The Ocean GIS Initiative: Taking GIS underwater

source: Westfield State University

source: Westfield State University

As geographers and Geo-information technologists, we are well aware of the potential and applications of GIS. It is amazing how a technology that took shape in the 1960’s based on a simple concept of overlaying maps is now at the forefront of what we are defining as the “Geospatial Revolution“. I wonder if even Dr. Roger Tomlinson expected his idea and the project “Canada Geographic Information System” would one day lead to the explosion of GIS technology and its application in various domains ranging from agriculture to crime control and so on.  Dr. Tomlinson, the “father of GIS” deserves all the credit for his idea but personally I believe it was Dr. Dana Tomlin’s work “the Map algebra” that made GIS such an effective technology that it is today. But in spite of all the development over the last few decades, GIS technology was largely limited to being used on land.

A few years back, I was working on a GIS project that involved GIS research in the ocean environment. This was at a time when almost no GIS software, open-source or otherwise had any special toolbox for applications that involved the Oceans! The first question I had was:

How different is using the GIS software for land and ocean based projects?

bathyBased on my experience, I wouldn’t say it is totally different but surely was very different from using GIS for land-based applications and projects. Let me elaborate, consider a GIS project where height information plays a crucial role like in the case of Landslide Hazard mapping. The steeper the slope, the greater the hazard (disregarding all other factors for the sake of simplicity). Now calculating the slope on land where all height information is positive seems a relatively easy task, right? Performing the same operation for an Ocean GIS project would end up resulting in a million errors and roadblocks simply because all the height information would be negative numbers and inverting the numbers doesn’t help in the absolute sense.

It is simply not possible to assign the same dimension for the same problem on Land and Ocean. My team that was working on this Ocean GIS research a few years ago was facing issues like this and many others. We were not wanting to build an entirely new GIS software and so we had to circumvent the problem using smaller extensions. I’m sure many GIS applications for Oceans did not take off simply because there were no turn-key solutions available. Lack of commercial applications and interest was one of the main reasons why GIS softwares did not have any solutions for Ocean GIS.

But not anymore! With the boom in shipping industry, underwater internet cables, besides government regulations regarding oil spills and the potential of minerals underwater (which was the reasons why I started the research in the first place) have all made Ocean GIS an interesting requirement.

ArcGIS toolbox for Maritime Applications is probably the only complete solution that exists right now that would have made my research few years back much more simplier. It is interesting to note the number of projects that ESRI has taken up in its “Ocean GIS Initiative” that will not only aid in Ocean GIS application but also assist in understanding the complex world of water that surrounds us. Over 90% of cargo is shipped via Ships and at least a hundred million people world over depend on the oceans for their living. Oil spills and other disasters in the past could not be modelled using GIS but now we have the means to model them.

GIS is now scaling greater depths than ever before. What do you think?

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Nokia HERE Removes It’s iOS App From Apple’s AppStore

Nokia Here Geoawesomeness

In November 2012, just after Apple launched it’s terrible mapping service, Nokia entered to AppStore it’s navigation App for iOS. In terms of User Experience it was never even close to Google Maps and Apple Maps but from the perspective of map data quality it was one of the best options. Two weeks ago Nokia has quietly removed Here from AppStore with just a short comment:

We have made the decision to remove our HERE Maps app from the Apple App Store because recent changes to iOS 7 harm the user experience. iPhone users can continue to use the mobile web version of HERE Maps under m.here.com., offering them core location needs, such as search, routing, orientation, transit information and more, all completely free of charge.


As you might have realised iOS7 was just good excuse. Of course developers world wide are not happy with the fact that they have to invest in updating the design of their apps but I’m quite sure that Nokia could afford that.  But the truth is that Nokia didn’t update the app from the beginning. At the time of its departure, Nokia’s app had received nearly 1,500 user reviews, with an average of just 2.5 out of 5 stars. Many users complained about bugs and confusing experience.

The answer seems to be quite simple. In October 2012 after the introduction of Apple Maps, Google’s app has been blocked for iOS and Mountain View giant claimed it will not launch a new iOS6 app. In November after the large wave of criticism concerning new native iPhone map app Nokia wanted to use the opportunity to win a market share and launched the  HERE app for iPhone. But in December 2012 there were first leaks that Google is actually working on a new iOS map app… At the same time Nokia was becoming closer with Microsoft…

We can only imagine that with the perspective of Google Maps re-entering iOS, Nokia’s management decided to reallocate resources to create a unique user experience for Windows Phone rather than to fully enter Google-Apple mapping war with no real chances. And it was right thing to do as location-based services are now one of the biggest advantages of Nokia’s Windows Phones.

The only question is whether blaming iOS7 was the best excuse Nokia could think of…?

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