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A Research Agenda for Geographic Information Science at the United States Geological Survey Summary Comprehensive and authoritative baseline geospatial data content is crucial to the nation and to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). To maintain its prominence, realize its potential, and fulfill its mission to develop and distribute these national data assets in a fast-moving information technology environment, USGS needs a coordinated geographic information science (GIScience) research presence that provides the scientific underpinning for these operations and exerts leadership in research that is critical to serving USGS’s unique role. USGS founded its Center of Excellence for Geospatial Information Science (CEGIS) in 2006 to perform this task. BACKGROUND The USGS consists of major programs in the areas or “disciplines” of biology, geography, geology, water, and geospatial information. CEGIS resides in the National Geospatial Program Office (NGPO) within the Geospatial Information Office of the USGS. CEGIS is currently small, with three full-time equivalent (FTE) positions, a budget of $1.2 million per year to support an additional two to three USGS researchers and four to six FTE equivalent support staff, and a further $1 million for seven multicollaborator projects that were funded in FY 2007. The center’s mission is to “conduct, support, and collaborate in research to address critical geographic information science questions of importance to the USGS and to the broader geospatial community” and “as an outgrowth of and complement to this research program, CEGIS will support and collaborate in technological innovations that further the implementation of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure” (CEGIS, 2006). STATEMENT OF TASK Given CEGIS’s size and resources, it needs focus among the huge list of possible research topics encompassed by its mission. Consequently, USGS
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A Research Agenda for Geographic Information Science at the United States Geological Survey asked the National Research Council’s Mapping Science Committee to convene a study panel charged to Identify current and future USGS needs for GIScience capabilities; Assess current capabilities in GIScience research at the USGS and recommend strategies for strengthening these capabilities and for collaborating with others to maximize research productivity; and Using knowledge of the current state of the art in GIScience, make recommendations regarding the most effective research areas for CEGIS to pursue. Over the course of 11 months, the committee met three times and received input from many sources (Appendix B). Given the short time frame, USGS urged the committee to focus on “what should we do and how should we do it”—primarily the second and third tasks—and to rely on published material to address the first task and the first part of the second task. RECOMMENDATIONS With a focused agenda as the key goal, initial attention is needed to research that will improve the capabilities of The National Map, which includes map layer databases, web map servers, and The National Map viewers. This USGS product, which was first envisioned and implemented in 2001, is “a database of continuously maintained base geographic information for the United States and its territories that will serve as the Nation’s topographic map for the 21st century” (USGS, 2001). The National Map is the USGS vehicle for providing authoritative data content that has broad application within and beyond USGS. Success with The National Map is the prerequisite for any additional GIScience research at CEGIS. This success will then return fundamental, visible benefits to CEGIS, to NGPO in which CEGIS is located, and to the USGS disciplines of biology, geography, geology, and water, while tackling some of the most significant GIScience topics confronting the geospatial community. RECOMMENDATION 1. CEGIS should initially focus on research that will improve the capabilities of The National Map. Even with a focus on The National Map, the list of potential CEGIS research topics is large. Consequently, the committee drew on expert testimony and its own experience to develop eight prioritization criteria: CEGIS research should (1) be important to The National Map; (2) be important to USGS disciplines; (3) be relevant to society; (4) solve a problem and target a customer; (5) be foundational, understandable, and generalizable; (6) enable multidisciplinary
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A Research Agenda for Geographic Information Science at the United States Geological Survey integration; (7) focus on data content; and (8) show potential for early, visible success. These prioritization criteria led to the committee’s recommendation for CEGIS’s initial general areas of research and guided subsequent recommendations for detailed research within these areas. RECOMMENDATION 2: The three priority research areas for CEGIS should be (1) information access and dissemination, (2) integration of data from multiple sources, and (3) data models and knowledge organization systems. Investigating New Methods for Information Access and Dissemination. Access to information content by users is a key success factor at many levels for The National Map. The USGS disciplines need effective data access to carry out their missions. Other federal and state agencies need effective interfaces to The National Map content so that their organizations can maximize productivity when working with national and local data. This priority also supports society in general, since citizens need access to a trusted, up-to-date source of geospatial data for the nation that is easy and flexible to use. This diversity of users, from government agency experts to ordinary citizens, represents a significant challenge for effective information access and dissemination. In addition, this is an area with potential for visible early success enabling interim milestones in CEGIS’s longer-term research agenda. Supporting Integration of Data from Multiple Sources. Given the diversity of source data from state and local agencies as well as many add-on themes and the desire for multidisciplinary research across USGS, achieving efficient and accurate data integration is fundamental to the effectiveness of The National Map and will be a unique feature of The National Map relative to other online geospatial data sources. Within USGS, researchers in the biology, geography, geology, and water disciplines will need to find common reference data in The National Map and be able to load and share their thematic layers. Furthermore, the types of models and forms of spatial analysis that are increasingly needed to solve social and environmental problems will require that spatial data sets can be integrated in real time. CEGIS will have to find solutions to integrating data with widely varied quality, scale, and resolution. Developing Data Models and Knowledge Organization Systems. To support society in general, The National Map will need both the semantic flexibility of a well-designed framework and models that enable a variety of user queries. This research will transform The National Map database into a comprehensive geographic knowledge base enabling knowledge discovery and analysis far beyond the typical mapping portal. This objective will likely require the most research effort, but will deliver enormous power to The National Map application and lead to its clear differentiation from other web-based products.
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A Research Agenda for Geographic Information Science at the United States Geological Survey Under each of these three general research areas, the committee recommends a series of narrower research topics and associated research questions and suggests whether they can be answered in the short term (one to four years) or the longer term (four to eight years; Table S.1). Two topics under each research area require initial attention by CEGIS. All six research topics are derived from a critique of the present National Map and focus on the most important areas for improvement. These topics are summarized in the following paragraphs. RECOMMENDATION 3: The two priority research topics within the area of information access and dissemination should be to reinvent topographic maps in an electronic environment and to investigate user-centered design for The National Map web services. A well-designed and user-friendly map browser is essential for effective use of USGS data and map products. More importantly, however, topographic maps are among the essential brands of the USGS and a basis for The National Map. In the digital mapping age, CEGIS has the opportunity to conduct research that will transform well-designed traditional paper topographic maps into an electronic, web-based, multipurpose utility. Immediate attention is required to innovative formats and designs to reinvent topographic maps in the electronic environment. Also, to accomplish effective usability of The National Map, user-centered design (UCD) will result in the best solution for its users. UCD for The National Map web services will improve the usability of map viewers, web mapping services, and data themes by accommodating different needs for cartographic display and GIS functionality. Substantial results should be achievable in a short time on both research topics. RECOMMENDATION 4: The two priority research topics for CEGIS within the area of data integration should be generalization and fusion. Integrating spatial data sets from a wide range of sources presents a fundamental research challenge for CEGIS. Data integration may require many types of operations or techniques. For example, data fusion includes merging and linking information elements such as map features and images that could be disparate in scale, resolution, and quality. Generalization reduces the information content of maps due to scale change, map purpose, intended audience, and/or technical constraints. The National Map will require CEGIS researchers to develop unique generalization operations that can be automated for the many possible data types and map scales. Despite more than a decade of research on the topic, fusing disparate data sources together is still a significant challenge to be confronted by CEGIS.
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A Research Agenda for Geographic Information Science at the United States Geological Survey RECOMMENDATION 5: The two priority research topics in the area of data models and knowledge organization systems should be developing geographic feature ontologies and building the associated feature data models and gazetteers. Transformation of The National Map database into a comprehensive geographic knowledgebase can bring new dimensions to topographic information delivery and revitalize the role of the USGS as provider of geographic information and a valuable geospatial integration framework. The National Map cannot respond to simple queries such as “where is Canyon X” because it simply does not know what a canyon is. The use of geographic feature ontologies can formally define a set of geographic features to enable knowledge discovery through such queries. Table S.1 lists the research topics and questions generated by the committee under each of the three research areas identified in Recommendation 2.
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A Research Agenda for Geographic Information Science at the United States Geological Survey TABLE S.1 Summary and Time Lines of Recommended CEGIS Research Areas, Topics, and Questions Research Area Research Topic (Bold = Priority Topic) Research Questions Time Range Information Access and Dissemination Innovative formats and designs to reinvent topographic maps in an electronic environment 1. What is the widest range of scales that can be mapped only by adjusting map symbols combined with selectively removing feature types? Short term 2. What is the minimum amount of change to map symbols and content that provides the maximum scale range maintaining topographic map usability? Short term 3. What is the stability of topographic map design (with the goal of establishing a coherent set of designs that function from coarse to fine resolutions through scale change)? Short term 4. What should be the visual hierarchies for the base National Map layers? Short term 5. How should USGS select a subset of automated and manual approaches to visual hierarchies to provide a tool that effectively serves the largest number and variety of National Map users seeking to answer geographical questions that are not served by commercial point-to-point navigation tools (e.g., Google Maps, MapQuest, Yahoo!)? Short term 6. What is the optimal combination of types and number of symbols for an inexperienced user to create an effective topographic map and accommodate a data overlay on a topic of interest using web tools? Short term
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A Research Agenda for Geographic Information Science at the United States Geological Survey User-centered design (UCD) for implementation of The National Map web services 1. With the goal of updating and evaluating The National Map viewer user interface, (a) what types of user interfaces are appropriate for The National Map viewers, (b) does The National Map need different viewers for different users and map contents or is a single one appropriate, and (c) what kinds of communication methods are effective for disseminating geospatial information through web browsers? Short term 2. Will new web mapping technologies, such as vector-compression algorithms, AJAX, and Adobe Flex, improve the usability and system performance of The National Map servers and general web mapping applications? Short term 3. What is an appropriate standardized user testing and evaluation method for assessing and improving the effectiveness of National Map products? Short term Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Standard Profiles for The National Map web mapping services and map layer design 1. How should USGS create OGC standard profiles (which are a subset of standard specifications and customized standard content) to bring layers in The National Map databases into conformance with OGC standards? Short term 2. How can USGS overlay well-positioned labels with clear categories and hierarchies on top of symbolized features dynamically set to foreground and background depending on user interests? Short term
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A Research Agenda for Geographic Information Science at the United States Geological Survey Integration of Data from Multiple Sources Generalization 1. What are the specific new generalization operations and algorithms that will be needed for The National Map? Short term 2. What feature-based generalization is needed for The National Map (the focus would be on a specific feature, such as a stream, and approaches needed for stream generalization) and how can that be accomplished? Long term 3. What new kinds of measurements will be needed to determine locational conflicts between USGS features? Short term 4. What are the effective scale ranges for fusing two layers together, and how does generalization affect fusion? Long term Data fusion 1. What are the data quality issues related to spatial data integration and fusion? Short term 2. How can areal interpolation—as a key method for fusing aspatial data with spatial data—be applied in The National Map? Long term Data Models and Knowledge Organization Systems Geographic feature ontologies 1. What are the key sets of topographic features portrayed within The National Map layers that should be explicitly represented in ontologies (these might align with the set of features already identified within the Spatial Data Transfer Standard; USGS, 1994)? Short term 2. What are the formal operational definitions for these features, their parts and structures, and their relationships to other features? Short term 3. What automated feature extraction methods are derivable from these operational definitions? Short term
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A Research Agenda for Geographic Information Science at the United States Geological Survey Ontology driven data models and gazetteers 1. How does a geographic feature ontology operationally support a National Map feature database? Long term 2. How can the collection, validation, modeling, and management of vernacular names be facilitated? Short term 3. How can the creation of more detailed or smart feature footprints be automated? Short term 4. How can the implications of fuzzy footprints in gazetteers be managed? Short term Quality-aware data models 1. How can sampling distributions of complex objects be defined and managed (e.g., reduce them to points in some N-dimensional shape space)? Long term Data models for time and change 1. What can be learned from spatiotemporal use cases for advancing spatiotemporal models for The National Map? Long term 2. How is change effectively represented in spatial data sets? Long term 3. How can process-based models be used to improve data quality or quality awareness in The National Map? Long term Transaction Processing 1. What is the transaction processing logic for complex spatiotemporal transactions among National Map and other USGS databases? Long term
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A Research Agenda for Geographic Information Science at the United States Geological Survey To address these research topics, CEGIS needs a sustainable research management process involving a portfolio of collaborative research that balances short and long-term goals. This will require an in-house staff of Ph.D.-level scientists (including postdoctoral fellows and visiting scientists) working in small teams on each research topic. CEGIS should fund external research on these same topics through directed or competed grants (for shorter-term topics) and support of university centers (for longer-term investigations). To develop future research directions driven by user requirements fed through the National Geospatial Technical Operations Center, USGS disciplines, and The National Map design team, the center should host specialist meetings, consult an advisory board, and track developments and lead discussions within the GIScience community. The committee makes the following recommendations in this regard: RECOMMENDATION 6: CEGIS should initially comprise six to eight Ph.D.-level scientists working in teams of at least two on the high-priority topics identified in Recommendations 3 to 5. Each team would comprise a mix of USGS scientists and visiting scientists and/or postdoctoral fellow(s) as appropriate to the topic. Their location should not be constrained to USGS facilities if the most efficient progress could be made in another setting (e.g., an academic center of excellence). Placing USGS researchers at university centers of excellence in GIScience would potentially be of great benefit to cultivating CEGIS’s GIScience leadership. These centers would extend the research reach of CEGIS and focus on longer-term projects. RECOMMENDATION 7: CEGIS should establish and/or support one to two centers of excellence in GIScience at universities with relevant GIScience focus and capabilities that address its longer-term research challenges. Since not all required research can be conducted with a small internal team, to extend the scope of research CEGIS could utilize contracting mechanisms to accomplish part of its research agenda. This outsourced research could be performed with academic or industrial entities. RECOMMENDATION 8: CEGIS should supplement the work of its core research teams with Broad Area Announcements, Cooperative Research and Development Act agreements, and targeted contracts on high-priority research topics.
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A Research Agenda for Geographic Information Science at the United States Geological Survey By liaising with other agencies with GIScience research activities and coordinating on topics of common interest, CEGIS could piece together a national geospatial research agenda. In addition, significant work is being performed in private-sector firms and professional societies. Relationships with these activities are critical to CEGIS. Collaboration with other agencies and organizations doing GIScience research is crucial to realizing a national need to integrate these activities and is also crucial to establishing the leadership of CEGIS and the USGS in GIScience for the nation. For example, the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) is a leader in generating interoperability standards for web mapping applications. There are many OGC standards closely related to the development of The National Map and other USGS products, such as Web Map Services (WMS), Web Feature Services (WFS), Web Coverage Services (WCS), and Catalog Service for Web (CSW). Reenhancing strong connections between USGS and OGC will ensure interoperable web mapping services in USGS products and support their broader usage and accessibility. RECOMMENDATION 9: To reestablish USGS’s leadership role in GIScience, maximize efficiency, and share in the cost of addressing common challenges, CEGIS should forge connections with other federal agencies, professional societies, and private-sector firms that conduct, support, and/or promote GIScience research. A major tenet of The National Map is its aggregation of highly relevant and timely local data from states and counties. Some of these entities have made significant progress in the application of GIScience, and mutual benefits would accrue to each with explicit collaboration. RECOMMENDATION 10: Because of USGS’s core role in integrating data from local sources for The National Map, CEGIS should establish collaborative activities with state and local agencies that have progressive activities in GIScience. Visibility in the geospatial community will be vital to USGS’s reemergence as the nation’s GIScience leader. CEGIS could participate in and lead key events and sessions to establish its role in the nation’s GIScience activities. RECOMMENDATION 11: CEGIS should use specialist meetings, perhaps in conjunction with the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science winter meeting or summer assembly, to advance its state of knowledge and plans for addressing emerging research challenges.
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A Research Agenda for Geographic Information Science at the United States Geological Survey An advisory board that includes the other disciplines of USGS would foster channels of connection and communication with these disciplines, as well as providing a path for defining requirements and research needs. The disciplines would benefit by having influence on the research agenda of CEGIS to suit their needs. RECOMMENDATION 12: To provide broad-based input, review, and critique of CEGIS plans, activities, and progress and to institutionalize CEGIS’s connection to the USGS disciplines, the National Geospatial Program Office should establish an advisory board for CEGIS that includes members from each of the USGS disciplines as well as non-USGS GIScience experts. With these actions, and a focus on the research areas recommended in this report, CEGIS could become a nimble, dynamic, cutting-edge research unit that emerges as the critical research engine underpinning USGS’s capability to supply the nation’s authoritative geospatial base content. Although the committee’s charge was to suggest an agenda for this early phase of CEGIS, it is assumed that as CEGIS grows in resources and expertise, it will expand to encompass research into broader areas of GIScience. The committee believes that in the future, not only could CEGIS provide the structure to conduct research—its approach could establish GIScience leadership for the USGS.
Representative terms from entire chapter: