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ImageThe GI2008 Symposium  took place recently  in Dresden, Germany.  The symposium brought together a wide range of public, private and educational people, all interested in the pursuit of geoinformation and geospatial applications for sustainability purposes. As an educational and capacity building event, GI2008 featured many unique cross-border applications. Vector1 Media editor Jeff Thurston attended the event and reports on some of the many leading examples of  European projects in such areas as metainformation, catalog services, cross-border geospatial collaboration,  data search and  public information re-use and more.


The 8th Saxonian GIS-Forum was recently held in Dresden, Germany with nearly 100 people in attendance from across Europe. The symposium featured a strong inter-regional theme with many presentations originating from European Union funded projects under the 6th Framework Programme (FP6) thematic priority of sustainable development.

{sidebar id=136 align=left} The FP6 project NaturNet+REDIME figured prominently into the presentations under the program title ‘New Education and Decision Support Model for Active Behaviour in Sustainable Development based on Innovative Web Services and Qualitative Reasoning.’

Accordingly topics surrounding education and web technologies as they relate to geospatial topics were particularly present. A significant number of projects involved trans-border and inter-regional research and educational materials.

A Pre-Workshop was presented by Intermap Technologies of Munich, Germany who have recently completed the collection of data for their NEXTMAP Europe product, building upon earlier collected digital elevation model products. Rene Gunzkofer of Intermap showed a very interesting example of this data from Land’s End, UK which depicted the cliffs and tip of the furthest westerly point of the United Kingdom. He also indicated that 8 million square kilometres of land had been flown and the data was held in 55,150 tiles for the U.S.

Interesting details for Europe included the facts that 2.4 million square kilometres had been flown in Europe and the data was stored in 20,000 tiles. During data collection 65 reflectors were used in Germany and that it took around 2.5 months to cover the entire German land area. The company used 18 people to process the data and over 100 people were involved in editing the data. Data consists of three primary products including, ortho-rectified 2.0m Geotiff, digital surface model (DSM) 5.0m BIL format and digital terrain model in BIL format as well. Data is referenced to ETRS89 datum and GRS80 ellipsoid.

It was interesting to note the different levels of accuracy across the country, all exceeding specification, but including differences where terrain varied. Just as a matter of noting, it appeared to this writer that Berlin has some of the highest level of accuracy data in the complete NextMap Germany dataset. We can expect to purchase NextMap Europe data some time in mid-2009.

Karel Charvat of Czech Republic gave the Keynote address speaking about ‘NATURNET’ – Uniform Resource Management in the EU-FP6, a project about managing sustainability information together. He indicated that a Google search of information on the topic of sustainability would draw 60-100,000 references, but that it would be difficult to define their relevance. As a consequence standardised metadata and field based searches would be preferred he said. Information should have a context awareness.

The Uniform Resource Management (URM) is a framework for sharing information and is designed to increase access to information using a focus on visualisation and analysis. Its main parts include searching and catalogue services and collaborative tools. URM components included:

  • thesaurus – for well known hierarchical systems

  • geospatial thesaurus – with geo-parsers and geo-coders

  • catalogue services – to find individual portals

  • metadata scheme – to define structure

 

{sidebar id=137 align=right}In operation URM includes Moodle (e-learning web application), MapMan (Map composer application), PDF documents (documents) and WORD documents (metadata creation). MapMan is a Map Project Manager for MapServer and is a tool for users to create map projects and compositions. The system has now been integrated into the work of NaturNet, LivingLab WIRELESSINFO and URM.

Czech Living Lab – WIRELESSINFO is a project oriented to the development of applications based on collaborative technologies to improve processes in territorial decision making. There are three directions of activity:

1) applied research of geospatial technologies

2) standardisation efforts in national, European and world wide scale

3) implementation of mobile and geospatial solution into everyday life through its members

The work is ideally suited to meet the goals and objectives of spatial data infrastructures (SDI), collaborative decision tools and collaborative environments. As a result this work is valuable for cross-border applications and situations where numerous different groups need to come together in a collaborative fashion and is based on open source and freeware tools. It includes several technological instruments including metadata system (MICKA), spatial data management system, spatial data analysis tools based on GRASS, mobile solutions and a eLearning system.

Jorg Schaller, Director at ESRI Geoinformatik began by informing the audience that the company is celebrating 30 years of ESRI in Germany. He pointed out that there is difficulty in finding people to work in the company because of a shortage of skilled labour. “Education is lagging behind technology,” he said. This is also a common theme that several people in the GIS and CAD fields have been saying around the world. Schaller indicated that there is a need to standardise and archive data better because there is so much of it and it continues to grow. “The sources of data and costs of data remain high,” Schaller said.

He described the ESRI software portfolio and indicated that desktop software is fairly simple to use for individuals but that the trend is toward many people gaining access to data and consequently depending upon server technologies, particularly for moving data between organisations and individuals, thereby increasing access and use. He mentioned the use of JAVA, SOAP, REST, OPENLS, J2ME and ArcXML in the ArcGIS product line. Examples of the modelling and the use of ESRI ModelBuilder were shown and he described how the City of Munich is using these tools for handling environmental modelling.

It was interesting to learn that ESRI is operating ‘Girls for Technology’ camps as a way to increase the number of women in the field. Schaller also described the education efforts that ESRI is involved in including location analysis, environmental modelling and many other disciplines.

Creating Content with eLML (eLesson Markup Language) is a project Joel Fisler presented. It is an open learning management system and is based on the concept of building pool of educational materials that can be used between users and cross-purposed. For use it can include different layouts, all compliant to standards.

Thus it can be seen that standardisation provides a mechanism for re-purposing. The real question Fisler pointed out was, “how can we write lessons in a consistent manner?” Different people think in different ways and also conceptualise differently. He mentioned the use of one XML file as a means to re-purpose and suggested the possibility of creating different styles mapped with different schema. Outputs included XHTML, PDF, SCORM, ODF etc.)

The quest Fisler dwelled upon was oriented around the need to have sustainable content. Furthermore, there is a need to have many authors, thus an abundance of diversity in the material to create a large enough pool of resources that could be re-purposed. He mentioned the need to check data for validation reasons prior to including it into layouts and design. Overall eLML provides a means to re-purpose information for educational purposes where different layouts can be used.

Walter Mayer of ProGIS gave a Keynote presentation entitled ‘ICT Solutions for a Future, Managed by Farmers and Foresters Producing Food/Feed, Biomass and a Healthy Environment’ In his view the major drivers today are climate change, food production and a need for more IT/ICT to solve problems. Mayer described WinGIS, a GIS platform that was one of the first object oriented GIS and capable of connecting to many databases. It include programming functions for developers and is focused on farmers and foresters.

{sidebar id=138 align=left} Mayer suggested that “it is not necessary to buy resolution twice.” He further asked the audience to think about history over different time periods before asking, “what’s history?” He then described the numerous functions within WinGIS including the AGROffice capabilities that tie the complete agricultural workflow and business processes into the software. Mayer suggested that “farmers should be able to participate” when operating their own farms and the software enables them to do that.

Andreas Hergert described FGIS – Online, a web based application being used by the Staatsbetrieb Sachsenforst (State Forestry agency in Sachsen – www.sachsenforst.de), an area covering 18,411 square kilometres It includes the Sachsen Atlas (www.atlas.sachsen.de) and the web client GEOMIS. Metainformation is available on the site and the terraCatalog available from Conterra in Germany is being used.

Intergraph was present and Markus Schaffert, education sales representative in central Europe described a hydrological grid application built on GeoMedia 6.0 covering 25 sq. km. And used for educational purposes. The course includes data and WORD documents with a step-by-step analysis for training new GIS users. Students import raw text files and create a grid and perform a cell-by-cell analysis, creating hydrological boundaries and more. It is a 9-part course (www.ikgis.de/intergraph).

Dirk Bolitz outlined the ‘Current State of Cross-Border Collaboration on EU-Programme INTERREG III.’ This project included the border region of Saxony-Poland, Saxony-Czech Republic. Objectives included dealing with convergence, regional cooperation and employment and European territorial cooperation. He pointed out that the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) had increaed from 75% to 85% over the 2000-2006 period and that there were now higher demands on the projects. He suggested the need for common project preparation, common realisation, common staffing and common financing all served to make these types of projects successful. Priorities were divided into social, economic and environmental elements. Other changes included the establishment of one lead partner in these types of projects who would be responsible for overall project goals and have responsibility for same (www.sn-pl.eu).

ePSIplus (www.epsiplus.net) is a European Union funded project that promotes the sharing of public information throughout the EU. Under the title ‘Review of the EU Public Sector Information (PSI) Re-Use Directive -Towards Global Action,’ Chris Corbin delivered a presentation. “2008 is an important year,” he said. Citing the fact that independent nations need to be working toward PSI initiatives, “this is a global push.” Corbin said that a significant legal basis supports PSI including several laws such as:

 

  • Data Privacy

  • Database Protection

  • Access to environmental information

  • Re-use of Public Sector Information

  • Intellectual Property Rights

  • INSPIRE

All of these sit atop Directives, but Corbin also indicated “that this was long story,” reflecting on the fact that the EU has been working toward these objectives for about 30 years. It was also interesting to learn that the OECD has been running similar initiatives and created a Directive on PSI. Corbin indicated issues remain with the UK National Mapping Agency over free use of spatial information, and he also asked “is the public sector in tune with the Internet today?” This question being one that many people are asking around the world as they seek better eGovernment services. “The way forward is to find best practices but member states need to be doing the work rather than having it forced top-down.”

{sidebar id=139 align=left} Ales Pekarek is probably one of few people in the world pursuing education on the topic of PSI. Discussing PSI experiences at Charles University in the Czech Republic he said that PSI was not fully exploited and that “problems remain with metadata and transparency.” He suggested that more research was needed and none is being done in the Czech Republic. Also, there is a lack of awareness about PSI with no holistic approach present. It was particularly interesting to learn of the replies he received from agencies to a questionnaire he mailed out, asking for public information. Some simply responded that they did not know what he was talking about, others were still searching information and yet others indicated that he could not have access to the information he requested. He teaches a course on the topic of PSI and students are quite interested he indicated.

‘Cartographic Presentation of Environmental Information in Ecophysiographical Study of the Dolnoslaskie Voivodeship’ was given by Przemyslaw Malczewski. The scope included a characterisation of the legal framework involved, modelling content and providing an Internet service. Planning began in 2003 with discussions on how participates wanted to use the areas, discussion on investment possibilities and diagnosing the present state of the environmental area. The project will create general and synthetic maps indicating ecological restraints and is considered to be the first ecophysiographical map of Poland. The work is completed by several dozen agencies and includes 50 layers in 12 thematic areas. He did mention that “INSPIRE is hard to get going in Poland,” citing issues of the government unwillingness to work more closely with the EU.

Sabine Witschas spoke on the topic ‘Searching the Treasure – How to Find Geodata Throughout Europe.’ She pointed out the difficulties of actually acquiring geoinformation using available services through example. The metadata was of heterogenous status with multi-lingual geonames often used. “A need exists to have relevant skills in search and rules and regulations for storing information,” she said. “Geoportals are not ready yet to use” and it may be a case to get better results using search enginesby keywords or synonyms/syntax/diacritics. She cited the fact that many geoportals are about development rather than use and that ontologies for them were not very helpful. “The INSPIRE portal returns 806 results in text but no graphical maps,” she said. “Why is that?”

Other issues included problems filling in fields on access pages where terms were not well known. “To find data in Google is also dependent on language” and “particular browsers must be used for finding data in Holland.” She cited one case in Portugal where 1160 graphics (maps) were returned when searching for data and said, “we need more research on geospatial catalogues.” “Dictionary’s are gragmentary in most cases.”

Highest needs Witschas pointed out were:

  • multi-lingual data access and consistency

  • knowledge strategy

  • search engines

  • translation abilities

  • online dictionaries

  • Geonames, metainformation, interfaces

  • geospatial semantic web

{sidebar id=140 align=right}

GI2008 was an interesting event to attend for several reasons. Firstly, it is one of few conferences in the European Union that focuses on GI and cross-border applications. It brings together many people who are developing the products and services within the research and education community. Secondly, the symposium has a strong educational dissemination component.

This particular event allowed attendees to see and learn about the connection of sustainability to education. Thirdly, the symposium transcends the public, private and educational sectors bringing together all three. This, in my view, is rare in European conferences and a valuable way for building capacity because of the enhanced opportunity for dialogue, learning and communication. Frank Hoffman and the various committee’s involved are to be commended for a job well done and organising a very good program.

 

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