Dec 202011

Its a bit early to be making predictions about how IGIBS might evolve, but a recent presentation to the EDINA geoteam followed by some discussion indicated some of the possibilities.

  • The WMS Factory Tool.  With the simple but effective styling capability that Michael Koutroumpas engineered, I think we have a prototype thats not too far off a production strength tool.  There are loads of scenarios where its valuable to have access to a tool that makes it easy to see your “non-interoperable” data alongside the growing number of INSPIRE View Services (read WMS) from public authorities across Europe going online.  So top of my list is improving this tools styling capability.
  • Associated with this would be better understanding of necessary data publication infrastructure, eg, making it easy to use the other OGC Web Services.  Something like the GEOSS Service Factory ideas emerging from the EuroGEOSS project.  I think there is a real demand for tools to make it easy to use the OGC standards.
  • In the immediate future, I think its likely that the IGIBS team will do some promotion of the project outputs, eg:
    • presenting the project at relevant events, eg, Association GI Laboratories Europe conference, OGC Technical Committee meetings.  This might cost as little as £500 depending on where the event is.
    • use of social media to promote both the WMS Factory Tool and the report on “Best Practice Interaction with the UK Academic Spatial Data Infrastructure”.  This too could cost as little as an additional £500.
  • The latter report is worthy of a lot more investment.  A major output from this project, possibly the single most important output, is the increase in use of UK academic SDI services within the Institute of Geography and Earth Science (IGES) at Aberystwyth University.  IGES is acting as an exemplar for best practice research data management around geospatial data, the department is actively building on the IGIBS work and it will be interesting to see how it develops and if other departments in other institutions see the benefit and start to emulate what Aberystwyth is doing.  More work promoting Steve Walsh’s report would help.
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Nov 112011

“An INSPIREing tool enabling researchers to share their geospatial data over the web”

The Open Geospatial Consortium’s Web Map Service (WMS) is a core standard underpinning many Spatial Data Infrastructures (SDI) throughout the world.  This includes INSPIRE, the UK Location Programme and our own UK academic SDI.  The WMS Factory Tool created by the IGIBS project; for the first time, allows users to upload their data and automatically generate a fully standards based, INSPIRE compliant WMS.  Users can control styling and view their data alongside a broad range of other data from a broad range of content providers.  The WMS Factory Tool has been created in partnership with Welsh Government and students within UK academia in anticipation of the revolution in the use of Geographic Information that will come about through the increasing availability of data via interoperability standards in conjunction with the UK Location Programme and INSPIRE.

The WMS Factory Tool was developed in close cooperation with students at the University of Aberystwyth’s Institute of Geography and Earth Science in the context of their growing repository of data related to the UNESCO designated Dyfi Biosphere Reserve.  If a student is doing a project and generating data, and they need to be able, for purposes of analysis and integration, to view that data alongside data from the spectrum of Welsh public authorities establishing INSPIRE compliant services, then this tool lets them do so quickly, without the need to waste time sourcing, extracting, transforming and uploading data from a range of non-interoperable proprietary formats.

The working prototype has been developed and configured so that data is uploaded to EDINA machines.  The following video gives a flavour of how the tool works:

Note that as an advanced feature access can be restricted using Shibboleth (open source Security Assertion Markup Language implementation used in the UK Access Management Federation) so only authorised users can access the service and so that other organisations in the federation can make more data available.

The software is easy to deploy and configured so that data may be uploaded and WMS generated at user specified locations.  Here is a good place to start with documentation.

And here is a picture of the team that brought you this product.  More information on IGIBS can be found throughout this blog starting with the about page.

Core IGIBS Project Team at Welsh Government Offices in Cardiff on the 11th Nov, 2011

The software is in prototype at the moment, but is in a condition where it can be deployed.  EDINA commits to maintaining this software for a minimum of 3 years, ie, until Nov 2014, though it is likely the software will have developed considerably by then.

It is likely that this software will contribute to the growing suite of open source tooling available for use with INSPIRE compliant services and encodings, most obviously as a means for users within the UK academic sector to create WMS (temporary or persistent) for use with UK Location Programme network services.

At its heart is the Minnesota Mapserver WMS software, very stable, well understood and highly regarded software.  The IGIBS software is available for download.  It is licenced under the modified BSD licence, meaning, in précis, that the software is made available using a permissive free software licence, which has minimal requirements in respect of how the software can be redistributed.

 Posted by at 21:26 Project Management Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on IGIBS Final Product Post
Nov 032011

The blog content is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported Licence.

IGIBS source code, i.e. the WMS Factory tool and the Mapping Application, is released under the modified BSD license. The full licence text will be included in any released source bundle.

The data licence(s) chosen depend on the original input data used. The WMS Factory tool will generate data (maps and tabular data) based on user-uploaded data which belong to their respective owners.

 Posted by at 15:20 Project Management, User Reqs Tagged with: , , , ,  Comments Off on Licensing for blog content, source code and data
Oct 132011

Now available, the registration page for the GECO/IGIBS event on Friday 11th Nov, 2011 from 1115 to 1500 GMT at the Welsh Government Buildings, Cathays Park, Cardiff.

Full details can be found here

We have a good mix of speakers from the academic, public and private sectors, and should get some good discussion.  I think it will be especially interesting to get some insight into the developing plans for how the devolved government of Wales is rolling out INSPIRE.

From the IGIBS perspective, this is us effectively delivering the first demonstration of UK access management technology being used to secure public sector services in combination with academic sector services as per the project plan

 Posted by at 09:20 Project Management Tagged with: , , , ,  Comments Off on Collaborative by Nature: Interoperable Geospatial Approaches to the Environment
Sep 052011

I was fortunate enough to have a meeting with some people from EDINA and the DCC in Edinburgh on Wednesday. The aim of the meeting was to get some input and advice from some experts on the ideas I have for a spatial data management best practice report.  So a big  thank you to Martin Donnelly of the Digital Curation Centre (DCC), James Reid, Stuart McDonald, Chris Higgins and Michael Koutroumpas from EDINA.

I had a long 7 hour train journey from Aberystwyth so my apologies for the overdose of PowerPoint slides that I had time to create before the meeting. It was extremely helpful to talk to experienced and knowledgeable  people about the direction the report, which is one of our outputs from the IGIBS project. My background in environmental science leaves a few significant gaps in my knowledge and, as Chris put it, “a sanity check” on my work was well worth the time needed to attend the meeting. I even had the opportunity for an evening walk on Arthur’s Seat and a lunch hour looking around Edinburgh as a bonus.

Some of the key advice from the meeting centered around the following; INSPIRE and how it will or wont impact on Universities,  insights into the not so obvious but very significant benefits of writing a data management plan and where it fits into good data management, some great pointers to other studies and sources of information that will feed into the report, the need to make the report easily accessible to its audience and some great institutional  case study examples from Australian through Californian to British Universities.

Another theme that emerged from the discussion was how INSPIRE and the need for good data management can be viewed as a threat but it is also a great opportunity for academic staff to gain easier access to the ever increasing amounts of spatial data being created around the Globe. A viewpoint that will help to make the report more appealing to time starved researchers.

We also had talk of semantics and just what do you call a spatial data infrastructure (if you don’t want to use SDI). It was suggested that UK Location has moved towards Location Information Infrastructure as a way of making an SDI label more intelligible to the uninitiated. I found this much more enlightening and useful that the recent update from UK Location on “Data Things” and abstracted “Data Objects”  but a few hours of digestion may make this a little more understandable to my irretrievably ecologically orientated mind.  It reminded me of some reading I had done about old Norse governance and how their aassembly was called the “Thing” and met in the “Thingstead”.  I remember thinking that they didn’t have a proper word for it so just called it the “Thing” but I guess that just shows how language develops over time and maybe we can look back to SDI in a few years with the benefit of a really useful label for it, whatever that may be.

As a result of the meeting I am re writing some sections I had drafted and adding some new summary sheets for subsections of the intended audience and more importantly I don’t feel like my original thinking was miles off the mark, just a bit  under-informed and lacking some focus.  So creating the rest of the report will also be made a little easier once I have digested the new material I have been pointed towards.

So thank you once more gentlemen and I look forward to meeting you again if the occasion arises.


Jul 072011

Within IGES, key people representing users (undergraduates, postgraduates, research staff and academics, external users) have been identified as ‘case studies’ to support the IGIBS and demonstrate the beneifts for teaching and research.

Within IGEs, undergraduate students have access to a wide range of modules.    This project will focus on the Dissertation module and also the third year modules “Geographical Information Systems” and “Earth Observation from Aircraft and Satellite”.   New material is being developed revolving around these latter two modules which will also utilise web-based mapping and the datasets made available for the Dyfi Biosphere.  The opportunities for undertaking dissertation work within the catchment will also be promoted to students as suprisingly (and for the first time in many years) none from IGES focus on the Dyfi.   However, we are talking to dissertation students in other Departments to seek their involvement.

Aberystwyth University has recently launched a suite of five new Masters Courses focusing on remote sensing and GIS, Geography, Planetary Exploration, the Living Environment and Computer Science.  The material collated for the Dyfi catchment will be playing a key role in these courses, with the content of modules also conveying techniques developed in IGIBS.   As a case study, Jonathan Brownnet (a current student on the Masters course Remote Sensing and GIS) is investigating the use of multi-temporal remote sensing data for quantifying forest change in the Dyfi catchment and its likely impact on hydrological dynamics.   His work is being followed as part of IGIBS. 

At the Ph.D. level, Alisdair Cunningham is working also on methods of change detection from remote sensing data and he will be providing datasets for the project which will be made available to students and staff within IGES.  Becky Charnock is also commencing a Ph.D. in September on examining whether changes observed from remote sensing can be related to losses or gains of floral and faunal diversity.   Becky previously worked on IGIBS and will continue to contribute.

Our Map Librarian staff, Antony Smith and Ian Gulley, are also helping to make the IGIBS a success.  In February, IGES launched its new digital map library which is providing students with opportunities to explore geographical datasets delivered over the web and to input their own.   A key component is to utilise the Map Library facilities such that the datasets acquired for the Dyfi are full available to the range of users.

We are also linking with external research organisations including Forest Research (Dr. Hugh Evans), the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW), EcologyMatters and the Welsh Government and helping to support a wide range of initiatives.   The project is also linking with the NERC Virtual Observatory project being undertaken at Aberystwyth University that also focuses on the Dyfi Biosphere.   There are also strong connections with the BIOSOS project through myself.   This project is focusing on using remote sensing data to characterise and monitor Natura 2000 sites, of which Cors Fochno (Borth Bog) is one.   A component of the project is to collect new datasets over the summer period which will be fed into IGIBS.

Steve Walsh is working to ensure the success of the project over the next four months and will be putting up blogs on a near daily basis so stay tuned for updates.

 Posted by at 10:34 Project Management, User Reqs Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Users of IGIBS: An update
Jun 062011

The two lists of benefits below is neither exhaustive nor mutually exclusive.

Any collaborative project can be a tricky balancing act and competing agendas is a well known rock upon which many a ship has foundered.  Significant effort was expended when putting the IGIBS proposal together and at project initiation to make it clear we are concentrating on deriving mutual benefit.

Benefits to the wider university sector:

  • The demonstration of Shibboleth being used to protect public authorities data and services could lead to greater interoperability between the academic and public sectors
  • The “Best Practice model for using UK academic SDI at the departmental level” should provide guidance for other universities and assist EDINA and the JISC in developing the academic SDI.
  • Increased use and enhancements of key elements of the UK academic SDI, ie, Go-Geo! GeoDoc, ShareGeo.
  • If it works, the “WMS Factory” tool could become a service that EDINA offers.  A means of publishing data that will interoperate with the network services being established by the public sector
  • Equally, it is intended that the tool can downloaded and installed locally by any organisations (not necessarily just in the academic sector) who wishes to make it easier for their users to publish data
  • The mapping application could emerge in the longer term as a key (geospatial) component of a future Dyfi Biosphere web presence, and not just in respect of research and education.
  • The mapping application could be an example of an application integrating public and academic sector data that can be repeated elsewhere

Benefits to the host institution (in this instance, the Institute of Geography and Earth Science at the Aberystwyth University):

  • Improved provision of educational resources (inventory of data, collection of data and knowledge of data access services) related to the local area, ie, the Dyfi Biosphere Reserve area
  • Greater understanding of open geospatial interoperability standards feeding into course development
  • Greater understanding of research data management issues potentially leading to improved departmental practices

What is not listed above are the benefits that might reasonably be expected to accrue outside the academic sector.  For example, to the public sector and to citizens, eg, people living within the Dyfi Biosphere area.  While the latter is not the primary focus of this short project, we are mindful of the role of academia and the need to make broader community contributions where possible.

 Posted by at 20:12 Project Management Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on 2 of 7: Wider IGIBS Benefits to Sector & Achievements for Host Institution
Jun 032011

The overall aim of the IGIBS project is to try and improve the relationship between the UK’s National Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) as manifested through the UK Location Programme (UKLP) and the UK’s academic SDI.

Our main objective is to focus on use cases emerging from research and education related to a particular area – the UNESCO designated Dyfi Biosphere Reserve.  Once articulated, these user requirements will drive the creation of two pieces of software of wider applicability and assist Aberystwyth University in developing resources for use by local students.

We are building on much prior art, especially in the area of Access Control.  EDINA runs the UK Access Management Federation (UKAMF) and, while it might not be fashionable, the reality is that many SDI resources, eg, data and web services, are going to stay protected.  This is true both of INSPIRE at the European scale and the UKLP nationally.  We aim to show how Shibboleth (the open source software that underpins the UKAMF) can be used to enable a wider range of use cases, so that UK students can get access to both open and protected resources, eg, from UK public authorities like Welsh Government.

We expect that the main four products resulting from this project will be:

  1. Working prototype of a “WMS factory” tool
  2. Simple mapping application
  3. Best Practice model for using UK academic SDI at the departmental level
  4. Demonstration of UK access management technology being used to secure public sector services in combination with academic sector services

SDI is underpinned by open geospatial standards like the OGC’s Web Map Service (WMS).  The “WMS factory” tool will allow users to upload their data and instantiate a WMS so that their data can then be viewed online, via a simple mapping application, in conjunction with reference data from Welsh Government.

Shibboleth is already used in academia, we extend its use here to demonstrate how public sector data can be made securely available to authenticated and authorised users within academia.

The Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences (IGES) has ambitions to improve the way it educates students in the use of open geospatial interoperability standards and intends using the Dyfi Biosphere Reserve area as an exemplar.  To this end we are conducting an inventory of data for the area and creating a repository for educational use.  The “Best Practice model for using UK academic SDI at the departmental level” will feed into this activity as well as provide guidance for the wider university sector.

May 232011

Last Wednesday (18th May) I attended a meeting of the Dyfi Biosphere Research Forum at Aberystwyth University.  Chaired by Mike Woods of the Institute of Geography & Earth Sciences, the meeting showcased a selection of the wide range of different research activities that have taken place (or are underway) in the Dyfi Biosphere area.

  • Chris Lea (Welsh Assembly Government) gave the keynote stressing WAGs support for R&D in the area, particularly as it relates to the work of the Sustainability and Environmental Evidence Division
  • Palma Blonda (CNR, Italy) and Richard Lucas (Aberystwyth University) gave an overview of the EU funded BIOdiversity multi-source monitoring system: from Space TO Species (BIO-SOS) project
  • Mike Bailey (CCW): dipped into what is obviously a deep mine of personal knowledge of the area and presented on recent research in the core conservation zone of the Dyfi Biosphere
  • Mike Hambrey (Aberystwyth University): gave a fascinating presentation on the last glaciation in Wales with a focus on the Dyfi catchment
  • Paul Brewer (Aberystwyth University) outlined some surprising results in a presentation entitled “Altered morphodynamics in the tidally-influenced lower Dyfi: re-thinking catchment management, flood risk & material fluxes”
  • Yours truly (Chris Higgins) presented on IGIBS (IGIBS_BDB_Research_Forum_May11) emphaising that the project needs input, eg, via the questionairre from this group if it is to benefit Dyfi related R&D and bring further resources into the area
  • Mike Christie (Aberystwyth University) gave a very erudite presentation on a hot subject that I think we will be hearing a lot more about: Valuing ecosystem services
  • Ambra Burls (Independent researcher) and her guest Zena Willmot from Coed Lleol talked about very pertinent related work – Environment and health
  • Man (apologies, didnt catch the name and not on the programme) from Centre for Alternative Technology talked about the groundbreaking work CAT is doing in relation to “Building adaptation for climate change”
  • Finally, Michael Woods (Aberystwyth University) spoke on “The Dyfi biosphere in context: research from the Wales Rural Observatory.”  Again, very apposite, some very surprising insights and all the more interesting as coming at the question of Biosphere related research from a different angle

We had 20-30 minute at the end for a brief plenary discussion.  Lots of good ideas here but no time to go into any of them in any real depth. At the risk of pre-empting the minutes, IMHO, a couple of themes started to emerge:

  • Need to broaden the scope of the Research Forum to include greater representation from the social sciences
  • Must bear in mind the need to engage with the wider community
  • Terms of reference need nailed down
  • Lack of resourcing a problem

Of course, the IGIBS project has some resources (at least up until November 2011) and, as project manager, I volunteered that the project team would do what we can to help as long as it aligns with the project objectives.

The one thing we can help with is laying firm foundations for getting the most out of online Geographic Information and managing Dyfi Biosphere research related data.  Our hope is that the work we do in this short project helps you and others like you inititiate and execute future projects in the area.  To lay this foundation well, we need input from stakeholders in the Dyfi Biosphere and from the research forum in particular.  Please fill in the questionnaire, even if its only a partial response.

 Posted by at 20:13 Project Management, User Reqs Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Biosffer Dyfi Biosphere Research Forum meeting