions on how New Zealand science could develop its own such infrastructure.

After an introduction from Robert Gibb, Science Leader of the Informatics Team, three invited speakers provided an overview of the ‘state of the art’ of aspects of environmental research infrastructures.

First up was Andrew Terhorst from the Tasmanian ICT Centre, CSIRO, Australia, who spoke about environmental sensors. Using the South Esk Hydrological Sensor Web in Tasmania which he and his colleagues have set up, he described the lessons they had learnt and some of the ‘elephants in the room’ of trying to provide operational sensor services. He talked about the fact that the OGC Sensor web standards are a bit of a moving target and complex when trying to get them working together, also the critical importance of collecting provenance data (about the sensor, data and processing of the data) for enabling data re-use/re-purposing.  [Presentation: OGC_Day_End2End_Terhorst_6Dec2010 - 2.77MB]

Professor Peter Baumann ( Jacobs University, Bremen, Germany), the founder and CEO of rasdaman GmbH, followed Andrew. He spoke about the management of raster data and the sharing of such data through Web Coverage Services (WCS).  Coverages are a fundamental part of environmental information (remote sensing mosaics, time series, sensor data, LIDAR point clouds) and we are likely to see a growth in their use in the future managed within multi-dimensional raster (“array“) DBMS. [Presentation: OGC_Day_End2End_Baumann_6Dec2010 - 1.26MB]

After a tea break, Phillip ‘Flip’ Dibner, chair of the Open Geospatial Consortium’s (OGC) Earth System Science Domain working Group and Executive Director of the OGC Interoperability Institute, gave a lightening overview of various existing environmental spatial infrastructures. He noted that they are not just about the technologies and services; infrastructures also need to be under pinned by approved framework datasets; collaboration amongst organisations; defined processes; and agreed semantics / common vocabularies and information models. During his talk he explained how the work of the Open Geospatial Consortium supported the building of successful infrastructures. [Presentation: OGC_Day_End2End_Dibner_6Dec2010 - 6.3MB ]

Following Flip’s presentation all the speakers gathered together to take part in a panel discussion with questions and comments from the audience. From this it became clear that the majority of participants weren’t aware of how wide the coverage of the OGC standards now were nor how much research and testing was behind them.

As the day drew to an end, a few minutes were spent discussing next steps. There was considerable support for some of those organisations represented at the event to work together on a web services based, interoperability test-bed or demonstrator project focusing on a use case relevant to New Zealand e.g. flooding.  There were also some suggestions made to communicate back to the Open Geospatial Consortium. Namely, that OGC provide better introductions to the specifications to assist people in getting an overview of their scope and the relationships between them; second, that more and better organised cases studies be made available so that it was possible to look at the differences between implementations and for common patterns and, third, that more be provided on the benefits of and return on investment from adopting the specifications and standards.

At the end the participants concluded that another group of such speakers should be invited to New Zealand soon as what had been learnt was extremely valuable to all those who attended.

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