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The OpenEarth Viewer is a web application for visualizing data, models and tools in a Google Earth interface. The set-up is such that data and models from different projects and cases can be viewed at the same time, which enables the user to see the interaction between different datasets and model results. A number of tools is available to perform (simple) actions on the data or run model simulations on the fly. Within Building with Nature (BwN) this application is used to provide an easily accessible overview of the information that is generated in the programme. However, the setup can also be used for data management in other projects.
General Tool Description
In (hydraulic) engineering studies and research and monitoring programs many data, models and tools are collected and/or developed. The amount of information that is becoming available in this way is not always easily accessible for its users (i.e. project teams, program partners, clients, stakeholders). The OpenEarth Viewer is a web application that EcoShape has developed to facilitate data management and visualization in projects. The OpenEarth Viewer links to an OpenDAP sever where all data are stored and a kml server (see figure) where the visualizations are stored, following the OpenEarth principles. Tools enable users to perform (simple) actions on the data or run model simulations on the fly (such as the Interactive Design Tool for the Holland Coast).
Since the OpenEarth Viewer is developed for low-end users, effort has been put in keeping the thresholds for its use as low as possible. To improve the accessibility of large amounts of data, this tool provides a versatile generic visualization interface. For user-friendliness data are presented in a way that is engaging, easily digestible and helping to communicate complex information to non-experts. Large-scale spatial data can easily be visualized in zoomable plots using Google Earth without installing any other software.
One of the three principle eco-dynamic development & design principles of Building with Nature is to interact differently: "Realisation of Building with Nature projects cannot be achieved without interdisciplinary collaboration and early and active stakeholder involvement!". Bringing together people and knowledge from different disciplines (and hence different working methods) puts high demands on data management and dissemination. In order to meet those demands, Building with Nature has adopted the OpenEarth infrastructure for its data management. The OpenEarth Viewer can be seen as an extension of this infrastructure, meant to facilitate accessible dissemination of information to end-users, which includes both Building with Nature partners and other stakeholders.
Furthermore, the infrastructure of the OpenEarth Viewer is such that it can easily be used as the interface for interactive (MapTable-type) tools. The Interactive Design Tool for the Holland Coast and Interactive Dredging Tool both make use of the interface components of the OpenEarth Viewer. A major advantage of using these tools in the OpenEarth Viewer is that tool results and datasets can be viewed at the same time in a web-based environment. This may contribute to the interactive communication of complex, multi-disciplinary information to stakeholders, for instance in stakeholder sessions/workshops.
How to Use
The OpenEarth Viewer is accessible through viewer.openearth.nl. The only requirements for using this application are an internet connection and installation of the Google Earth plug-in (will automatically be indicated when needed, see screenshot). The tools are known to encounter problems when accessed with Internet Explorer. So, rather use Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox instead.
For people wishing to develop on the OpenEarth Viewer (i.e. improving its usability, changing its "look and feel" or extend its functionality) or use the application within their own projects, the code has made available in the OpenEarthTools repository. There is also a testing environment available for the development of tools that can be linked to the OpenEarth Viewer. This "Matlab-through-python" version is also added to the OpenEarthTools repository. For this version some additional software is required: please check the following tutorial. For using the OpenEarth Viewer in stakeholder workshops, please have a look at the MapTable section for some practical tips and information.
After surfing to the website the following window will appear:
Start-up window of OpenEarth Viewer
Subsequently, users can select a project and case of interest and view the corresponding data and model results by checking the checkboxes (as is shown for data of the Holland Coast case in the screenshot below). Please note that it may take a little while to load a checked entry, as some of the datasets/models are rather large.
Viewing data for the Holland Coast
As an additional functionality users can select a tool to perform actions on the data (as is shown for the "Interpolate to Line" Tool in the window below) or start a model simulation on the fly.
Using the "Interpolate to Line" Tool for data interpolation
The tool results will be displayed in the Google Earth panel (as is shown for the "Interpolate to Line" Tool) or in separate (new) windows.
Viewing tool results
Recommendations, Limitations and Lessons Learned
Users are generally familiar with Google Earth and its visualizations have proven to be useful to disseminate data & model results that are changing in both space and time. Nevertheless, the dependency on the KML(Google Earth)-format is a potential drawback of this viewer. Other viewers, such as Lizard or Geoserver, are available that also support the visualization for other data formats.
The use of XML-files to add data to the OpenEarth Viewer has proven to lower the thresholds for users to modify the viewer's contents.
The concept of linking Matlab tools to the OpenEarth viewer has proven to be successful. However, the need for proprietary software (i.e. .NET compiler) to disseminate these tools on the server, may hamper its use. Currently, an alternative option, still requiring Matlab, but no additional proprietary software, is under development. This option makes use of a direct FTP connection between Matlab nodes and the server, which does not require an additional compiler.
The concept of the OpenEarth viewer has been and will be used as framework for data visualization in (hydraulic) engineering projects. Furthermore, the infrastructure and interface of the OpenEarth Viewer have been the basis of interactive (Maptable) tools developed within Building with Nature. The following sections briefly discuss the interactive applications Interactive Design Tool for the Holland Coast and Interactive Dredging Tool.
Interactive Design Tool for the Holland Coast
The Interactive Design Tool for the Holland Coast supports decision makers and stakeholders by providing insight in the effects of coastal management strategies (i.e. coastal interventions) on coastline development and other coastal indicators. The tool is especially useful in the initial stages of the decision making (or design) process. The tool enables stakeholders to create and simulate scenarios of different coastal interventions and get feedback within a couple of minutes. In this way, the stakeholders can ‘play around’ with different management strategies and get an indication of the consequences of their decisions both in space and in time. This may help them to develop some feeling for the relevant (physical) processes.
Interactive Dredging Tool
The Interactive Dredging Tool gives a first idea of the impact of dredging operations on coastal ecosystems (see screenshot). This tool may assist dredging companies in getting a first insight in the impact of planned dredging operations on the ecosystems in the area of interest. It also provides them with suggestions for alternative dredging possibilities. Moreover, it may be a powerful tool in the communication or 'education' of problem owners. The interactive dredging tool was initially developed for Singapore, but, as the set-up is generic, can easily be tuned to other parts of the world. Different models and tools from different disciplines (hydrodynamics, morphology, ecology) can be plugged into the application. At this stage the tool makes use of a Matlab interface, with the web interface embedded in it. A pure web-based interface, similar to that of the Interactive Design Tool for the Holland Coast.
- OpenEarth Viewer
- Viewer code in the OpenEarthTools repository
- Tutorial: setting up your own web application
- OpenEarthTest application (Matlab-through-Python) in OpenEarthTools repository for testing tool functionality