Dispatches from GEO XIII: New GEOSS Portal Intended to Engage Researchers and Public

EarthzineGEO/GEOSS News, Original

The new GEOSS Portal has been launched, and the renovated interface offers GIS tools and mapping layers intended for everyone from researchers to journalists and the general public.

A screenshot of the new GEOSS Portal.

A screenshot of the new GEOSS Portal.

The power of maps is that they can communicate complex concepts in a single image. For an international organization like the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), maps offer a way to generate interest in or demonstrate the practical value of datasets. A new layout of the GEOSS Portal is intended to help provide a single access point to a multitude of data sets while providing mapping layers that give the data meaning and geographic context.
GEOSS, the Global Earth Observation System of Systems, is a massive effort to catalog and disseminate information. GEOSS coordinates data sharing for more than 200 smaller systems of data collection, which in turn represent the research of thousands of individual data providers. The new GEOSS Portal, implemented and managed by the European Space Agency (ESA), uses a search-based approach and mapping layers to help users navigate that data.
Colangeli demonstrates the GEOSS portal at the ESA booth in the GEO XIII exhibition hall. Image Credit: Author

Colangeli demonstrates the GEOSS portal at the ESA booth in the GEO XIII exhibition hall. Image Credit: Author

Guido Colangeli, an engineer working under contract for ESA, sees this new portal as a way to bring individuals access to specific data sets they are interested in and new data about which they may have no prior knowledge.
“It’s our convening power of (bringing) users to resources in an intuitive way,” Colangeli says. “In the portal we make the connection between the users and the data.”
The home page of the portal is simple. The search can be conducted to sort by keyword, data source, or a specific location. The location search uses Google Street View, so in addition to entering GPS points, searches also can be made using addresses or points of interest. A search for a location zooms in the map to the area selected, while a keyword search yields a list of different sources of information. A specific source can be selected to download data or add a layer to a map. All data used in the resource are open access.
“That’s the powerful (part),” Colangeli says. “The free and open data GEO has put out.”
Because the data providers to GEOSS are varied, so too are the data options available. Observational data sets cover a range of topics, including health metrics, ecological data and meteorological data. Colangeli says this variety gives the GEOSS portal the potential to be useful not just for researchers, but for the public and private sector as well.
One example he gives of how the portal could be used is as a way to raise awareness about the refugee crisis. Quickly he types in “Zataari,” the name of a refugee camp in Jordan, and the map zooms in to an empty stretch of land beside an air strip. This satellite image, Colangeli explains, is several years old.
He then uses the search to pull up satellite images from Sentinel-2. This image set is updated on a regular basis, and the updated files are shared with GEOSS in real time. The latest update available is from Oct. 13, 2016. Colangeli adds the layer to the map, and it updates to reveal today’s refugee camp of more than 79,000 people. Clicking the layer to hide and reveal on the map shows an open plain suddenly transformed to a makeshift city and then back again. Colangeli thinks something as simple as a comparison of the two maps could be used as an educational tool.
In another example, he zooms in to the area of Hurricane Matthew and searches the term “health.” Results include a map of cholera incidences and locations of health centers.
“That is the unique point of this: to really put humanitarian information on the field,” he says.
The portal, being new, still has some issues to sort out. For example, different data sets are available in different formats. Some can be downloaded as Excel files, while others are only available as shape files—which require specific applications to open.
Colangeli explains that the designers and engineers are working to find ways to address this.  During this phase of the launch, they also are also interested in other feedback about the interface.
“It is about you, the user,” Colangeli says. “We are eager to hear from you.”
Elise Mulder Osenga is IEEE Earthzine’s senior science writer. She is in St. Petersburg, Russia, covering GEO-XIII.