Roger Longhorn,
Secretary-General of the GSDI Association and member of the ICAN Steering Group
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The GSDI Association has part-funded a two-year research project focusing on identification of developments in Marine Spatial Data Infrastructures around the globe. The project began in November 2015 and extends into 2017. The project proposal and work plan grew out of research carried out by Dr Jade Georis-Creuseveau of LETG-Brest Geomer (UMR 6554 CNRS), UBO, Institut Universitaire Européen de la Mer, Plouzané, France, as part of her PhD research programme in 2014 and 2015. The project co-leaders are Dr Joep Crompvoets of KU Leuven and Secretary-General of Euro SDR and Roger Longhorn, Secretary-General of the GSDI Association and member of the ICAN Steering Group. The research so far has conducted a survey of national coastal and marine geoportals mainly in Europe. KU Leuven and LETG-Brest are both GSDI Association members.


 Table 1. Geoportal Characteristics

 URL of the Web site of the geoportal
 Year of first implementation
 Geographical distribution
 Language(s) used
 Number of web references measured with the ‘
 Number of data suppliers
 Monthly number of visitors?
 User feedback mechanisms
 User technical assistance mechanisms
 Data themes
 Number of datasets
 Level of openness for data access
 Standard metadata
 Data searching mechanisms
 Data access services
 Functionalities supporting MSP/ICZM process and decision making
(e.g. indicator computation, barometer, report tool, scenario development …)
 Interactive functionalities enabling a high level of interaction among coastal/marine users
(e.g.  participation, wikis, e-forum, virtual workshop)
 Data and metadata submission functionalities


The research conducted so far includes a Web survey to assess the developments of existing national marine and coastal geoportals for SDIs or similar Web services. The initial Web survey led to an inventory of 35 national operational geoportals. For each geoportal, 12 characteristics were identified (see Table 1 below) and measured in November 2014, March 2015, and November 2015 in order to monitor current developments. Based on the preliminary survey results, four types of geoportals were distinguished: Atlas-like, Hydrographic Office, Oceanographic/Marine Data Centre, and Hybrid geoportals.

The Survey

The survey focuses on geoportals implemented by national public bodies in Europe enabling access and use of geographic data related to marine and/or coastal zones. The term “data” encompasses a broad range of items such as real-time observations, time series data, GIS data layers, digital maps, etc.

In November 2014, 121 geoportals were assessed from 72 coastal countries (48 % of the total number of coastal countries). Of these, 24 geoportals were not operational at that time (20%), 7 failed to work during the period of the survey (6%), 39 were considered to be out of the scope of the survey (32%), and 51 were implemented by national public organizations providing access to coastal and/or marine spatial data (42%)

These geoportals are implemented by 27 countries. With the exception of major maritime countries (USA, France, Australia, Canada) that manage several geoportals (from 4 to 5), the large majority of the countries have only one or two geoportals.


The first step of the survey was to establish a typology to guide the ongoing analysis of the different characteristics of the geoportals. The comparison of characteristics 4, 6, 8 and 9 (Table 1) suggests a typology for the following four types of geoportal: Atlas-like, Hydrographic Office, Oceanographic/Marine Data Centre, and Hybrid geoportals.

Atlas-like geoportals

Within the framework of the IOC IODE International Coastal Atlas Network (ICAN) Project, a coastal web atlas (CWA) is defined as “a collection of digital maps and datasets with supplementary tables, illustrations and information that systematically illustrate the coast, often with cartographic and decision support tools, all of which are accessible via the Internet” (O'Dea et al., 2007). This type gathers the 7 geoportals of national atlases of the ICAN network together with 8 other Atlas-like geoportals (29% of the total number of surveyed geoportals). From these 15 geoportals, 7 managers responded to the survey.

Hydrographic Office Geoportals

The second type includes 10 geoportals (20% of the total number of surveyed geoportals) that are mainly implemented by national Hydrographic Offices, organizations which are historically devoted to surveying and charting seas, oceans and navigable waters for purposes of maintaining safety of life at sea. From these 10 geoportals, 4 managers responded to the survey.

Oceanographic/Marine Data Centre Geoportals

In the third category, 18 geoportals were identified (35% of the total number of surveyed geoportals). They correspond mainly to National Oceanographic Data Centres (NODC) and other Marine Data Centres. The NODCs have been progressively implemented by the IOC’s International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange (IODE) since the 1960’s. At the European level, the NODC and other Marine Data Centres have been gathered in the SeaDataNet network, a Pan-European network providing on-line integrated databases since the end of the 2000’s. From these 18 geoportals, 4 managers responded to the survey.

Hybrid Geoportals

In addition to the geoportals classified into the first three types, 8 geoportals (16% of the total number of surveyed geoportals) were identified as Hybrid geoportals sharing the characteristics of the types above. From these 8 geoportals, 2 managers responded to the survey.

Data Characteristics

The analysed geoportals provide various digital data within diverse domains including administration (69%), physical (82%), biological (71%) and human (45%) aspects. They combine reference data as well as business data.

Atlas-like geoportals provide a large diversity of data themes describing administrative (100%), physical (93%) and biological (87%) aspects (e.g. marine biology, biodiversity, etc.) of the coastal and marine zones along with human uses (100%) (e.g. pollution related topics, tourism, etc.).

Data Policy

Regarding data policy, 71% of the analysed geoportals provide free access for anyone. The remaining geoportals provide free access only for registered users or by using request forms (59%), or provide access subject to fees (27%). “Free access” is associated with the fact that the data are covered by intellectual property rights and that the commercial use of the data is mostly not allowed without prior explicit agreement with the geoportal manager. Registration allows user access to additional functionalities, such as online map saving and saving search requests. User registration is also required to ensure that users agree with the Geoportal Data Policy and gives geoportal managers insights in the users and their data requirements.

Although personal registration may be required for the portal (27%), access to the data of the Atlas-like geoportals is mostly free for all (100%). Access to the products of the Hydrographic Office geoportals is fee-paying (100%) and 60% of these geoportals offer also free data. For the Oceanographic/Marine Data Centre geoportals, the data are accessible through a request form or for registered users (89%) and free for all (44%). For the Hybrid geoportals, the data are mainly freely accessible for all (88%) or through a request form (88%).


The technology component is defined by mechanisms for searching and accessing, functionalities supporting MSP/ICZM process and decision making, interactive functionalities enabling a high level of interaction among coastal/marine users and the data and metadata submission functionalities.

Searching for spatial data on a geoportal can be done through different mechanisms: catalog interfaces (75%) allow searching by means of keywords, production time, data theme, providers, etc.; map interfaces (90%) for locating an area of interest or by clicking on an area with predefined boundaries and a list of products in hypertext (53%). Data access from the geoportals is provided in different ways, including downloading services (69%), OGC web services (29%), data transmission via e-mail or FTP (29 %) or data purchase from certified distribution agents (24%).

To consult the data, the user of the Atlas-like geoportals has mainly access to map search mechanisms (100%) and catalogue interfaces (73%). Data access services are mainly based on downloading (87%) and OGC services (53%).


This component is characterized by the number of data suppliers, the monthly number of visitors, the number of unique visitors per month, the number of web references on Google, the language(s) used, the user feedback mechanisms, the user technical assistance mechanisms, the main geoportal's target, the main current users, the current satisfaction level of the users, the mechanisms to assess the users’ satisfaction and the mechanisms to involve users.
On the suppliers’ side, the number of data suppliers is not available for 61% of the geoportals investigated. Based on available information, 35% of the surveyed geoportals have less than 50 data suppliers, regardless of the types of geoportal.

Preliminary Conclusions

Preliminary results suggest that European developments are still underway for geoportals enabling users to access various types of data concerning coastal and marine zones. These types of data and mechanisms were stable between November 2014, March 2015 and November 2015, or slightly increasing.

Despite the integrated approach promoted by ICZM and MSP concepts and related regulations, the results indicate that platforms allowing access to a wide range of data related to marine, coastal and land territories are not commonly found. True data harmonisation and services interoperability, which are the underpinning principles for SDIs, need to be improved.

The main limitation of the survey concerns the fact that some information needed for assessment is not available online. The research continues with a further questionnaire being sent to the geoportal coordinators in order to assess real usage of the geoportals.

The proposed geoportals coordinators’ survey can be extended to geoportal users in order to analyze what they do with the data in their day-to-day responsibilities and what are their needs. The combination of these approaches (geoportals, coordinators’ and users’ survey) should contribute to a Multi-View Framework in order to assess SDIs and their ability to match the sustainable approach to the management of the coastal zones, oceans and seas.

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Photos from CoastGIS 2018

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