Craig Bachmann & Natasha Léger are partners in ITF Advisors, LLC, an independent consulting firm with a focus on next-generation strategy and on translating the increasingly complex new media business environment’s impact on business models, markets and users.



The State of Spatial Data Infrastructure

Geospatial web-based infrastructure, or the GeoWeb as it is known today, created by the ability to exchange complex geodata through such standards as GML(Geographic Markup Language)[1] and KML(Keyhole Markup Language),[2] is a game changer in the way geodata are consumed, analyzed, visualized, and distributed. The second annual GeoWeb Conference, held in Vancouver July 25-27, 2007, is a testament to this change. Galdos, a middleware company for next-generation GIS, teamed up with GITA(Geospatial Information Technology Association) to co-host GeoWeb2007.

Ron Lake, CEOof Galdos and developer of GML, has a vision for powering the GeoWeb; Henry Rosales, Deputy Executive Director of GITA, says that GITAmembers are looking for faster web-based solutions to infrastructure (water, utilities, telecommunications, roads, transportation, etc.) operational issues.

Figure 1 Leica Geospatial Instant Messenger. This is the primary communication protocol to chat, discover, download and retrieve geospatial data and web services from Leica. It allows users to publish geospatial data and web services for others to access and retrieve.

Figure 2 Leica TITAN Client - 3D MyWorld is a free web-based application based on a 3D Digital Earth. It enables a global network of users to visualize, share and discover data interactively. The base imagery in the client is streamed from GlobeXplorer.

Together they attracted approximately 200 decision makers from around the world, including such industry leaders as Jack Dangermond, Founder and President of ESRI; Vint Cerf, Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist for Google; Michael Jones, CTOof Google Earth; and Vincent Tao, Director Local Search and Virtual Earth of Microsoft, to discuss the vision of web-enabled GISand I/RS(Imaging/Remote Sensing).

This was first and foremost a software technology conference with a focus on new consumer and business applications. Beyond the now traditional 2Dweb presentation, there were innovations such as multi-media integration of applications and video into a 3Dspatial landscape. Leica Geosystems Geospatial Imaging demonstrated the power of multi-media in geospatial sharing through Leica TITAN, an online data-sharing solution including a Geospatial Instant Messenger (GeoIM) and a 3DMyWorld. Amy Zeller, Visualization Product Manager for Leica Geosystems, describes the GeoIM as "a geospatial data bridge" that enables users (including government and commercial data providers, GISdata clearinghouses, and city, county, state and federal agencies) to access data from other users' geospatial data shares into any application such as ArcMap, uDig, or Google Earth, and to communicate real-time in Leica TITAN's 3Donline world environment.

Where the GeoIM provides other users with access to your data, the Leica TITAN client allows users simply to present their geospatial profile, including location-based content, to others in a 3DMyWorld. Figure 1 illustrates the seamless communication enabled between users with the GeoIM and the ability to access datasets shared by others. The 3Dglobe rotates to allow others to see your profile, including geospatial data and content such as camera feeds, screenshots and ancillary information. Figure 2 illustrates how users can rotate the 3Dglobe to switch among other users' 3DMyWorlds.

I/RSwas a backdrop to many of these new applications. In other words, the I/RSimage increased in value and information to the user based on the number of attributes overlaid onto that image. Some call this ‘layering,' or in the Web2.0 world—the ‘spatial mashup.' Traditionally, structured data is overlaid on images such as census data, weather data, or economic data. Now, with such java script extensions as GreaseMonkey and such geotagging software as MetaCarta, unstructured information can be easily turned into structured information, and customized maps can be generated on the web.

‘Expressive mapping,' coined by Mansoud Raad, Senior Architect for ESRIArcWeb Services, is the future of analyzing and interpreting data. Mr. Raad demonstrated several examples of expressive mapping, including an interactive book that provides an overlay of more information with each page turn, a multi-media map that incorporates sound and video into the map, and the ability to map unstructured data such as news events to determine a pattern of behavior, for example among extremists and terrorists. Expressive mapping takes visualizing data, whether it's business, political, social, or environmental, to an entirely different level. With expressive mapping, the user determines the relevant inputs and the visual presentation.

Figure 3 Image of Alaska on June 29, 2004. Massive smoke plumes cover Alaska from fires that burned over 6.5 million acres. True color imagery MODIS Bands 1, 4, 3 from NASA’s Terra satellite. This image also appears on the cover of this issue.

In the midst of Web 2.0 vendors, the surprising innovation in I/RScame from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF). UAF is the only arctic university in the United States and supports over 40 research institutes and centers that focus on issues affecting the Arctic Region. Aclearinghouse was needed to manage the volumes of geospatial data, in particular I/RSdata, consumed by these research centers. Software applications did not exist to address the problem of viewing imagery that crosses the dateline or that includes the North Pole. UAF set out to solve two problems: cataloging all their remote sensing data and then providing a service enabling users to select geographically and to browse visually the imagery intersecting their search region through an interactive browser-based tool. SwathViewer is the visualization tool that emerged and was developed by the Geographic Information Network of Alaska (GINA) to improve polar research.

SwathViewer provides near real-time images of 50-60 polar orbiting satellite passes a day, compared to a six-to-eight hour delay if visiting NASAor NOAAsites. This advantage became particularly critical to the Alaska Fire Service, Bureau of Land Management, as they were fighting forest fires in 2004, when forest fires burned 6,523,182 acres across Alaska. The smoke was so thick that aircraft were unable to launch, because there was no runway capable of recovering the aircraft that was not completely socked in with smoke. Asatellite orbits the earth about every 90 to 100 minutes, and with optical I/R, can see fire, clouds and smoke. Massive smoke plumes can be seen over Alaska in Figure 3 on page 11. With SwathViewer, the Alaska Fire Service was able to browse imagery to monitor fire conditions until the smoke cleared sufficiently to allow aircraft operations to resume two days later.

UAF is able to provide real-time data because it has its own ground stations to receive the satellite feeds. "What different-iates SwathViewer from other web-based mapping tools is that we are first to get the imagery because of our ground stations, we are first to enhance the imagery, and we are first in making it available to users through a web-based lightweight viewer," said Kevin Engle, Research Programmer and Ground Station Engineer for GINA.

Figure 4 The MacKenzie River is the longest river in Canada, covering a distance of 1,470 km. The river originates at the Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories and flows north to the Arctic Ocean. The image taken by Terra satellite clearly shows the turbid (green to brown) freshwater runoff into the blue Arctic Ocean waters.

SwathViewer automatically enhances the imagery to correct brightness and contrast variations, producing incredible images. The SwathViewer datasets are focused on Alaska and the polar region, but are not limited to viewing only Alaska. Figure 4 illustrates the freshwater runoff from the MacKenzie River in Canada into the blue Arctic Ocean waters. Global datasets are available online or you can add your own by pointing SwathViewer at a web mapping service (WMS) of your choice. "As a publicly funded institution, UAF would like to make SwathViewer more broadly available to the public and is looking for a partner to help commercialize it and meet that objective," said Diane McLean, University of Alaska IP Director.

The GeoWeb Conference presented many tools and few strategic questions. Web 2.0, in its infancy, has found advertising as a means of funding a number of tools that don't seem to solve a clear problem. Instead, the problem to be solved appears to materialize once people have access to new tools. As long as land and water, labor and capital remain factors of production and are fundamental to food, shelter, and safety, a map is a fundamental organizing principle. The GeoWeb, including Digital Earth, presents an unprecedented opportunity to integrate volumes of data into meaningful presentations that improve decision making. Information and the ability to make better and faster decisions is the competitive advantage of the future.

Editor’s Note Imaging Notes brought you the 5th International Symposium on Digital Earth in June (, a gathering similar to the GeoWeb Conference ( An overview of The Digital Earth Symposium is in our September eNewsletter.

Next-Gen Integration

The web-based geospatial data infrastructure is here. Is the enterprise ready for it? Web 2.0 and the GeoWeb present a challenge for traditional enterprises and organizations that seek to control the flow of information both internally and externally, and to control the tools used by employees. Susan Ancel, General Manager, Network Services and Operations for EPCORWater Services and past President of GITA, acknowledged this tension in her closing remarks and left attendees with the following strategic question: "How does an enterprise integrate the new, innovative, off-the-shelf geospatial consumer applications such as GoogleEarth and Microsoft Virtual Earth with legacy enterprise GIS systems?"

End Notes

  1. The OpenGIS Geography Markup Language (GML) Encoding Specification is an XML encoding for the modeling, transport and storage of geographic information, including the spatial and non-spatial properties of geographic features.
  2. KML is a file format used to display geographic data in an Earth browser, such as Google Earth, Google Maps, and Google Maps for Mobile. KML uses a tag-based structure with nested elements and attributes and is based on the XML standard.
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