Some fresh work - modelling glacier beds in the Austrian Alps!

Why we should do WebGIS in Geomorphology ?
- because maps are cool !

In few words, a WebGIS application combines GIS capabilities with internet technology. GIS processing is performed on a server and transferred to the users webbrowser which receives spatially referenced geographical information in interactive web viewers. The system architecture might be different and range from more complex applications including user and map administration or digitzing to quite simple webmapping applications like the Google Maps API. Since Google Maps is known to nearly everybody, it seems that WebGIS or webmapping is getting popular and that is it accessible by many users - even in science!

But, see for yourselve and try some of the WebGIS applications listed below.

Geomorphic WebGIS applications

  • Subglacial topography of the Austrian Alps (Bsc. thesis Dominik Koehler, Insitute of Natural Ressource Sciences, Zurich University of Applied Sciences) using the fast, free and easy to use GISCloud.
  • Geomorphic WebGIS Turtmanntal using UMN Mapserver, Mapbender and PostgreSQL/PostGIS.
    The Turtmanntal WebGIS visualizes the outcomes of several years of geomorphological research of the Research Training Group 437 – “Landform – a structured and variable boundary layer” at the Department of Geography, University of Bonn. At a first stage, a dynamic and multi-layer geomorphological map at 1:25.000 scale of the Turtmann Valley is presented. However, more information regarding permafrost distribution, sediment volumes and geophysical soundings will be included in the future.
  • Geomorphic WebGIS using UMN Mapserver, Mapbender and PostgreSQL/PostGIS. provides an easy and fast access to the geomorphological maps of Germany. More than 30 maps are available at two different scales. You can view all maps in an interactive viewer; furthermore, there is free access to a detailed bibliography on geomorphological mapping and a set of gemorphological mapping symbols. Maps, booklets and other materials are provided for free.
  • Geomorphic WebGIS Reintal using UMN Mapserver, Mapbender and PostgreSQL/PostGIS.
    The Reintal WebGIS visualizes the outcomes of the research project "Sediment cascades of alpine geosystems" at the Department of Geography, University of Bonn. It presents the spatial distribution of sediment storage types in the Reintal (Bavarian Alps) drawing on information about the topography, hydrology, geophysical soundings etc.
  • WebGIS using UMN Mapserver & OpenLayers.
    Within the project the permafrost distribution in austria will be modelled. The WebGIS visualizes the outcomes of a pilot study.
Some new applications using OpenLayers will be implemented soon.

Geomorphological maps in Google Earth

Google Earth is a stand-alone programme which offers global viewing features. It was released in 2001 as 'Keyhole Earthviewer' (Keyhole Inc.) and aquired by Google in 2004, current version is Google Earth 5.0 (February 2009). Today the software is very popular and used by lots of people from all over the world. It provides high-resolution base maps and is open to data overlayers using markup languages like KML, GML or XML and images or WMS (turning the application also into a WMS client).
KML, an official OGC standard too, enables the organisation and exchange of vector geometries. Numerous tools like the Geospatial Data Abstraction Library (GDAL) are available for data translation into KML. KML handles each type of vector geometry differently. Advanced visualisation by complex symbology is limited. Point symbols are displayed as images, which enables a more complex symbology although data specific rotation is not possible. Line features are simply displayed with additional specifications of line width and colour, but multi-level symbols are not supported. Polygon features only support simple colour fills, with no hatching or patterned fills, and the style for polygon perimeters is equal to line symbols. This restricts the use of KML for complex geomorphic feature visualisation and limits its suitability for the dissemination of geomorphological maps. As a rule of thumb, keep the symbology for a KML file as simple as possible.
One possibility to distribute geomorphological maps by means of Google Earth is to display the map as an image overlay. The image is exactly positioned on Google’s virtual globe by a bounding box. It has to be mentioned that a single image will be displayed in the best resolution only at the scale the image was created and zooming will deliver blurred data. The best performance is achieved if the image is served as network link through a WMS. The image is refreshed after each navigation task and delivers high resolution at different scales. The WMS map request can be embedded in a KML file and stored on a local hard drive. In addition, the use of Google Earth as a WMS client allows the display of additional information from any publicly available WMS.

Attractive papers

  • Avagliano, G., Di Martino, S., Ferrucci, F., Paolino, L., Sebillo, M., Tortora, G. & Vitiello, G. (2008): Embedding Google Maps APIs into WebRatio for the Automatic Generation of Web GIS Applications. Visual Information Systems: Web-Based Visual Information Search and Management, Visual 2008, 5188, 259-270.
  • Ballagh, L.M., Raup, B.H., Duerr, R.E., Khalsa, S.J.S., Helm, C., Fowler, D., Gupte, A. (2011): Representing scientific data sets in KML: methods and challenges.
    Computers & Geosciences, 37(1), 57-64.
  • Kulawiak, M., Luba, M. & Chybicki, A. (2008): Web-based GIS technologies dedicated for presenting semi-dynamic geospatial data. Proceedings of the 2008 1st International Conference on Information Technology, 231-236.
  • Litwin, L. (2008): Atlas of karst area based on Web GIS technology. Environmental Geology, 54, 1029-1036.
  • Mooney, P. & Winstanley, A. C. (2009): Representations of Environmental Data in Web-Based GIS. Representing, Modeling, and Visualizing the Natural Environment, 101-116.
  • Otto, J. C., Gustavsson, M. & M. Geilhausen (2011): Cartography. Design, Symbolisation and Visualisation of Geomorphological Maps. In: Smith, M., Paron, P. & J.S. Griffith (eds.): Geomorphological Mapping. Methods and applications. Developments in Earth Surface Processes. Elsevier, London.
  • Shroder, J. F., Bishop, M. P., Olsenholler, J. & Craiger, J. P. (2002): Geomorphology and the World Wide Web. Geomorphology, 47, 343-363.
  • Smith, M.J., Hillier, J.K., Otto, J.-C. & M. Geilhausen (in press): Geovisualisation. In: Shroder, J. (Editor in Chief), Bishop, M.P. (Eds.): Treatise on Geomorphology. Academic Press, San Diego, CA, vol. 3.
  • Tooth, S. (2006): Virtual globes: a catalyst for the re-enchantment of geomorphology? Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 31, 1192-1194.
  • Vitek, J. D., Giardino, J. R. & Fitzgerald, J. W. (1996): Mapping geomorphology: A journey from paper maps, through computer mapping to GIS and Virtual Reality. Geomorphology, 16, 233-249.
  • Werneke, J. (2008): The KML Handbook: Geographic Visualization for the Web. Addison-Wesley Professional, San Francisco.

Geomorphic symbolsets

  • ArcGIS

    Otto & Dikau created a symbolset for ArcGIS© based on the legend for geomorphological mapping in High Mountain areas (GMK Hochgebirge) after Kneisel (Kneisel et al. 1998). It is has been created for geomorphologic maps at a 1:25000 scale and is available as an ArcGIS© style file.
    To download the symbolset go to
  • UMN Mapserver

    I created a geomorphological symbolset for the UMN Mapserver based on the one created by Otto & Dikau (see ArcGIS symbolset). It is free to use and modify, just write me a mail specifying i) where you are working and ii) which UMN version you are using, and I will send the symbolset to you. If there are any problems or bugs don't hesitate to contact me. Have fun using the UMN geomorphological symbolset!
  • Quantum GIS (QGIS)

    Also based on Otto & Dikau's set I tried to get that in QGIS using SVG graphics for the geomorphological landforms. It is not really finished and I'm still working on that, but everybody is free to use it for test purposes. Just write me a mail.
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