Trends in GIScience: Big Data

The Geography Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is notorious for detecting and/or setting trends in the field. In February, they held a panel discussion on “Big Data in Geographic Information Science”. Moderator Dr. Krzysztof Janowicz reports that Big Data are not only characterized by their volume, but also by the variety of their data sources and data types, and by the velocity with which they are accumulated. In geography, Big Data are generated from high-resolution satellite images, transportation simulations, government data published in spatial data infrastructures, volunteered geographic information (e.g., geo-tagged flickr photos, OpenStreetMap data), and geographically referenced social network activity (e.g., twitter messages).

Coincidentally, the Obama administration has just announced a “Big Data Research and Development Initiative” with US$200m research and development funding in the sciences, health, military, and earth science fields. The initiative also aims at new undergraduate and graduate student training in advanced data management and analysis. My students’ research in public participation GIS, volunteered geographic information, geographic visualization, and spatial decision support are contributing to this emerging research area.