A huge thank you to everyone who has visited the OS blog over the last 12 months and been keeping up to date on all things maps and data. We’ve totted up the figures to work out your favourite blogs from 2018…so take a look and catch up on any you missed first time around.
Great Britain’s largest islands
The stunning poster created by Joe Harrison in our GeoDataViz team, working with the University of Sheffield, showcases the 82 islands of Great Britain which are larger than 5km2. It also created wide debate about what was and wasn’t an island and even what is Great Britain!
If you tune into BBC World Service, you may have heard the series 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy.Tim Harford tells the fascinating stories of 50 inventions, ideas and innovations which have helped create the economic world. The series asked for nominations on the 51st thing and Miranda Sharp, our Head of Smart Cities Practice, suggested GNSS (the Global Navigation Satellite System which encompasses GPS, the US’ Global Positioning System, amongst others). It made it to the shortlist and is open for votes until 6 October. Miranda explains why she nominated GNSS – and why you should vote for it!
I gobbled up Tim Harford’s latest series 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy. Tales of female emancipation wrapped up in TV dinners, tackling corruption through the technology of M-Pesa and enabling rapid transfer of ideas in an urban economy with the advent of the elevator. Listen to them all, buy the book, they are brilliant stories.
We’ve had a few questions recently about benchmarks and trig pillars and what they are and how they differ, so we thought we’d clear it up.
Most weeks we’ll see a Twitter conversation where someone is asking what this mark is:
A #TBT to the OS benchmark, spotted here by @770.92. These survey marks can still be found on walls and buildings across Britain and were a way of recording height. Today, our surveyors use GNSS technology and it takes just seconds to do a task which could take days in our past. There are around 500,000 benchmarks in various formats – have you ever spotted one?
Many think it is War Office-related, but it is in fact an OS benchmark (BM) and a means of marking a height above sea level. Surveyors in our history made these marks to record height above Ordnance Datum Newlyn (ODN – mean sea level determined at Newlyn in Cornwall). If the exact height of one BM was known, the exact height of the next could be found by measuring the difference in heights, through a process of spirit levelling. They can be found cut into houses, churches, bridges and many other structures. There are hundreds of thousands of them dotted across Great Britain, although we no longer use them today.
Do you use GEMINI? See the latest version and send your feedback on the new approach. Peter Parslow, our open standards lead and chair of the AGI Standards Committee explains more.
AGI has long-maintained UK GEMINI, a guide to creating metadata for geospatial resources. Local authorities and major data publishers like ourselves, ONS, BGS, Defra all use GEMINI to describe our products – datasets and services. These records are then collated automatically to data.gov.uk, and on the European INSPIRE portal. The records in data.gov.uk can also be accessed directly from within desktop GIS tools like Arc Desktop and QGIS, by using the OGC Catalogue Server interface, and by other tools by using the CKAN API described at https://data.gov.uk/data/metadata-api-docs. There’s ongoing work in Europe to integrate this approach more with mainstream web search engines – at present, it is a bit ‘geo specialist’!
Last month we had a story about hills growing into mountains and now we blog about the opposite situation…Recent press stories about what *might* happen if rising sea levels lead to a change in the datum value used for mean sea level on OS maps, has seen some people thinking that the heights of hills and mountains might be about to shrink. They are not!
We have to measure height in Britain against a commonly agreed datum level and ‘mean sea level’ is a common value chosen in many countries. It becomes the ‘zero height’ which all other heights are measured from. As land-based creatures, it’s natural for us to think of the sea as being zero height and anything above it as being ‘high’, and consequently anything below it as having a ‘depth’. So, it’s very common to see heights of hills and mountains quoted as being ‘above mean sea level’.
What exactly is mean sea level?
By Daniel Slater, Sales Director, emapsite, OS Partner
One of the typical bugbears that field data collectors face every day is ensuring they can capture the essential information they need in the most cost-effective way.
Time on site can rapidly mount up when you can’t find fast, accurate answers to your queries straight off.
If you work for, say, a housing association, utility company or other organisation with large property holdings, the practicalities of data collection can prove costly.
It was with this common concern in mind that we came together with our friends at Leica Geosystems on a journey to help.
As you may know, Leica Geosystems make really powerful field control devices that are used all over the world. A prime example is the Zeno 20 handheld GNSS data collector. It’s a rugged, high-accuracy field device that everyone can use. It runs on an Android operating system and it’s designed to help users collect and manage GIS and asset data.
Seeing as an improvement in our model that transforms height from GPS to one above mean sea level has caused a hill to “grow” into a mountain – we thought it would be a good idea to explain how positions and heights surveyed by our surveyors with GPS make it onto our maps.
All positioning and surveying, not just that from GPS, has to take place on a mathematically simplified model of the surface of the Earth. The surface that the model attempts to emulate is called the geoid. The geoid is a complex concept, but can be imagined as a hypothetical surface that would be formed if the water in the oceans, close to mean sea level, continued under the land and was only influenced by Earth’s gravity field. This surface is one we already refer to without perhaps thinking about it – we say oceans have “depth” (below the arbitrary zero height surface) and mountains have “height” (above the surface). The geoid is a complex shape since it is influenced by varying Earth gravity. It is too complex to act as our surface for the calculations involved in positioning and surveying, so we need to fit a simple model shape to it.
Guest blog by Myrddyn Phillips, Hill Data & Mountain Surveys
Calf Top (SD 664 856) is a rather unassuming hill which is approximately 6km south of Sedbergh in the Yorkshire Dales. It rises above the deep cleft of Barbondale to its east and Dentdale to its north, and although not the highest hill in the area it is quite prominent above its surroundings.
However, it isn’t the hill’s prominence that is of interest, it is its height, and being a mountain surveyor those hills that are given a 609m spot height on Ordnance Survey maps are particularly interesting, as this height equates to just under 2,000ft, with 609.6m the metric equivalent of this all important imperial height. All important, as 2,000ft is generally regarded as the benchmark height in England and in Wales for when a hill is promoted to the dizzying ranks of a mountain.
If you were watching BBC Breakfast this morning, you may have seen their reporter, Graham Satchell, heading out with our Flying Unit and finding out how we survey Britain from the skies.
We’ve actually been using aerial photography to carry out our surveys for almost 100 years. Originally, this had the advantage of capturing information from areas that surveyors found hard to visit on foot. Today, it means we can keep on top of the data capture process – making continuous revisions of the whole nation’s landscape.
Australia has recently announced a 1.8m shift in its mapping coordinates, to compensate for the country’s 7.5cm shift north each year. Inevitably the question is why, and could the same thing happen here?
In Australia, the shift is to take into account the growing difference between maps (and the coordinate reference system they’re based on) and the system used by satellite positioning (GPS). It’s a fact that the world is constantly shifting on tectonic plates, but maps (and their users) like fixed coordinates that don’t change. Before GPS, this was simple to achieve as most positioning and mapping was created from fixed ground points in a coordinate reference system tuned to a particular country. In Great Britain our fixed points included the very familiar trig pillars and we have a mapping coordinate reference system called OSGB36 National Grid which is fitted closely to our little bit of the Earth. Tectonic plate movements had little or no impact on the mapping coordinates or fixed points because they all moved “as one” and generally stayed the same shape.