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Tools for building the next generation of data-driven Earth Observation web applications

Jon Blower, Maik Riechert and Patrick Hogan

(Submission #356)


Web portals for visualizing and exploring geoscience data are becoming increasingly common. Typically these portals are built upon the principles and standards of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) with tools and formats that arise from them (e.g. OpenLayers, Leaflet, KML, GeoJSON and Web Map Services). Several limitations are often found when building applications based on complex, high-resolution data. Such limitations include:

1. A focus on displaying server-generated images, rather than the “real” source data.

2. A focus on static 2D maps. Geoscientists often wish to explore data in multiple dimensions (e.g. animations, time-series, vertical sections, transects and 3D renderings).

3. Many geoscience data formats are difficult to handle in web browser environments and are unfamiliar to typical web developers (e.g. GeoTIFF, HDF, NetCDF).

4. Information loss due to the use of simplified formats (e.g. GeoJSON), often necessitating the use of ad-hoc workarounds that are not interoperable between portals.

In this presentation, we will discuss two new developments that aim to address the above limitations. They take advantage of modern web browsers’ support for HTML5, which provides powerful visualization and processing capabilities.

The Web WorldWind platform ( is a web-based virtual globe application programming interface (API) for HTML5-capable browsers, developed by NASA in partnership with ESA. It is able to display interactive globes and projected maps with accurate 3D terrain and many kinds of data layers.

The CoverageJSON format ( is a new JSON-based format that accurately encodes many kinds of scientific data, including multidimensional grids, polygon-based representations, time-series, vertical profiles and more. It is based on the concept of a “coverage” (defined in ISO19123), which is a general data structure that maps positions in space and time to data values. CoverageJSON can be thought of as an equivalent of GeoJSON, but facilitating the exchange of scientific data (including geoscience data), rather than simple GIS features. The goals of CoverageJSON are to be readable and efficient, whilst being usable by web developers. An important feature is the ability to encode semantic information, enabling data to be more machine-readable and understandable.

In this presentation we will demonstrate Web WorldWind and CoverageJSON in greater detail, showing how they together provide a platform for developing exciting, engaging and informative web portals based on geoscience data. The key is that the web browser holds the actual data (not just images), giving much greater flexibility for data analysis, as well as visualization.


Topic Area:  [2.2] Technologies and tools required to deliver INSPIRE
Abstract Type:  Oral Presentation

Additional fields

Comments:   visualization, web, linked data, standards

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