Geoprocessing for Environmental Assessments: Citizenship in the Amazon Region and Emergencies in Rio de Janeiro

August 18, 2011

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Abstract: Discussion of concepts involved in geoprocessing, and the basic technical characteristics of the VICON/SAGA are presented. Four application cases – environmental disasters, water resources for eventual emergencies, dengue epidemics monitoring, and data sharing for education in the Amazon Region – were presented with respective links. Perspectives of developments (Linked Open Data standards, large databases, standalone platform) and conclusions about educational needs, technological advances and environmental data standards end the paper.

1.    Introduction: some basic concepts
The approach of this paper is to attempt to simplify the basic procedures needed to identify and act upon a critical environmental situation, to be applied by different professional researchers and speedily trained data collecting personnel.

Research fields can be seen as assemblages of concepts, methods and techniques aimed at the understanding of a portion of the perceivable reality. A concept is a logical construction, of variable exactitude, destined to characterize perceived phenomena. A phenomenon is any perceivable change of reality, and a method is a particular arrangement of identification and classification procedures, to be applied to perceived phenomena to obtain man-made images and establish deductions, correlations and other logical procedures to explain their occurrence (Xavier-da-Silva and Marino, 2010). Techniques are these mentioned procedures, to be properly arranged through adequate methods.

Reality perception can be built through the insertion of phenomena images into a virtual or material space/time structure - a referential - defined as an encompassing physical or logical framework which allows the systematic recognition of perceived modifications. These changes can classified as two basic phenomena: a) entities, phenomena perceived mainly in space; and b) events, phenomena perceived mainly in time. They differ, specifically, by their unequal velocity of alteration in relation to the human time scale.  The interplay of those two types of phenomena, once analyzed and properly presented, can usefully depict perceived or imagined realities.

The increasing number of environmental data collection techniques brings difficulties to data handling. It demands extensive storage of unorganized records obtained under diverse media and many numerical, textual or pictorial forms. Maps and photos are good examples. Concerning environmental disasters, effective ways must be created to organize, manipulate and present most needed decision support data, in useful time, as properly included in their taxonomic and geographic contexts, thus orderly transforming data into coordinated geospatialized information. All data, original or later acquired, must be submitted to Geoinclusion (Xavier-da-Silva and Marino, 2011), that is, a process of careful insertion of the modifying phenomena into their proper position – both geographical and taxonomical. This “geographic insertion,” once applied to significant modifications of environmental conditions, can and must be embedded within the offered environmental possibilities and limitations. This rational procedure, feasible through massive data processing, which is today insufficiently or inadequately applied in environmental planning, at least in Brazil, can reduce the likelihood of future environmental disasters (Xavier-da-Silva and Marino, 2011).

Another concept deserves some attention: emergency logistics. It refers to foreseeing actions to be properly performed in the face of environmental disasters. It means to decide based on precarious informational conditions, under a host of uncertainties and scarcity of support and resources, at least during a variable critical period. Also many environmental situations demanding immediate attention may occur, a condition requiring painful creation or modification of priorities on decision support criteria. In all, the disaster affected places may comprise a disorganized and often infernal geographic mosaic of entities, events and frequently, contradictory information, crumbling over the disaster attending teams. This chaotic situation must be rapidly turned into an orderly informative system, able to systematically absorb and turn available further data for geotopological analyses, thus changing data into much needed information about possible paths, including comparisons among specific local characteristics. To build such a system is a noble and attainable research goal.

In Brazil, many geographical information systems are being installed in the so-called municipal, state or federal civil defense agencies involved in environmental disasters. At the municipal level, fruitful results from these systems are hampered by a lack of absorbing capacity of the municipal administrations. So, simplicity of technical procedures and a high degree of objectivity are often required characteristics of such systems, without disregard for the diversity of their applications, which, preferably, should not require costly and sophisticated data sources. Contingency plans analyzing specific environments, together with suggestions and provision of adequate administrative measures, are good examples of needs found at the municipal level.

2.    The VICON/SAGA Web – Vigilance and Control
This program is part of the SAGA/UFRJ, a GIS developed at the Laboratory of Geoprocessing of the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro. It operates upon identified entities and events used to obtain decision support information from their geodiversity and geotopology (Xavier-da- Silva et al., in Garay and Dias, 2001), (Xavier-da-Silva and Zaidan, p. 20; 2004), (Xavier-da-Silva and Zaidan, 2011).

The VICON/SAGA Web stores and exchanges files of many formats, as well as photographs and video recordings of places and events. Developed in PHP on a MySQL database, it is a Web platform which uses the Google Maps API (application programming interface) (Boulos, 2005) as an imaging database. Consequently, it is a multiplatform system, independent of the operating system in use, and has worldwide coverage (Google Base). The system has permission levels, use passwords; issues reports under the formats PDF, Excel, KML-Google and HTML; creates its own raster format maps and also maps in TIFF and SHP formats; and accepts searches in alphanumeric databases by composite filters (see Figure 1). Further information and access to applications are available.

Figure 1. VICON/SAGA operation schema. Click for larger view.

3.    Applied Cases
3.1.    The CENACID/UFPR application
This VICON/SAGA program has been used for information management in environmental disasters, under a partnership arrangement between LAGEOP/UFRJ and an academic center for scientific support in disasters of the Universidade Federal do Paraná, Brazil (CENACID/UFPR). This center has used the VICON/SAGA program in many environmental disasters, such as an oil spill from an exploded ship in Paranaguá Bay (2004), floods in Bolivia and Ecuador, earthquakes in Chile and Haiti (Jan 2010) and in several recent important emergencies in Brazil (2010 - Blumenau; 2011 - mountains near Rio; see details, and example in Figure 2). The CENACID/UFPR was distinguished by the UN Environment Program, with the Green Star Award.

Figure 2. VICON/SAGA - Disasters version, operating in the mountainous zone near Rio affected by heavy rains causing destructive floods and landslides - January 2011 - Teresópolis - Rio de Janeiro - Brazil Click for larger view. Click for larger view.

3.2.    The GTSAI/CBMERJ application
The VICON/SAGA program was applied by the Rio de Janeiro State Fire Department in the last two New Year’s evenings (events of more than one million people each). Information for control of all available water resources in Copacabana was entirely available during these festivities (hydrants, swimming pools, water reservoirs, specially placed water tank trucks). Also many critical points were identified for possible use or special attention (hospitals, shopping malls, schools). The location of those entities was ascertainable, in isolated form or as an assemblage of entities inside a specified radius, for any specific street and number address (location of eventual call) of the Copacabana urban section. Thus, decisive information support to eventual emergencies was made available to the State Fire Department of Rio de Janeiro. The informational basis is being expanded to other sections of both Rio de Janeiro city and state.

Figure 3. Available water resources and critical points - 2011 New Year at Copacabana - Rio de Janeiro – Brazil. Click for larger view.

3.3.    Geographic expansion of epidemics (2011) – The Rio de Janeiro State Health Department
The VICON/SAGA program has been applied to monitor the areal expansion of a dengue epidemic in Rio de Janeiro State. More than 70,000 cases of the disease were located and inferences can be made by the State Health Department about the disease’s preferential expansion paths. Also several types of data were stored for each occurrence, allowing combined queries on the alphanumeric registers and the identification of critical geographic areas.

3.4.    Data sharing and citizenship in the Amazon Region
The VICON/SAGA basic structure was directed, in this case, to three main objectives:

  1. to develop the spirit of citizenship among high school students and teachers
  2. to house the commanding chain involving educational institutions of the federal, state and municipal levels
  3. to act as an open access network, allowing nearly free circulation of information among users

All data of a census carried at Santarem, Para, comprising more than 400 registers, 48 schools and hundreds of participants, jointly sponsored by the Universidade Federal do Oeste do Pará, Pará State Government and the federal agency CAPES, available at the above given address, were used to demonstrate the viability of the previously presented three objectives.

Figure 4. Pilot study involving a social and educational census carried at the urban area of Santarem, State of Pará, in Central Amazon region. Click for larger view.

4.    Perspectives and conclusions
The present and near future development activities associated with the VICON/SAGA program include:

  • Linked Open Data (Bizer, Cyganiak and Jentzsch, 2010) is a new initiative for Internet, aimed at interconnecting Web public data. It uses a common format, RDF (Resource Description Framework), a well-established specification consisting of W3C recommendations and OpenGIS Consortium standards. It will contribute to interoperability, allowing the use of multiple vocabularies and mappings (Klyne and Carroll, 2004).
  • Development of a standalone version, able to receive data from mobile devices, such as cell phones and tablets, allowing immediate data capture and uploading, regardless of Internet connectivity
  • Tests and optimizations for processing time and ample viewing of a large amount of records

Some possible perspectives and conclusions are:

  • Environmental data processing, at least in Brazil, must take into account the changes occurring in thematic map and cartographic database generation, such as the ad hoc data obtainment through aircraft-based camera usage and the general use of telephones as sources of updated information, since new concepts and methods shall result from these technical advances.
  • The acceptance of standards for environmental data (physical, biotic and socioeconomic) may significantly contribute to theoretical and methodological advances, particularly if properly followed by the efforts associated with interoperability.
  • A fairly interesting operational improvement in the educational and environmental research areas can, eventually, stem from the use of VICON-like systems, particularly in field work. Participants can discuss among themselves and be guided by a single expert, online, about environmental characteristics found and being analyzed at their respective diverse locations. Since any data collection becomes immediately available, an interactive environmental scanning procedure is installed.

5.    Acknowledgements

This paper stems from the research project named “Geographic inclusion: a natural continuation of digital and social inclusions,” sponsored by the Rio de Janeiro State Research Support Foundation – FAPERJ. Support was also received from the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro and the Universidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro. Special acknowledgment is made to the mentioned partner institutions.

Bizer, C. Jentzsch, A. and Cyganiak, R. “State of the LOD Cloud”, Freie Universität Berlin, Version 0.1, 10/19/2010, Preliminary Release.

Boulos, M. NK. “Web GIS in practice III: creating a simple interactive map of England's Strategic Health Authorities using Google Maps API, Google Earth KML, and MSN Virtual Earth Map Control” in International Journal of Health Geographics 2005, 4:22.

Garay, I. and Dias, B. 2001. Conservação da biodiversidade em ecossistemas tropicais. Ed. Vozes, Rio de Janeiro, RJ.

Klyne, G. and Carroll, J. "Resource Description Framework (RDF): Concepts and Abstract Syntax", W3C Recommendation, 2004.

Xavier-da-Silva, J. and Marino, T. B. Is the "GEO" perspective really general? In Proceedings of the 1st International Conference and Exhibition on Computing for Geospatial Research & Application, Washington DC, USA. 2010.

Xavier-da-Silva, J. and Marino, T. B. Citizenship through data sharing in the Amazon Region. In Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference and Exhibition on Computing for Geospatial Research & Application, Washington DC, USA. 2011.
Xavier-da-Silva, J. Geoprocessamento para Análise Ambiental. 1. ed. Rio de Janeiro: D5 Produção Gráfica, 2001. v. 1. 228 p.

Xavier-da-Silva, J. and Zaidan, R. T. (Editors). Geoprocessamento e Análise Ambiental - Aplicações. 1. ed. Rio de Janeiro: Bertrand Brasil, 2004, v. 01 (5th printing: 2011). 368 p.

Xavier-da-Silva, J. and Zaidan, R. T. (Editors). Geoprocessamento & Meio Ambiente . 1 ed. Rio de Janeiro: Bertrand Brasil, 2011, v. 01. 328 p.

Xavier-da-Silva, J., Goes, M. H. D. B. and Marino, T. B. Geoinclusão: um caminho do dado á informação. Revista de Geografia, v.1, n.1, p.1-5, 2011.

Xavier-da-Silva, J. O que é Geoprocessamento? Revista do CREA-RJ N79, Rio de Janeiro, p. 42 - 44, 30 out. 2009.


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