It has been said that 80% of all research data has a geographic or spatial component.
- Getting started: get inspired by geospatial data saving lives and kick starting our economy
- Learn more: geospatial metadata is often the ‘missing link’ for cross disciplinary studies - find out how to fill in this missing link
- Challenge me: R, free GIS and Fusion are all available to tempt you for this Thing!
The importance of spatial data is ever increasing. Many of the societal challenges we face today such as food scarcity and economic growth, are inherently linked to big spatial data. In fact it is often said that 80% of all research data has a geographic or spatial component. It’s useful then, for all of us to have an understanding of spatial data.
- Start by watching this incredible, inspiring video (3.59 min) from the The University of Wollongong’s PetaJakata project. It shows innovative ways of combining social media and geospatial data to save lives.
- Now read why GIS Mapping Technology is a Powerful Tool for Humanitarian Aid
- Geospatial data is fundamental to Australia’s economic future. Check out this article about how GeoScience Australia is mapping the mineral potential of our continent - a world first.
Just for fun: enter your address in the Atlas of Living Australia and see what birds and plants have been reported in your street or suburb. You may be surprised at how ‘alive’ your street is.
Consider: why do you think these geospatial visualisations are so powerful?
Learn more: Searching for spatial data
What data is available for my area?
Many data portals offer a spatial search option for discovery of datasets. This can be a very powerful way to find a wealth of data about a particular location. Let’s look at a couple of examples.
Option 1: Research Data Australia (cross disciplinary)
- Go to Research Data Australia and choose Map Search from under the search box.
- Zoom in on a location in Australia and use the rectangle tool at the top of the map to draw a search box around your chosen location. Hint: choosing somewhere on the coast (such as the Newcastle area) will give you a wider range of datasets.
- Then click on the green Search button
- Browse through your results and look at the list of provider organisations and subject headings for the records in your result set. Hint: if you got mainly one sort of data, try making your search box bigger.
Option 2: CSIRO Data Access Portal (mostly Science related)
We will use the Search by Location function in the CSIRO DAP. We used the Simpson Desert region in South Australia and we got over 300 datasets.
- Zoom in to an area you are interested in.
- Click on the Draw Area tab at the top of the map and draw an area box.
- Hit the Search button.
- Look over your search results to understand the amazing work of the CSIRO.
Reflect: were you surprised by the breadth of data available for your location? What new research questions could be explored because of the diversity of data search results for your chosen location?
Challenge me: Hands on with spatial data
There are many types and sources of geospatial data. And there are many tools you can use to manipulate and display spatial data.
If you’re new to the world of geospatial data, you’ll probably appreciate some ‘busting’ the jargon of geospatial data.
- Start by reading this blog post on Finding and Making Sense of Geospatial Data on the Internet which explains some basic geospatial data file formats and concepts.
- Browse down this blog post Using Open Source GIS tools for spatial data – QGIS, GDAL and Python which talks about open source tools for manipulating geospatial data.
Ready to get hands on?
You can try one of the tools below without having to download software. Do one, or do all and compare the results.
Option 1: 13 Free GIS Software Options: Map the World in Open Source
Browse through this site for ideas for free, open source geospatial software. The descriptions often include discipline specific advice. Download one and try your hand at mapping.
Option 2: Spatial data visualisation with R
For those who have done the R modules in Software or Data Carpentry, this might be a good activity to flex your R muscles (note you need to scroll down page 5 of the PDF to get to the tutorial).
Option 3: Create a map using Google Fusion Tables
This offers lots of features, but you need a google account. The excellent Google Fusion tutorial uses butterfly data to show you how to import data, map the data and customise your map.
Consider: the data world is hungry for Geospatial tools and metadata and there is growing demand for people with these skills. How can these skills be encouraged in your institution?