Perry R. Peterson | President & CEO | Digital Earth Thought Leader

Humanity’s ability to measure, monitor, and communicate over the vastness of the entire Earth is unprecedented. Trends point to ever growing volumes of rich data describing the planet. People, from scientist to citizens, expect this information in a form that can answer their pressing questions…instantly. At the same time, we are experiencing the rapid unprecedented consequences of environmental changes. It is hoped that the data and information describing these changes can be transformed into the knowledge and decisions that will mitigate the cost.

Nowhere are these changes more evident than in the Arctic. The singularity of a pole in a region of vying national interests, traditional peoples, climate change, resource extraction, emerging shipping routes, and a suffering ecosystem have given the Arctic new attention. However, access to Arctic geospatial data has long been a challenge. Remoteness and equatorial fixated map projections have made it difficult to include polar data in the normal offerings of scientific and consumer mapping products. Timely decisions are further hampered by the conventional GIS approach where data must be pre-integrated by expert analysts before it can produce insightful answers to pressing g eospatial questions. Arctic projected web maps provide anticipated stop gap but fail to produce the robustness of a system that can answer unanticipated questions.

The Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) will release a candidate for a new Earth reference standard that promises to solve these challenges next week. It is formally called a Discrete Global Grid System (DGGS). OGC defines a DGGS as: “a spatial reference system that uses a hierarchical tessellation of cells to partition and address the globe. DGGS are characterized by the properties of their cell structure, geo-encoding, quantization strategy and associated mathematical functions.”

The construction and use of a DGGS is analogous to any “Digital ” discrete data structure. In contrast to it’s cousin “Analog” spatial reference that uses a continuous surface as a datum with geographic coordinates to address points, the DGGS is a spatial reference that uses equal area cells to partition and address the entire globe. Each tiny cell – they can be infinitesimally small – has a unique address similar to the cells of a spreadsheet. Geospatial data values from any source, type, format, spatial reference, spatial scale, or frequency can be held in a DGGS cell. The hierarchy of cells provide rapid aggregation and decomposition of data values. As a global spatial reference system, polar data in a DGGS is accurately portrayed and equally integrated with map information anywhere else in the world.

A DGGS allows multiple data sources to be integrated and analyzed in one workflow without the need to convert or change spatial reference systems. With the trend to more open on-demand systems, DGGS provide a user centric approach where end-users can search for and explore interesting phenomena from multiple content providers simultaneously. It permits easy repeatable manipulation, visualization and analysis of measurements from any location at any scale. Answering complex geospatial questions in the form of “Where is it?” and “What is here?” are simple set theory operations. Big Earth Data aligned to a DGGS is easy to access, store, sort, process, transmit, integrate, visualize, analyse and model. The rapid search, discovery, and combing of geospatial content across multiple data jurisdictions has been successfully demonstrated in several OGC testbeds and Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) pilot projects.

Digital Earth is a vision for a geospatial system so simple and powerful children can effectively understand complex facts and events that define the condition and history of our planet. The new OGC DGGS standard will provide the basis for adopting this new digital Earth approach to geospatial decision-making. This poster provides a simple primer or to try a DGGS.

Don’t miss the upcoming SPACE 2.0, April 25-27, 2017 in Silicon Valley, where you’ll be able to forge strong industry relationships and get the latest on identifying ways to profit from NewSpace and big data!

Click here for more info on the cutting-edge event.