Nottingham Geospatial Institute

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.


Research themes

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.

  • 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
  • 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
  • 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.

  • 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 
  • 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.

  • 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.

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)
  • 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.


Current Projects

Past Projects

  • AGIS: Advanced Geospatial Information and Intelligence Services; project team:  Mike Jackson, Adam Rousell.
  • COBWEB: Citizen Observatory WEB, FP7 funded; project team:  Mike Jackson, Didier Leibovici, Sam Meek.
  • EDIT: Extraction of Disaster Information from Text, funded by the CIMA Research Foundation; project team:  Kristin Stock, Stefania Traverso (CIMA), Valentina Cerutti.
  • ELOGeo: E-learning for the Open Geospatial Community, funded by JISC in partnership with Mimas Centre of Excellence at the University of Manchester; project team:  Jeremy Morley, Amir Pourabdollah, Suchith Anand, Adam Rousell.
  • GEOTHNK: An EU Lifelong Learning Programme; project team:  Mike Jackson.
  • GRASP-GFS: Geospatial Resource for Agricultural Species and Pests, with integrated workflow modelling, to support Global Food Security, 2013-2014, BBSRC-funded; project team:  Mike Jackson, Didier Leibovici, Sam Meek.
  • NaturalGeo: Developing methods for automated interpretation of geospatial natural language, funded by Ordnance Survey; project team:  Kristin Stock.
  • OSM-GB: Measuring and improving the quality of OpenStreetMap for Great Britain, funded by 1Spatial; project team:  Jeremy Morley, Amir Pourabdollah.
  • THE ISSUE: Traffic Health Environment, Intelligent Solutions for Sustaining Urban Economics, FP7 funded; project team:  Mike Jackson, Suchith Anand. 
  • eSoTer: Delivering a web-based regional pilot platform with data, methodology and applications, using remote sensing to validate, augment and extend existing data; project team:  Mike Jackson, Didier Leibovici.
  • EuroGEOSS: European Global Earth Observation System of Systems, funded by the European Commission 7th Framework Programme; project team:  Mike Jackson, Didier Leibovici, Kristin Stock, Amir Pourabdollah.
  • D-Scent: Raising challenges to deception attempts using data scent trails, EPSRC funded; project team:  Mike Jackson.
  • OS Future Data: Identifying the likely challenges that future technological and market developments will have on Ordnance Survey products, OSGB funded; project team:  Mike Jackson, Suchith Anand.
  • SWIMA: Sensor Web for Infrastructure Management, funded by a QinetiQ led consortium and UK Technology Strategy Board; project team:  Mike Jackson

Nottingham Geospatial Institute

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

telephone:+44 (0)115 95 13880
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