Meeting with Kuuipo Walsh
GIScience Program Director
GIS, metadata, marine resource management.
I don't know if you know anything about our project.
Noo, tell me about it.
Uhmm, Yeah, so it's pretty exciting, we are working with NASA JPL to build software to help researchers, earth researchers specifically, do their research,[ah] that's like the general overview. [Right] The people we are working with are from the global imagery browser service team, so what they do is take earth data and they, uh, make pictures of it, and make it so you can like zoom in on parts of the earth and see cool Satellite pictures and stuff.
So, from what I understand from their project description... which if you want you can actually read if you want [hands over project description]...
Yeah that would actually be great.
From what I understand, their goal is to allow researchers to use that images to do their research
Right, and this is with NASA?
Yeah NASA JPL
How did you get involved with them?
It was for our senior project, so every CS student has to do a three term capstone [right] and so Daniel is part of my team and this other kid too, and we were assigned this group.
Oh so you were assigned this project.
Well we selected some choices and from there we were assigned
Hmm 'k. [Reading project description]
So they have imagery data, and they want a web service? [Yes, I think so.] And uhmm.. do they have services already set up and you're just creating another one...? Or…?
Uhmm, yes the thing is we are very vague-- we are trying to meet with researchers to figure out what will help researchers because I don't think they know exactly what they want either, [Oh… Okay.] Yeah, so GIBS is a service that provides images-- that's already set up [Yeah, right.] and they have like tools for seeing those images and looking through them already. [Ok.] Called WorldView I think, yeah WorldView.
But do they want more researchers to come to that site and actually use the data?
Okay well from talking to them, what we understand this… [hands over prototype] here's my prototype for what we’re thinking might be useful. Well specifically we're to try to help researchers find things ['kay.] like visually finding things, using like shapes and things. And Lewis [our client] is really keen on "images as a proxy", which we have no idea what that means, but I think what that means looking through the images instead of the data. [Okay, yeah, I think so too.] Yeah it's a good hypothesis. Yeah. [Yeah, Yeah.]
For example, we were looking at some remote sensing images around Syria yesterday, and we’re actually looking at areas that have been affected by drought, and the information we were learning about was agricultural data, but you could see that, you could see what vegetation was affected by the drought so much easier just looking at the remotely sensed image.
Like the pictures?
Yup, just looking at the pictures you could see where the drought was and it was interesting because it followed political boundaries. So like in Turkey there were a lot of green and then at the border of Turkey and Syria you go down to Syria and it was brown, and that was telling us a lot, that somehow Turkey was getting a lot of water resources, where as soon as you got to Syria they weren't, so that's a remote sensed image that was giving us a lot of information. Just by looking at the colors of the vegetation.
So one question I have then is was that hard to find? Or did you already kind of know where you were looking for that information or were you just kind of searching all over?
I think another researcher that did this talk that would be really useful to talk to because he worked at NASA himself, and he has a lot of background information that would probably be helpful to you [windows error sound], is Jamon, [Oh I'm meeting with him on [next Tuesday]] oh, okay, perfect! Well it sounds like you guys know who to talk to.
Oh well I mean, just information from Ted [Yeah.] So he worked with you on…?
So he was giving… Yesterday was "GIS day" [laughs], kind of our Woodstock [laughs]. and so we were met on campus and we heard different presentations about what's going on, and Jamon gave the keynote presentation at the end. So he was a NASA postdoc so he will know exactly where you guys are coming from, he'll probably be familiar with the databases, because he was telling us how the imagery he had isn't publicly available, so it was given to him because he worked at NASA.
Yeah, so he well, he will be perfect, he will tell you what data, so HE was given the data that he was doing his research on. [The images?] The remotely sensed images. So what other researchers do, especially students, they have to go and search for it themselves, but hopefully Jamon can enlighten you about where to find-
GIBS provides lots of different Images types, and one gives images of resolution about 250 meters, I don't know like what resolution he's working with, but that's available almost every day they release those images.
Right, his resolution was probably better than that, I wanna to say one meter, but I'm not positive.
Yeah that sounds like something they would probably not provide for everyone. [Yeah, right.] [laughs]
And then there's the issue that you're talking about terabytes upon terabytes.
Yeah a lot of data, that makes sense, so going back the question, so was that hard to find those areas of vegetation? Was that something you kind of knew about coming into it?
Oh so the way most research works, I would say in Geography, I couldn't speak for other disciplines, in Geography we're very interested in a particular place, so normally a geographer will have identified the place they are interested in. [Okay] Geographers are very interested in space and time. So they are going to know, they are going to have a research question that starts with: "In this particular place", be it a small locale or even globally on the entire earth, they will have a research question and it will definitely be attached to a place. At different scales from local, regional and global scales.
So you have never really worked on any projects where you aren't sure when or where something is located?
The projects I have worked on have been all based in Oregon, so for me no, it's Oregon and the time frame has been recent, you know modern. That's a good question though, Geographers pretty much know the time and the place that they want to do their research, because what they're doing is they're comparing-- they also do comparisons to different places, why is this place different from this place? What's causing drought and more in Syria and not here? They're looking at comparisons and they are also looking at comparisons as things change through time, so it's usually defined,--
-- sometimes it's defined by the data itself, for example we have a researcher that's doing research with National Geographic, and she's looking at issues of National Geographic but she's looking at issues-- the magazines-- from the 80s until now, because she doesn't have access to issues before then. So your data can define your... [the time you're looking for.][Yeah]. And that happens a lot with students because they tend to-- they aren't working in tons of research money, like maybe their professors are, so those students may be stuck with free data. and so they might only use landsat data-- and its landsat has been a satellite that's been up during a certain time period. So they might do their research during that time period. So the data may drive the research question.
Okay yeah, that makes sense, yeah I was wondering about that.
Another thing I was curious about is the intersection-- I mean you in kind of a unique place, since you are in GIS Systems and you are not like doing the [field] research necessarily [right.] but I was interested in the intersection between software and researchers [Good question.] Coming into this project I assumed researchers didn't write software they just used tools available or something like that [Shakes head no vigorously], coming into this. But after talking to Ted it, he was like “Oh man I work with software all the time I used to write Fortran but now I have some people do it for me", and I was really interested in the fact that he said that they write their software to answer their questions, and then just throw out the software after they are done.
He also said something really interesting, which was that he doesn't really trust outside software packages, but he said that was probably unique to oceanographers though.
[Laughs] And I have to admit I have been around Oceanographers and Geographers and not so much other scientists.. so in our college we have Oceanographers, Atmospheric Science, and Earth Science, so that's pretty much my exposure, but I would definitely have to agree with what Ted said; My husband worked for a Atmospheric Scientist, and he did not trust-- he would not trust-- GIS Software, my husband his first job as a student was to write programs to analyze data, that is definitely true in our college: that researchers either like to write their own code, or hire students to write the code, or work with collaborators at other institutions or other colleges to write their own code.
So is that a problem for you working with GIS systems?
So... a lot of researchers see GIS, Geographic Information Systems, as a way to visualize their data, once they’ve done all their analyses writing their own programs, they might use GIS to just make a map to visually display it. And they don't really see it as more than that. It's like I do all of the analysis of all my data myself, and at the very end I might throw it into a GIS for display purposes. If you talk to somebody who's a Geographic Information Scientist they wouldn't agree with that, they would say a great thing about a GIS is you can do all this analyses. That's what the important thing is.. but... there is definitely a difference of opinions depending on your background.
I wonder what causes that, like distrust? Or maybe they just think they are smarter than the system they are using?
That’s a really good question.
Like for us we want to get past that barrier, to produce a software that will help researchers, how are they going to find it? Or whether if they are going to find it useful. [Right]
I think researchers aren't comfortable, with, let's say your GIS truncates the data at a certain-- so its numbers-- decimal points, at a certain point, the GIS is truncating your data and its a different precision than you thought it was. I mean, they would not be happy with that. So maybe GIS is just a "black box" so they don't know exactly what is happening to their data at every point of the analysis.
That makes sense.
You don't want rounding error, and the GIS may not be as accurate as you want your output to be.
Yeah we were looking at a research project that was waste water being pumped into the ocean, and the researcher was able to get a resolution that we weren't able to get, and I think that part of that was the rounding processes was getting images out of the raw data itself.
And I think some researchers just like to stay with the raw data, they just don't want that data manipulated at all. They are going to be the ones that manipulate the data, not a piece of software.
So what do you think about researchers using software libraries or pre-prepared packages in their work? Do you think that's something that's common?
Yes, yeah. Especially Open Source tools and libraries, R is very popular right now.
So R is really is in all the different libraries you can get, so R is statistics, but then there are all these libraries you can be used for Geographics statistics and so many of our students will start off by learning R then they will quickly start using all the libraries that can manipulate the statistics geographically.
Do you know much about researchers acquiring data? Do you think that's something that is challenging or do you think-- I know Ted said something that might be helpful that I think might already exists might be integrating some of the data we have with GIS Systems because that would help researchers acquire it easier, although I saw NASA has a few packages already for that.
Is that something you have worked with before? Researchers trying to get information easier?
That's a very good question…
This might be a question that is better for the researchers that are working with it.
Right, yeah from a GIS perspective, over the years we have created these things called, uhmm, I’ll show you, there's a whole chapter on it in in a textbook, and I can just refer it, the chapter on…
So. From the GIS perspective we have worked very hard to share our data, because that's actually very expensive, to create data and to create GIS data, I mean, there are researchers here that have driven on every single road in Oregon, and every single forestry road in Oregon, gathering data. And have canoed and kayaked down every river in Oregon or in the Willamette Valley gathering this data, it's really really expensive, really really time consuming. So in the GIS field we definitely want to share our data with each other. So we have these things called "Clearinghouses" where we share all these different datasets with each other, and we've worked long and hard to make it make it easy for other people to find that data. So that is a whole field of study in Geographic Information Science.
Yeah I saw you worked with Oregon spatial data.
Right, right, and... but how successful that really has been- the jury is still out I think on how successful it's been, they had a spatial data infrastructure that was created, like the... national... [typing]…There it is, and it is a federal effort, and then on a Federal level for the United States we have the "National Spatial Infrastructure", and we have all this data and services and metadata exactly to help people find the data they need. How successful this has been, we have had the best of intentions, but I don't know how successful it's been. We also have a global data infrastructure and that might, in my textbook they’re saying that might be a little bit more successful for people to share data globally with each other.
So why are you saying you're not sure whether it was successful? Why do you think researchers aren't being able to find or use-
Because researchers are still creating their own data, and there are still silos and groups that are creating their data from scratch and don't even know that other researchers exist or that other data exists.
That's really interesting, this has been really helpful and really insightful.
Yeah, Yep, Sure, let me show you the chapter real quick, so this book is written by the people in the field that are kind the most knowledgeable about... GIS in general.
What's the book called?
Its: Geographic Information Science and Systems, by Paul Longley. And there’s a little chapter, or little section in here, “Spatial Data Infrastructure: the US experience.” And it tells about how we really intended to be able share our data with other researchers and hasn't really worked. And so... that might answer your question.
But yeah, people are still having trouble I think, finding data.
Yeah, Ted Strub said he likes going out and putting buoys out in the ocean
Well, yeah! (excited)
and he said remote sensing data is… why did he say he didn't like it? I'm trying to remember, because it moves around a lot.
Daniel: Yeah the oceans always changing., So it's hard to gather information because you can't rely on prior's day data, or even minutes or hours data.
So he spends millions of dollars on paddling boats out to float buoys and-
Yeah there's live data, and he is probably getting from those buoys.
Well thanks a lot for your time, we really appreciate it.
You are welcome! Good luck with your project.
Alright, thanks a lot, have a good thanksgiving.
Yeah you too. Bye.