Not about everything

January 31, 2014

Open Street Map: good or too many?

Filed under: app,internet,nature — takaita @ 13:27
Tags: , , , ,

In the old days I bought maps everywhere I came. Then I used them there. Then I saved them in a box. I have boxes full of old maps.

But now times are changing. There are easy devices with GPS. Since about one year I have a tablet-with-GPS. And I love it. My tablet only has WiFi connection, so whenever I am away from WiFi there is no downloading of maps. And maps are mostly needed when away from WiFi.

The solution is of course very simple: offline maps. It needs a couple of GigaBytes but then turning the GPS on opens a zoomable map. I am especially fond of MapsWithMe. Maybe simply because it was the first that made me satisfied, maybe there are other or even better apps available.The lite version is free and the maps are free. Actually I liked it so much that I bought the pro version – the first and so far the only app I paid for. For a lot less money than I used to spend on paper maps each year.

Besides the tablet mentioned above, recently some new Android devices have entered my household. Luckily it is possible to share apps that are bought. I bought MapsWithMePro on what I would call my family-account. I created a Google account with the only purpose of sharing stuff in my family. Sharing family-wide events, contacts and also apps. And because Android devices support multiple Google accounts, each family member can also have an individual account with individual stuff. The good thing is that an app bought with the family-account can be installed on each device with that account.

So, it is time to throw away the boxes with old maps. It will save some space.

But. The boxes are replaced with GigaBytes of maps. Maps are freely available from Open Street Map. Great project. Many apps use it. And there is also a bit of a problem. I now have three different apps using Open Street Map for its own purpose. And each uses its own collection of maps. That means that in stead of 3 GB of maps I have to store 9 GB. And maybe more, if I want to have more parts of the world in my apps.

Apart from MapsWithMe, I also use OsmAnd (a navigation app) and ObsMapp (for recording nature observations, see for example this blog entry). And each has its own Open Street Map format and requires me to download the those maps.

It would be so much easier if only a single set of maps was required. It would save space on my SD-card and it would save download and updates. Maybe it is too much to ask.

July 20, 2012

Collective mapping of species on the web, current state of affairs

Call it spottings, sightings or observations. Many of us go out in nature and notice birds, flowers, butterflies. We take photos and ID it ourselves or have it ID’d from the photo by others. We can put up the photo for admiration on many sites.

But it can be better. We could put the observations on a map. If many do so, we could together create a species distribution map. And even see how the distribution of species changes over the years.

I love this idea, and I do participate myself. I like the result of our common effort. What I do is go looking for dragonflies. Mainly around where I live, but also in other places where I happen to come and can spare some time. Yes, I have specialized myself. There is always so much to see that one has to be selective. Of course occasionally I record a butterfly, a bird or a plant. But my focus is on dragonflies.

Banded Demoiselle example
Banded Demoiselle, distribution map NetherlandsAn example of our common effort would be the fine grained distribution map of the Banded Demoiselle in the Netherlands. This map is the result of over 12,000 observations from the start of this century till now (July 2012) and shows observations in just over 3,000 square kilometer blocks. It is taken from waarneming.nl (a Dutch project where people can record their observations for the Netherlands).

But the Netherlands is only a small country and it would be nice to see a map of Europe. That is harder to get by. The Dutch site from the previous map has a sister site in Belgium and an international site which is mainly used by Dutch and Belgian participants on holiday. But also some people from other countries contribute (it is available in about 20 languages).
Banded Demoiselle, distribution map on orbervado.org
That international site (observado.org)also produces a map for the Banded Demoiselle: It is clear that the Netherlands and Belgium are much better mapped (the rest of Europe has a total of about 750 observations of the Banded Demoiselle).

For some other countries I know where to get similar maps (with another focus). For the UK on http://data.nbn.org.uk, Germany has a similar project with European pretensions. For Denmark there is Naturbasen.

Maybe there are more maps to find. If you know one, please let me know.

Banded Demoiselle, distribution map on data.nbn.org.uk

Banded Demoiselle, distribution map on Libellen Europas (GER)

Banded Demoiselle, distribution map on Naturbasen (dk)

A global view
There is only one (public) place I am aware of which offers a global view of species observations. That is the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) where all kinds of datasets end up. The GBIF distribution map of Calopteryx splendens is below (from http://data.gbif.org/species/1427067). One obvious problem is many empty spaces. Nothing from France and Russia for example. And another big problem: On this map it looks like the Banded Demoiselle is present in Spain. That is however a mistake. Not sure how wrong data ended up in GBIF, but it certainly spoils the fun.

It is not the first time I see clearly erroneous data in GBIF: I have seen recording of the Dwarf Damselfly (Nehelennia speciosa) in the Netherlands on GBIF while that species has been extinct in the Netherlands for 100 years or so. I have traced the errors to a source where damselfly larvae have been ID’d by an institution which clearly lacked the experience (then – the recordings are from the 90’s) to see how extraordinairy such a claim is.

Banded Demoiselle, distribution map on GBIF

More projects
There is Project Noah, which does quite some advertizing now and then. The big problem is that is produces no species distribution maps, it is unclear where the
data go (if they go anywhere) and there is no systematic verification on the recordings. A fixed species list is missing, so searching for “Calopteryx splendens” will return different results then searching for “Banded Demoiselle”. It just depends on what the user entered.

Another project is iNaturalist, which is heavily connected with flickr. I could not find any information about where data go. But it can generate a species distribution map. Although, the map for Calopteryx splendens only showed four locations when I checked. This project at least works with a fixed species list and generates maps.

Some conclusions
There is a lot more to say about such projects, and there are many such projects. But I have tried to keep it short. Some conclusions at the end.

* On a local scale it can work quite well, although that shows only in a few countries in NW Europe (and maybe in the USA). That means that there are enough participants to create a sensible species distribution map.

But I think that going local is the only way it really can work. It is necessary to have experts to check incoming observations, and global experts are almost impossible to find. Even if an ID can be verified, it is hard to know if a location makes sense. Calopteryx splendens is not present in Spain, and if someone claims so in an observation, there should be extraordinary evidence.

* Joining the maps together on a worldwide scale, isn’t working very well. GBIF is disappointing: information from most locations is missing and in some cases existing information is wrong.

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