Nottingham Geospatial Institute

  • Print

Geospatial science

The geospatial science group engages in all areas of geoinformatics research, resulting in collaborations across many disciplines and institutions. Research is undertaken in both long term fundamental challenges and shorter term applications-orientated issues. Our current research is focused on these sub-themes:

  • AgriGIS
  • This is a platform for cross-disciplinary research into the application of geospatial science to agriculture, in genetic diversity for example. This might include identifying new sources of trait variation, planning breeding objectives with local knowledge input, and evaluating the effect of climate change scenarios.

    Rapid developments in data collection and dissemination technologies include positioning, broad-band mobile comms, sensor platforms, spatial search and pervasive computing. These are fundamentally changing access to, and use of, location-based data in agriculture.  But, in order to transform raw data and information into useful intelligence, the cooperative involvement of multi-disciplinary scientists is necessary.

    Research objectives:

    • Research into an open source/standards based framework, for cross-disciplinary geospatial data and models integration, exploiting genetic trait diversity in animal and crop breeding, to support food security analysis at different scales.
    • Providing an interoperable platform compliant with GEOSS, for geospatial risk assessment of pests in agriculture. 
    • Development of a GEOSS architecture using integrated workflow modelling and geocomputation, to refine models supporting food security planning scenarios, linked to crop selection and climate change. 
    • Working together with colleagues in Malaysia, within the WikiCrop/CropLink framework, to support the Crops for the Future initiative of the CFFRC.

    Research projects:

    • Geospatial Resource for Agricultural Species and Pests with integrated workflow modelling to support Global Food Security - GRASP-GFS. Funded by BBSRC (current). 
    • Open Source based Geospatial Resource for Agricultural Species and Pests (GRASP).
      Funded by UoN Seed Corn project (completed).
    • Assessing the feasibility of monitoring and modelling crop growth using a low-cost unmanned aerial vehicle. Funded by Bridging the Gaps Next Generation Feasibility Award (completed).

    PhD studentships:

    • How does geography affect or reflect genetic variation in bambara (a variety of groundnut)? 
    • Interactive quality assessment of crowd-sourced location data or agricultural research.


    • Crops for the Future Research Centre, Malaysia – Sayed Azam Ali, Sue Walker, Asha Karunaratne.
    • Open Source Geospatial Lab, UNMC, Malaysia - Tuong Thuy Vu.


    • AgriGIS 2012 - Advancing Geospatial Technologies in Agricultural Research in CFFRC Malaysia.
      Conference proceedings.

    Sub-theme leader: Didier Leibovici 


  • Geo Health Informatics
  • One hundred and fifty years ago, John Snow demonstrated the value of spatial relationships, by combining cholera death and water pump locations to predict the development of infectious disease outbreaks.

    Today’s technologies, and advances in GIS, computing, modelling, statistics, sensors and geo-standards, enable the application of powerful spatial analysis tools to support health and epidemiological research. We are currently focussing on:

    • Health informatics and Open Source Geospatial software
    • Geospatial health
    • Geohazards and health
    • Volunteered Geographical Information (VGI)
    • Public health/epidemiology and the environment

    Selected publications:

    • Pawlowicz, S., Leibovici, D., Anand, S., Ye, C., Jiang, W., Jackson, M. Participatory health surveys. Edinburgh Open Source,   Geo & Health Symposium/Workshop, GECO (Geospatial Engagement & Community Outreach), Edinburgh, August 2011.


    • Open Source Geospatial Health Workshop, in collaboration with the Open Source Specialist Group of the British Computer Society and GECO, August 2011.
    • Workshop on Health GIS, funded through the Bridging the Gap Award, February 2010.



    • Health Science, University of Nottingham
    • Centre for Healthcare Associated Infections, University of Nottingham
    • School of Public Health, Imperial College, University of London
    • CISCAI ASEAN Foundation

    Sub-theme leader:  Didier Leibovici


  • Geoinformatics and Data Modelling
  • What is Geoinformatics?
    Informatics is the science of information, the practice of information processing, and the analysis of information system development. Geoinformatics therefore refers to the application of this science to the geospatial realm, with its particular objects, goals and challenges. It combines geospatial analysis and modelling, the development of geospatial databases, information systems design, human-computer interaction and wired and wireless networking. It is concerned with structure, algorithms, behaviour, and interactions of any system with a geospatial aspect, examining how information is stored, processed, and accessed.

    Geoinformatics is not merely the application of technology to geographical systems and the geosciences - it is far more. Geoinformatics must develop its own conceptual, theoretical and even philosophical foundations of how we interpret the world around us, and its geographical attributes. How best to model geospatial data is fundamental to geoinformatics.

    Science first, then technology....
    There is a demand to process geospatial information digitally - we, however, prioritise scientific analysis first, with the application of technology only following in its wake. It is only through application of scientific method that the best solution to a problem domain can be formed, whether using Relational Databases, Object Oriented Models, XML or Semantic Web.

    Irregular and semi-structured data
    Geospatial science is a vibrant domain owing to the irregularity of data. The world will simply not fit into neatly packaged schemas or universal ontologies. And yet no contemporary theory of data seems up to the task. NGI pioneers research in geospatial models, attempting to address this gap. Resulting theories and technology have been integrated into the NGI-led Reality Markup Platform (RAMP) initiative.

    Members play an active role on associated committees and boards:

    • OGC Inc. Board of Directors
    • Executive Committee and OGC Europe Board
    • GEOSS Common Infrastructure Coordinating Team


    Sub-theme leader: Jeremy Morley


  • Geospatial Intelligence (GI or GEOINT)
  • There is no single definition of Geospatial Intelligence (GI or GEOINT). Whilst GEOINT relates closely to defence and intelligence agencies (signals, human and imagery intelligence), we use it in a wider context, considering it to be collection, analysis, integration and management of geospatial data, from which required information are derived.  GI is more than just information - intelligence implies the use of that information to then make inferences about the world around us to solve specific questions. 

    Geospatial data is collected over time, at differing spatial scales, from sensors with different characteristics,   metadata descriptors and categorisation. Understanding the statistical implications of these differences is an active area of our research, most evident in the EuroGEOSS project.

    We undertake a range of GI research including: spatial analysis; positioning, tracking and prediction; data collection technologies; sensor-webs; and spatial data infrastructures.  Much of this is in collaboration with  colleagues in other NGI research themes. Together, we are looking at new ideas for positioning individuals and assets.


    Selected publications:

    • Hobona, G., Attardo, C., Laurini, R., Jackson, M., Pla, M., de Zorzi, S., Breu, A., Roussey, C., Kmiecik, A. Considerations for harmonising cross-border geospatial datasets. In: Proceedings of Challenges in Geospatial Data Harmonisation.    Workshop at the 12th Conference of the Association of Geographic Information Laboratories in Europe (AGILE), Hanover, Germany, 2nd-5th June 2009.

    Sub-theme leader: Mike Jackson


  • Interoperability and Standards
  • Our research is in the context of Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) and ISO standards wherever appropriate, and work towards the development of new standards for interoperability, where not.

    We are focussed on the European INSPIRE Directive, with funding from several EU Programmes. In 2007 the Directive established an infrastructure for spatial information in Europe, to support Community environmental policies. It addresses 34 spatial data themes used by environmental applications, and requires common Implementing Rules be adopted throughout the EU, to ensure that spatial data infrastructures are compatible in a cross-boundary context. The application of interoperability to NGI research is particularly evident in the EU funded projects GIS4EU, EuroGEOSS, GIGAS and eSoTer, the joint AGILE/EuroSDR/OGC Persistent Test-Bed project and the Technology Strategy Board sensor-web funded SWIMA project.

    We play an active role on associated committees and boards:

    • OGC Inc. Board of Directors
    • OGC Inc. Executive Committee and OGC Europe Board
    • UK Location Information Interoperability Board
    • UK Location Council User Committee
    • GEOSS Common Infrastructure Coordinating Team


    Selected publications:

    • Hobona, G., Jackson, M., Anand, S., de Zorzi, S., Leibovici, D. Web-based harmonisation of intergovernmental geospatial data using ontologies. IEEE Intelligent Systems, 2010.
    • Stock, K.  Review of van Oosterom, P. and Zlatanova, S. (editors). Creating spatial information infrastructures: towards the spatial semantic web. Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing, 2010.

    Sub-theme leader:  Mike Jackson 


  • Location Based Services (LBS)
  • Applications which register facilities and services relevant to a user’s location and context (particularly those accessed by smart phones) are called Location Based Services or LBS. So far, the LBS market has failed to develop fully owing to: in the first decade of the 21st century, GPS-enabled mobiles were too expensive for the masses, positioning accuracy was inadequate, and user oriented data sets were not available. This is changing, and NGI is at the fore of this research.

    LBS required data come from different sources, but these have not traditionally collaborated to ensure data-sets accuracy were compatible or interoperable. For a number of LBS propositions there are no current dependable commercial sources.  Ad-hoc consumer driven data capture approaches have evolved, but this still leaves issues of compatibility, completeness and integrity.

    Our research has a particular focus on the challenges of generalisation/schematisation/visualisation, interoperability, middle-ware architectures, positioning and tracking, data and semantics. We are working with other disciplines within NGI on for example ubiquitous positioning technologies, based on a combination of positioning inputs, improved and interoperable datasets, better usability for the small screen, semantic interoperability to allow for the best use of ‘crowd-source’ data.

    We are developing new frameworks in which location based services can flourish.

    Sub-theme leader:  Mike Jackson


  • Open Source Geospatial Research
  • NGI leads the UK Open Source Geospatial domain. We are actively involved in multiple Open Source geospatial initiatives, being the Chair of the International Cartographic Association (ICA) Commission on Open Source Geospatial Technologies, co-chair of the Open Source GIS Conference series, and a founder member of Erasmus IP Summer school in Open Source GIS.   We establish and support Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo) activities in the UK, including the Open Source Geospatial Lab - key to the development of open-source geospatial software technologies, training and expertise in the UK.

    ICA Commission on Open Source Geospatial Technologies
    Suchith Anand (NGI) and Thierry Badard (Laval University, Canada) are the chairs of this ICA Commission. The Commission aims to promote multi-national research in free and open source geospatial technologies to make the latest developments in free and open source tools available to the wider cartographic community, especially for education.

    The Open Source GIS (OSGIS) Conference Series
    This was established by NGI in 2009. Suchith Anand and Mike Jackson chair the conferences, which are jointly organised with the Open Source Geospatial Foundation UK Chapter. They have a strong international focus, bringing together high profile international speakers and delegates from government, academia, industry and open source communities. Conference presentations are made available as webcasts.

    Open Nottingham
    In implementing the Open Nottingham programme, the University embraced an agenda of open access to teaching. A number of initiatives fall under Open Nottingham - some use open source licensing, whilst others adopt a less formal, but equally open philosophy.  We strongly support this programme and lead its open source, open standards, open data theme. More ...

    Open Source GIS Education and Training
    ELOGeo (E-learning for the Open Geospatial Community) is a JISC-funded NGI project in partnership with the Manchester Mimas Centre of Excellence. ELOGeo addresses the provision of infrastructure for educating, transferring knowledge and training users and researchers on the effective use of open geospatial services, by providing a set of methodologies, tools and materials. The courses target researchers, non-geospatial experts and members of the general public who want to use open data, standards and tools.

    Erasmus Open Source GIS Summer School
    The Summer School is organised jointly by the Geographical Information Systems and Remote Sensing Centre (SIGTE) of the University of Girona (Spain), the Lahti Centre of Aalto University School of Science and Technology of the Aalto University (Finland), NGI and the Institute for Research on Urban Sciences and Techniques (IRSTV) from the Ecole Centrale de Nantes (France).

    The course materials are at the Summer School website.

    Open Source Geospatial Lab, UK
    The Open Source Lab was established in 2010 with an MoU with the Open Source Geospatial Foundation. It aims to coordinate open source GIS activities and develop best practices and collaboration between academia, industry and government.

    Advisory Board:

    • Arnulf Christl, OSGeo President
    • Ari Jolma, Aalto University, Finland
    • Martin Daly, Cadcorp
    • Chris Holcroft, Association of Geographic Information
    • Steven Feldman, KnowWhere
    • James Passmore, British Geological Survey
    • Ian Holt, Ordnance Survey, UK
    • Gobe Hobona, Envitia, UK
    • Jo Cook, Astun Technology, UK
    • Maria Brovelli, Politecnico di Milano, Italy
    • Phil Davis, GeoTech Center, USA

    We play an active role on associated committees and boards:

    • ICA Commission Chair for Open Source Geospatial Technologies
    • Scientific Committee for Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial (FOSS4G)
    • GIS Research Community for The Open Source Observatory and Repository for European public administrations (OSOR)

    Open Source Geospatial Lab, Malaysia
    Tuong Thuy Vu (Geography, UNMC) is leading development of a the first Open Source Geospatial Lab in Malaysia, with the same aims as the UK Lab.

    Sub-theme leader:  Suchith Anand


  • Geospatial Semantics, Ontologies, Language and Cognition
  • Work under this sub-theme can be divided into three broad areas:

    1. Semantically-enabled Spatial Data Infrastructures
    2. Vernacular Geography
    3. Geospatial Natural Language

    Application areas: Research has been applied in a number of different thematic areas, including marine science, forest fires, droughts, biodiversity and urban environments.

    Sub-theme leader: Kristin Stock

    (1) Semantically-enabled Spatial Data Infrastructures

    This work considers how to include richer semantic representations in SDIs, to improve resource discovery, addressing both knowledge representation and architectures. Research includes:

    • Geospatial ontology alignment to allow resources annotated with concepts from different ontologies to be discovered, with queries in any ontology.
    • Finding semantically similar concepts across ontologies.
    • Annotating scientific resources with ontologies, to aid discovery there, and in semantically similar thematic areas.
    • Creating standards-compliant registries to allow semantic annotation and query using ontologies and feature type catalogues, with OWL, RDF and Open Geospatial Consortium Standards.

    Relevant projects include:

    Figure: The interface for COMPASS scientific knowledge infrastructure


    • Stock, K., Reitsma, F., Ou, Y., Bishr, M., Ortmann, J., Stojanovic, T., Robertson, A. To ontologise or not to ontologise: foundations for an ontology-registry for a geospatial knowledge infrastructure. Computers and Geosciences. 45, 98-108, 2012.
    • Stock, K., Cialone, C.  An approach to the management of multiple aligned multilingual ontologies for a geospatial Earth observation system. GeoS 2011: Fourth International Conference on Geospatial Semantics, Brest, France, 12-13 May 2011. Lecture Notes in Computer Science (LNCS) 6631.
    • Stock, K., Atkinson, R., Higgins, C., Small, M., Woolf, A., Millard, K., Arctur, D. A semantic registry using a feature type catalogue instead of ontologies to support spatial data infrastructures. International Journal of Geographical Information Science 24(2) 231-252, 2010.

    More publications ...

    (2) Vernacular Geography

    Parallel to (1), we are researching vernacular geography (VG), which refers to place names and vague geographical extents in everyday use. Investigation into our cognition of space, and methods for capturing these ideas digitally, is necessary to allow vague perceptions to be analysed. VG provides alternatives to official names, and spatial descriptions which map poorly onto official boundaries.  Individuals often refer to places informally, for example I’m going into town.  If an official designation exists for an area, such as an administrative boundary, it is unclear as to how individual perceptions differ - studies suggest administrative boundaries and other spatial factors do influence such perceptions.

    The growth of the Internet obviates the need for efficient geographic information systems - 13-15% of search engine queries contain a place name, necessitating retrieval mechanisms for the unstructured Web.  Such mechanisms are in the field of geographic information retrieval, requiring the ability to process vague geographic terminology. This ability to consider vagueness extends to the development of interfaces based on more natural language.

    Current research uses text documents in retrieving geographic information from the Web, with most viewing the Web as a pool of data to harvest or mine for place-related content.

    We advocate an alternative, where participants contribute gazetteer data directly, but as a secondary purpose to the Web system. We recognise that VGs have imprecise boundaries – these may be vague for an individual and opinion on boundaries varies from one individual to another. Consequently, we aim to allow user-defined areas harvested, to be modelled as having fuzzy areal definitions.

    Research questions:

    • Can vague areas be actively elicited from a social media application to create a gazetteer?
    • How do such areas compare with those obtained from mining other geo-tagged data and official definitions, such as those captured by the OS?
    • How does the social media source type affect the boundaries derived?
    • How do we use the vague areas in computer-aided decision making?
    • Do we need to resolve the areas to Boolean boundaries or can we use fuzzy logic?
    • What more can the degrees of fuzziness tell us about the cognitive processes that define place?

    Other work in this area includes the development of the Nottingham Corpus of Geospatial Language (NCGL), in which we created a database of official place names, enriched with vernacular place names harvested from a number of sources.

    Relevant projects include:


    • Stock, K., Pasley, R.C., Gadner, Z., Brindley, P., Morley, J., Cialone, C. Creating a corpus of geospatial language. COSIT 2013: Conference on Spatial Information Theory, Scarborough, UK, 2-6 September 2013.

    (3) Geospatial Natural Language

    Work is focused on the interpretation of natural language when related to spatial location.  Natural language is a language used in an everyday sense.  This often combines spatial relations, place names (official or not) and geographic feature types. What we have done so far:

    • Use of linguistic semantic primitives from Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM) to express the semantics of spatial objects, relations and their behaviour, and to formalise these NSM representations to support natural language querying.
    • Creation of the Nottingham Corpus of Geospatial Language (NCGL), containing 10k clauses of natural language describing spatial location, as a resource for future research.
    • Context-sensitive interpretation of natural language expressions, so that they can be mapped to geospatial queries that are executable in geographic information systems. or spatial data infrastructures.  This includes work on qualitative spatial reasoning (QSR).
    • Exploration of navigation language to study the interaction between spatial cognition and language (with English Studies). We use applied linguistics methods to explore how people ask for/give directions in various transport modes - as a pedestrian, by bus or car. We are interested in the geographical objects referenced in the directions, and their form - third on the left, 100m on the left, left by the church.  By understanding the language of navigation, we can better inform the geographical databases used to support automated direction-giving, and the manner in which directions are output.

    Relevant projects (inter-relationships described) include: 


    • Makefest - Places in Literature, 2010

    Selected publications:

    • Stock, K., Pasley, R.C., Gardner, Z., Brindley, P., Morley, J., Cialone, C. Creating a corpus of geospatial language. COSIT 2013: Conference on Spatial Information Theory, Scarborough, UK, 2-6 September 2013.
    • Du, H., Alechina, N., Stock, K., Jackson, M. The logic of NEAR and FAR. COSIT 2013: Conference on Spatial Information Theory, Scarborough, UK, 2-6 September 2013.
    • Stock, K., Cialone, C. Universality, language-variability and individuality: defining linguistic building blocks for spatial relations. COSIT 2011: Conference on Spatial Information Theory, Belfast, Maine, USA, 12-16 September 2011.
    • Stock, Kristin. Determining semantic similarity of behaviour using natural semantic metalanguage to match user objectives to available web services. Transactions in GIS, 12(6), 733-755, 2008.



  • Spatial Data Infrastructures (SDI)
  • The US Office of Management and Budget in its Circular A-16, August 19, 2002, established a coordinated approach to electronically develop the US National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) describing this as “the technologies, policies, standards, human resources and related activities necessary to acquire, process, distribute, use, maintain and preserve spatial data".

    Twenty years ago there were heated debates about the relative merits of raster and vector approaches to representing geographic data. Whilst this debate raged, many geospatially relevant technologies were developing - imaging, communications, search and analysis.  This resulted in huge inefficiencies in data analysis and data application, as users dealt with compatibility issues between the various specialist third party tools available.

    We are now entering an era of broad-spectrum interoperability, with standards addressing data interoperability, and services that can be chained, using business process management software.  Clients can find servers and invoke operations as if the clients and servers were part of a stand-alone software system. This original vision of the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), has been increasingly realised through the work of OGC members building open interfaces and encodings, in a well-documented and highly disciplined consensual process.

    This vision fed the concept of NSDIs, with an initial focus on issues of data, metadata, clearinghouses and data coordination. Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) policy makers began tracking the emerging concepts of interoperable information processing, embracing the vision of pervasive Web-based environments for the collaborative development, and the use of geospatial information and services.

    In the EU in response to the INSPIRE Directive, many agencies are coordinating their SDI activities. In Canada, GeoConnections, a national program led by Natural Resources Canada, provides guidance for all government agencies to join the Web-based Canadian NSDI. In the US, the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) promotes the coordinated development and interoperability of geospatial data on a national basis, administering the National Map and Geospatial One-Stop. In Australia and New Zealand, the inter-governmental council (ANZLIC) coordinates spatial information management, working with other agencies such as Geoscience Australia, to provide a range of national datasets and manage access to the Australia Spatial Data Directory (ASDD).

    As interoperability becomes a reality, and increasingly diverse data sources are merged and operated on in a synergistic manner, we are beginning to see a wave of innovation in geospatial services. Interoperability influences, and is influenced by, the convergence between discrete technologies such as data collection and sensor webs, mobile broadband communications, spatial search and visualisation.

    But are things changing too fast for agencies responsible for NSDI to keep pace?

    It is pleasing to see innovative growth and bottom-up initiatives from industry and NGO’s that cut across institutional domains that traditionally characterized SDI. It is exciting to observe the accelerated pace of SDI development, enabled by the many novel and productive connections made possible by standard interfaces and encodings that we and colleagues have created.

    But we must recognise that technological change brings challenges. Academics, commercial and public sector policy planners must acknowledge their responsibility to carefully examine the rapidly evolving interplay of technology and market forces.  We are experiencing significant and largely unplanned change due to the rapid evolution of geoprocessing, which significantly affects society’s ability to assimilate new capabilities and practices efficiently into the market process. This will have major and potentially very negative consequences unless properly managed.

    Fast development and converging technologies can be, and frequently are, disruptive technologies. If the disruption were only creative destruction of slower-moving technology providers, it would be of limited concern. But creative destruction can also apply to the efficiency and integrity of government programs and policies. The problem is more complicated than workers adjusting to new business processes or recasting of job descriptions to fit new geo-enabled workflows.

    The above text is drawn from: National spatial data infrastructures: coordinating framework or battleground for the management of geospatial data; Jackson, M. J., Schell, D., Taylor, D.R.F. GIS Professional. Issue 28:20-22, 2009; and explains the motivation for much of the SDI research at NGI. SDI research has been a key component of the Centre’s research programme.


    Selected publications:

    • Stock, K., Robertson, A., Small, M. Representing OGC Geospatial Web Services in OWL-S Web Service Ontologies. International Journal of Spatial Data Infrastructures Research, 2010.
    • To ontologise or not to ontologise: Foundations for an ontology-registry for a geospatial knowledge onfrastructure.  Stock, K., Reitsma, F., Ou, Y., Bishr, M., Ortmann, J., Stojanovic, T., Robertson, A. Computers and Geosciences, 2010.

    Sub-theme leader:  Mike Jackson



    Theme staff

    • Robert Abrahart (associate, Geography)
    • Svenja Adolphs (associate, English Language and Linguistics)
    • Timothy Brailsford (associate, Computer Science)
    • Michele Giordano 
    • James Goulding (associate, Horizon)
    • Chris Greenhalgh (associate, Computer Science)
    • Mike Jackson
    • Didier Leibovici
    • Sam Meek
    • Jeremy Morley (theme leader)
    • Gary Priestnall (associate, Geography)
    • Sarah Sharples (associate, Human Factors)
    • Kristin Stock
    • Suchith Anand 

    Theme research students

    • Shah Amerudin
    • Mark Dimond
    • Heshan Du (with Computer Science)
    • Henry He
    • Hawani Idris
    • Mark Iliffe (with Horizon DTC)
    • Laura Kinley (with Horizon DTC)
    • Sergiusz Pawlowicz
    • William Preston (with Horizon DTC)
    • Abdur Rahman (with Horizon DTC)
    • Julian Rosser (with Horizon DTC)
    • James Sprinks (with Horizon DTC)
    • Mercedes Torres (with Computer Science)
    • Emily Webber (with Human Factors)
    • Hao Ye

    Nottingham Geospatial Institute

    Nottingham Geospatial Building
    The University of Nottingham
    Triumph Road
    Nottingham, NG7 2TU

    telephone:+44 (0)115 95 13880
    fax:+44(0) 115 95 13881
    email: Email Us