GIS consultants writing about GIS challenges
This is blog post #2 of a 3-part series focused on how technology can support GIS decision making using analytics and innovative design-thinking software development methodologies.
The true power of a Geographic Information System (GIS) application often comes from its ability to integrate real-time data sources to allow for dynamic decision-making in response to changing conditions. Once business processes are viewable in a digital map environment, such as with a GIS application, layering on additional location-based considerations has huge incremental value. For example, if a delivery route management application was aware of internal inventory constraints, current traffic, and upcoming disruptive weather, scheduled delivery routes could be adjusted to maintain efficiency.
Weather in particular has a high impact on operations in many industries, and therefore is of great value to integrate into strategic decision-making. Mosaic Software, a leading provider of GIS consultants, has expertise in combining weather data streams with GIS planning and optimization applications to facilitate efficient resource allocation. Part 1 of this blog series addressed the general challenges and opportunities surrounding advanced GIS software design; this post focuses specifically on how weather information contributes to robust GIS applications.
What do we mean by “weather data?”
Weather data includes sensor-based measurements of surface temperature, pressure, wind and precipitation. It also includes forecasts generated by one of several sophisticated models. These models range in the way forecasts and measurements are linked to locations. For example, one common data source published by the U.S. National Weather Service uses measurements collected at specific weather stations across the United States to create forecasts for future weather at those exact point locations. Another common data source does not use point locations at all; rather, a two-mile square grid is overlaid onto the entire continental U.S., and a variety of inputs are used to generate forecasts for each grid cell. Weather data can also include relatively consistent atmospheric patterns such as jet streams, as well as more transient events such as tropical storms.
How we can use this data
Weather is inherently linked to geography – the question “how’s the weather?” only makes sense in the context of “where” the weather is occurring. Indeed, due to the geographic nature of weather data sources, they are ideal for integration into GIS applications. Some sources are already available in formats compatible with GIS systems, such as shapefiles.
The main challenges, however, in using weather data for GIS technology are the scale of the data and the interpretation of the information. If one imagines weather data being measured or forecast hourly for hundreds of thousands of locations around the globe, it is clear that storing and using this data on the fly could be difficult. Sure, it may be possible to store and dynamically display real-time weather for a single city or region. But in a global business climate, it is the ability to simultaneously track the situation on the ground in many locations that drives value.
In addition to scale, weather information is not always interpretable in its original format. Some data sources are from deterministic models that predict, for example, that it either will or will not rain today in Washington, D.C. based on current storm locations. Other models are probabilistic – they might report that there’s a 30% chance that a storm will pass directly over Washington, D.C. and drop several inches of rain, but there’s also a 70% chance that the storm will head north instead towards Baltimore, MD. Subject matter expertise is often required to synthesize predictions from these different types of data sources to fit a specific business’s needs.
The Mosaic Advantage | GIS Consultants
Mosaic Software has been working with weather data for decades through partnerships with the U.S. government and commercial airlines. Mosaic’s GIS consultants are skilled at transforming weather data for different GIS use cases and in efficiently storing this information in scalable cloud-based systems. In addition, Mosaic archives historical weather forecast data from multiple sources to enable efficient development and testing of custom machine learning solutions that feed into GIS technology. Furthermore, Mosaic Software consultants work closely with in-house meteorologists to ensure that the right data is deployed for each use case, and to help interpret and combine weather information from different models and data streams.
Case Study: National Airspace System Common Reference (NCR)
In one recent research and development effort sponsored by the FAA and NASA, Mosaic Software incorporated weather predictions into a web-based GIS flight planning application. The goal of this project was to bring all of the information flight planners and air traffic controllers might want to see (e.g., current airspace alerts, upcoming weather systems) into a single repository. In addition, Mosaic was tasked with creating an interactive graphical interface that could be used to create or adjust flight plans and to alert users to potential challenges (e.g., a thunderstorm) occurring along a currently planned airplane trajectory.
Mosaic Software designed a modular architecture, shown in the image below, to support these objectives. The NCR system ingests multiple data sources relevant to flight management and stores the information in a database. The database is linked to back-end applications and web services; these applications interface with a client-facing application. In response to user input on the client application, the back-end application queries the database and returns the relevant information to the front-end GIS interface.
Leveraging open-source software tools such as OpenLayers, GeoServer, and PostGIS, Mosaic Software was able to produce a fully functional proof-of-concept application within just 3 weeks. Mosaic’s GIS consultants extended the open-source software with custom filtering functions. These functions restricted the size of the weather input data by filtering the results according to time, altitude and geospatial position. This enabled the application to return results immediately after a user selected a flight path, thereby enhancing the user experience.
Mosaic Software’s GIS consultants were able to efficiently create a production-grade GIS application that leveraged weather and other data sources to help air traffic professionals save time. The application aggregates multiple sources of information about events in the national airspace, and filters those alerts to just those relevant to a particular flight path. Users can interactively search for information about events on a path between two airports. Alternatively, users can subscribe to receive ongoing alerts about routes of interest without needing to use the application at all. Previously, to get this information, one needed to look up multiple different data sources, and in the case of flight notifications, to scroll through lengthy irrelevant messages to determine if any were relevant to the flight of interest. An example of weather information found on a flight’s trajectory is shown in the image below.
Mosaic Software’s GIS consultants are adept at leveraging multiple weather data sources to enhance GIS software. Across industries, Mosaic can help business and technology professionals save time and make better decisions by incorporating multiple data sources, including weather data, into GIS applications.