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Improving Access to Environmental Databases through "Folk-centred" Ontologies (FolkOnt)

Applicant Purves Ross
Number 126659
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Geographisches Institut Universität Zürich
Institution of higher education University of Zurich - ZH
Main discipline Other disciplines of Environmental Sciences
Start/End 01.04.2010 - 31.03.2013
Approved amount 150'135.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Discipline
Other disciplines of Environmental Sciences
Other disciplines of Engineering Sciences

Keywords (13)

Geographic Information Science; semantics; vernacular placenames; vagueness; ambiguity; Geographic Information Retrieval; folksonomy; ontology; Database; folk-centred; vernacular; GIS; vague

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary
BackgroundAmbiguity, vagueness and uncertainty are all concepts with which we deal constantly, and mostly successfully, in our daily lives. Thus, if someone suggests that we meet "at the bank near Stauffacher", most of us would assume that the meeting place was not the nearby river bank, but rather a financial institution, and that only one bank was to be found at this location. On arriving at the location and finding two banks, we would assume that the correct one was the nearest location, or deal with the uncertainty introduced by the vague instructions by calling our friend. Such natural language is typical of the way in which we communicate, but provides a multitude of challenges when we wish to represent, and perhaps even more importantly, compare similar information in a computer.AimCrucially, textual descriptions of natural landscapes typically contain such issues, for example in their descriptions of the land cover types (how many trees make a forest?), use of placenames (is Thun in the Mittelland?) and vague descriptions (the moor near Adliswil). The advent of new sources of information, such as those posted on the internet in photographic databases provides us with an opportunity to see how individuals describe the world around them. For example, we can look at pictures that people describe as being in the Mittelland and identify the activities associated with this region (and compare them with other regions such as the Alps). In this project we will explore methods to better represent these texts when users query a database, and thus improve the accessibility of data holdings of the Data Centre Nature and Landscape (DNL) of Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research.RelevanceThe project has both a scientific and a wider significance to the general public, policy makers and decision makers in society. Improving access to data is seen as a pressing requirement at regional, national and international levels, as evidenced by proliferating open access to environmental data. However, opening access is not enough to enable people to actually use a database in a meaningful way - it must also be possible for users to formulate queries in natural language, and where possible using terms with which people are familiar. This project will address exactly this problem, through developing a set of methods which seek to bridge the gap between formal ontologies and database queries on the one hand, and pure natural language on the other, by using of concept ontologies derived from unstructured and volunteered data and empirical experiments.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Resolving fine granularity toponyms: Evaluation of a disambiguation approach
Derungs Curdin, Palacio Damien, Purves Ross. S. (2012), Resolving fine granularity toponyms: Evaluation of a disambiguation approach, in GIScience 2012, Extended Abstract Proceedings, Columbus, Ohio.
Measuring topographic similarity of toponyms
Derungs Curdin, Purves Ross (2012), Measuring topographic similarity of toponyms, in AGILE'2012 12th International Conference on Geographic Information Science, Avignon, France.
Toponym disambiguation of landscape features using geomorphometric characteristics
Derungs Curdin, Purves Ross S. (2011), Toponym disambiguation of landscape features using geomorphometric characteristics, in Waldvogel, Bettina.
Exploring Geomorphometry through User Generated Content: Comparing an Unsupervised Geomorphometric Classification with Terms Attached to Georeferenced Images in Great Britain
Gschwend Christian, Purves Ross S., Exploring Geomorphometry through User Generated Content: Comparing an Unsupervised Geomorphometric Classification with Terms Attached to Georeferenced Images in Great Britain, in Transactions in GIS.
From text to landscape: locating, identifying and mapping the use of landscape features in a Swiss Alpine corpus
Derungs C, Purves RS, From text to landscape: locating, identifying and mapping the use of landscape features in a Swiss Alpine corpus, in International Journal of Geographical Information Science.
The Meanings of the Generic Parts of Toponyms: Use and Limitations of Gazetteers in Studies of Landscape Terms
Derungs Curdin, Wartmann Flurina, Purves Ross, Mark David, The Meanings of the Generic Parts of Toponyms: Use and Limitations of Gazetteers in Studies of Landscape Terms, in Conference on Spatial Information Theory, Scarborough, UK.

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
GIScience 2012 19.09.2012 Columbus, Ohio, USA
Geographic Information Retrieval Tutorial 24.04.2012 Avignon, France
Swiss Geosciences Meeting 11.11.2011 Zurich, Switzerland
Association of American Geographers 12.04.2011 Seattle, USA


Knowledge transfer events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Date Place Persons involved


Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
146157 Improving Access to Unstructured Text through "Folk-centred" Approaches (FolkOnt2) 01.04.2013 Project funding (Div. I-III)
100054 Ice sheet modelling, topography and uncertainty (TopIce) 01.10.2003 Project funding (Div. I-III)
149823 Place-based map generalization (PlaceGen) 01.06.2014 Project funding (Div. I-III)
149397 Computational methods for extracting landmark semantics 01.09.2013 International short research visits

Abstract

We propose a three-year extension to the SNF project TopIce (200021-100054/ 200020-109449), which ran over four years and ended on the 30th of September 2007. Like TopIce this project will investigate uncertainty in the domain of GIScience, but broadening the focus of investigation from the influence of uncertainty in terrain on environmental models, to the development of methods to deal with and represent uncertainty, ambiguity and imprecision in environmental databases. There is a pressing need for such research, since despite increases in public availability of many environmental datasets, these are typically designed and populated by experts using domain knowledge which is not held by typical interested parties.Methods to address such issues are central to GIScience, with research on formal ontologies, spatial cognition, data models, vernacular placenames and the role of uncertainty in modelling all being examples of research related to dealing with issues of vagueness and uncertainty. We therefore propose a PhD project which will focus on exploring the potential of emerging discip-lines, data sources and methods to develop a “folk-centred” ontology to better enable search of an environmental database. Within the project we will investigate the use of both volunteered geographic information, such as georeferenced, tagged images (e.g. Flickr) and empirical me-thods, for example, those proposed by the new domain of ethnophysiography. Furthermore, we will take advantage of developments in folksonomy in computer science, which seeks to use the power of volunteered data to categorise information in what has been seen as, but need not be, a diametrically opposed research avenue to work on formal ontologies. We will explore the eth-nophysiographic hypothesis in a Swiss context, using a database which contains both struc-tured and unstructured data in three different languages, and whose spatial reach covers mul-tiple dialect regions. Using these different data sources, we will seek to build a concept ontology which retains much of the vagueness and ambiguity of natural language, but which can be linked to the existing formal ontologies to improve query handling for non-experts. We will also investigate the use of vernacular names in describing landscapes, and develop methods to compare landscape elements on the basis of both concepts embodied by them and their mor-phometry.The proposed project will be jointly run by the Geographic Information Science Group (GIS) at the Department of Geography, University of Zurich and the Data Centre Nature and Landscape (DNL) of Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research(WSL) and will benefit not only from synergies with the research carried out in TopIce, but also with two EU-projects investigating Geographic Information Retrieval (SPIRIT) and automatic generation of metadata for georeferenced objects (Tripod), ongoing research on landform extraction and ontologies in the GIS Group, and current work at the DNL to improve access to an environmental database through the use of formal ontologies. Furthermore, the data holdings of the DNL will provide a perfect testbed for exploration of the efficacy of the methods developed in the project.
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