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.
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.

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
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
Oct 102011
 

After some fantastic help from James Reid at EDINA we thought to put together a blog post summarising some of the conclusions we have come to over INSPIRE.

At this stage it may be  worth having a look at my earlier but less informed post regarding INSPIRE to understand how my understanding of the issues has progressed.

For INSPIRE to be something that universities need to spend time and money complying with, then there are several questions needing an answer. We are not in a position to answer all of them with 100% certainty but with the help of James here are some conclusions we have come to.

1. Are universities  “public bodies” or more accurately public authorities? This appears to be one area that the fog has lifted from. The INSPIRE Regulations will only apply to public authorities and James has taken the trouble to check out this area with Edinburgh  and is certain that universities are public authorities for the purposes of INSPIRE.  So one “Yes” to INSPIRE

2. Do universities hold and control datasets that match the data described in any of the INSPIRE data Annexes? After looking through the datasets collected for the IBIBS project I have found 11 (or about 5% of them) that match up with some of the data themes in Annex iii. The IGIBS data is probably not  representative  of the total extent of data held by Aberystwyth University and a data inventory of data held by some of  the academic staff would be needed to quantify the amount of INSPIRE data held.  So another “Yes” to INSPIRE

3. What is the public task of a university?  Here is where the situation becomes less clear.  There appears to be no public task defined for universities. The problem seems to stem from the fact the universities are not covered by the PSI Regulations and therefore have not needed to define a public task for themselves.  Again James has made some progress on this and pointed to a publication from the National Archives that helps explain the process 0f defining a body’s public task.  There has also been some slightly ambiguous advice from the Scottish Information Commissioner that includes a suggestion that it may be relevant for a university to seek legal advice over the  issue. So there seems to be no clear answer to this question. A case of  ”we dont know yet”

4. Do those data identified in 2 above relate to the public task of the university? Again until we know the answer to 3 above  we can only guess at the answer to this question. Commonsense suggests that research and teaching must be part of the task if it is ever defined. So my guess would be a “probable Yes”

5. Will there be any attempt to enforce the regulations? Again no way of knowing the answer to this and it may even involve some judicial intervention to clarify the situation. Strictly speaking if Universities are public authorities for the purposes of the INSPIRE Regulations then they are already not complying with INSPIRE as they have not established a complaints procedure to deal with questions over INSPIRE data provision as required by the Regulations. So currently a “NO” but with the uncertainty surrounding public task it could be a complicated or impossible job to enforce this regulation at present. So this will have to be a wait and see area.

 Posted by at 11:51 Uncategorized Tagged with: , , ,  Comments Off
Sep 202011
 

One of the goals of IGIBS is to allow users to generate protected WMS services using SAML-based access control. The technology behind this is based on  prior research done in the past few years by EDINA for the EU funded ESDIN project. The ideas produced by the project have been successfully tested within the OGC Shibboleth Interoperability Experiment – see also the INSPIRE2011 page on this blog.

In order to access a protected WMS generated by the IGIBS factory tool one needs either:

  1. A modified desktop client that supports the SAML ECP protocol.
  2. The browser-based IGIBS mapping client.

Anyone interested in using a desktop client to access IGIBS protected services is encouraged to download the EDINA-modified version of Openjump. Further information about how the Enhanced Client or Proxy (ECP) profile works is available at OASIS.

As far as browser-based clients are concerned, the main challenge in accessing a protected WMS from a browser is that AJAX applications use the XMLHttpRequest Object which does not support creating new cookies and HTTP redirects. These operations are however crucial for satisfying the requirements of the SAML2 Web-Browser SSO profile. This shortcoming also applies to OpenLayers which will not connect to a protected WMS without some extra configuration and JavaScript code changes. To that end, EDINA  has made available a patched version of Openlayers which allows XMLHttpRequest with cookies and redirection using a novel approach which is explained in detail here.

For the above reasons IGIBS browser-based client uses the EDINA version of OpenLayers as a base. Interested parties are very much encouraged to download it and provide feedback and/or criticism for further improvements.

 

Sep 162011
 

One of the main challenges in creating a WMS factory tool is to provide an intuitive way for end users to specify the rendering rules for the data they upload. Significant progress has already been made within IGIBS in calculating on-the-fly the minimum/maximum scale which is adequate for raster data. However, The cartographic rules mandatory for rendering vector data still needs to be manually specified by the user.

It is important to clarify that this is irrelevant to the SLD functionality for rendering custom vector data provided by OpenLayers. Loading all the vector data on the browser and letting the user change their style on-the-fly is not currently possible for the big datasets we are targeting. What we need is a javascript library that can query the features of a WMS and let the user specify styling rules for each feature based on certain criteria. This is unfortunately vendor dependent as a WMS GetFeatureInfo response is not standardised.

Possible approaches to specifying cartographic rules are to:

  1. Allow the user to upload an SLD file along with his/her datasets.
  2. Search for existing libraries that provide an SLD Editor functionality for a WMS.
  3. Implement a web-based WMS styling editor for a basic subset of the cartographic requirements that can be realistically implemented within a few weeks.

The first option assumes that a geographer using the service will have to write the SLD manually or use existing desktop GIS software that can export SLD files. This defeats the whole purpose of providing users with a tool to easily distribute their data as part of a fully functional WMS service and should only be used as a last resort.

The second option is an attractive one since web-based cartography is both important and missing. An independent project would mitigate the development to a central place, where different developers from different projects could contribute. Unfortunately there is no obvious existing tool that is feature-rich enough to provide the cartographic functionality of existing desktop software.

As a side note, there has been a promising initiative from OpenGeo to create a SLD editor that works with geoserver. A demo is available here. Unfortunately, after two years of development it does not appear mature enough and had no stable source code releases. Furthermore, it depends on openlayers and has therefore other shortcomings like the lack of support of multiple symbolizers per feature which is slated for the 2.12 release of OpenLayers.

The third option is the most reliable one for the short-term (i.e. next couple of weeks) and that’s the approach we are following. One can start with the basic rendering functionality using the most common styling rules: colour, width and transparency. Afterwards, a more extensive styling application can be developed to provide a long term solution to the problem of web-based cartography.

Please feel free to submit comments or suggestions bellow.

 

Jul 262011
 

Just a brief update on the progress of the project here at Aberystwyth.  We now have Lucile Lemaire visiting from France with her experience in vegetation surveying and she is hard at work recording data from randomly selected areas of the Dyfi Biosphere. This is time consuming work and made especially difficult as she is using public transport, bicycle and foot to access the survey areas.  These areas are often a long way from the nearest path and could involve long walks over very rough and or wet boggy ground.

There will be some 6 weeks of this survey work to be done and it will result in some very detailed information about the range of habitat types found in the Dyfi area. Crucially it will also allow Prof Richard Lucas to test the validity of his methodology for classifying habitat types with Remote Sensing techniques.  Briefly put; if Lucile’s vegetation descriptions match up with Richard’s predicted ones then he has shown the value of his system to classify habitats from data gathed by satellites or aerial surveys.

I have been developing a Data Management Plan for the IGIBS data over the past couple of days and witnessing the work that has gone into creating some of these data at first hand  highlights the importance of securing the integrety and access to data that is expensive in time and effort to collect.  There have been around two hundred datasets identifyied for the Dyfi Bioshere, so far, so just multiplying the 6 weeks Lucile will spend collecting data from a few hundred 10×10 m squre plots by 200 gives a very rough estimation of the work that these data represents.

The benefit of data managennt planning and the associated metadata creation and logging will mean that these data, possibly representing about 24 years of work, will be more discoverable,  more widley used and more cerafully preserved. If just one researcher discovers data that they no longer need to collect a second time then the work involved will have been time well spent. The Digital Curation Centers’s online tool for creating data managment plans can be found here

 

 

 

 

 Posted by at 17:13 phd Tagged with: , ,  Comments Off
Jul 202011
 

Alisdair is a PhD case study for the IGIBS project. He is 8 months into a PhD that is developing a tool to interpret almost ant kind of imagery into part of a time line for mapping habitat change.  You can view his university profile here.  He says that the key descriptors for this work are  “universal” and “precise”. So he is aiming create a tool that can be applied to images from Landsat , IRS  and SPOT for example and from these data  he is trying to draw out both changes in extent of habitats since 1975 and in timings of changes within a season. So he might be able to look at loss of semi-natural woodland through felling  and to identify changes in the timings of tree bud burst that might relate to climate change. 

In order to make  data created at different times precisely comparable he needs to perform some complex processing of imagery and to  filter out variable factors that distort the images, such as atmospheric quality.  This means that his data requirements for the PhD are very wide ranging and have covered satellite and aerial data from the past 35 years detailing ground cover, atmospheric quality  and many things in between. 

There are also issues around the accessibility of data that will be worth exploring for the IGIBS project as some of his source data is commercially protected but much of his output and analysis might be  more freely available. So some data will only be  for University use while other parts of his work will be more accessible.  

While the ultimate aim is to provide change maps for the whole of Wales, the pilot study is covering Borth Bog (Cors Fochno in Welsh) in the Dyfi Biosphere and so will provide a suitable case study for IGIBS. 

In particular this case study will highlight some major areas of the IGIBS project.

  1. His need for such a wide range of geospatial data  from differing  sources could  feed into recommendations for metadata and data discovery aspects as well as security issues and intellectual property rights.
  2. He will be producing maps of habitat change that could be useful to landscape researchers, WAG agencies, and many other categories of data users and so he is attempting to   establish a link with the National Library of Wales so that his research can establish a  resource for future use.