Interview with David Lemon of CSIRO Land and Water by Lance McKee, OGC

Lance McKee's picture

CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) is Australia's national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world. David Lemon, Stream Leader - Water Informatics in CSIRO Land and Water, is Co-chair of the OGC Hydrology Domain Working Group along with Ilya Zaslavsky (San Diego Supercomputing Center – SDSC in the USA) and Ulrich Looser (Global Runoff Data Centre – GRDC at Germany's Federal Institute of Hydrology). I asked David a few questions about CSIRO's long-time involvement in the OGC.

LM: CSIRO has been involved with standards for many years. What initially motivated the organization to develop a strategy and architecture based on standards?

DL: CSIRO undertakes research in many application domains including climate, natural resource management, water, health, energy, manufacturing,  space science, and so on. Being able to re-use solutions developed in one context to solve problems in another is an obvious efficiency. Cross-domain standards formalizes this principle, so it makes a lot of sense for CSIRO. Our organizational structure has made it easier for individual experts to work across domains and hence propagate this work.

LM: What motivated CSIRO to provide leadership on the development of specific OGC standards?

DL: CSIRO became a member of the OGC in around 1996. Starting around 2000 the main focus of our work with the OGC was in the context of projects in the geology and mineral-mining sectors, where heterogeneous software was becoming a significant barrier to being able to realise the value of information that had been collected. Heterogeneity was also present at a more fundamental level: data collected to address geological problems is almost uniquely eclectic, partly as a consequence of the basic sampling problem resulting from the need to tell a story about largely inaccessible locations. Observations cross the gamut of in-situ, remote-sensing and ex-situ sampling. The leadership that we have shown in the area of observations and measurements is largely related to looking for solutions in this area.

LM: As I understand, the OGC WaterML 2.0 standard is the result of a number of other similar standards that preceded it, including a WaterML 1.0 that was quite different. How did all of these come together?

DL: In late 2006 Australia’s water resources had a reached a crisis point with some major centres close to ‘running out’. This was due to many factors but primarily a long running drought. As a result, the Federal Government invested over $A10B in a National Plan for Water, part of which was allocated to the Bureau of Meteorology to collate Australia’s water information to produce regular water accounts and assessments. Early in the Bureau’s role they realised that collate this information they needed a common form for the (over) 250 data providers to encode their data and they asked CSIRO to develop something. From this process was born the Water Data Transfer Format (WDTF).

The development of WDTF was fast tracked and hence has a number of compromises. In order to address these, CSIRO staff studied a number of water data encodings from around the world including WaterML1.x and XHydro. None of these was based on OGC standards but it was quickly realised that they all could be mapped onto the OGC's Observations & Measurements (O&M) standard. From this work a Harmonisation Report was written (OGC 2007-05-30) and development of WaterML2.0 was begun in earnest.

LM: The delivery of data products in OGC Geography Markup Language (GML) format has been a major emphasis for CSIRO. How have things progressed into the use of other OGC standards? 

DL: Use of GML has been a major emphasis for one team within CSIRO. Other teams are major users of (and sometimes contributors to) the OGC Sensor Observation Service (SOS), Web Coverage Service (WCS) and NetCDF standards, to name just a few. As I've mentioned, CSIRO is an extremely diverse organisation.  

LM:  How have OGC standards helped CSIRO save money or increase revenue?

CSIRO is not a commercial organisation, so revenue is not a key performance indicator for us. However, our acknowledged leadership in SDI standards has led to many opportunities in significant research infrastructure projects, and led to us being invited to be the primary research provider in this area to several operational agencies at both state and federal levels, both within and outside Australia.

DL: CSIRO has made a significant investment in the OGC's work on basic OGC Web Services (OWS) like the OGC Web Feature Service (WFS) and Web Map Service (WMS) interface standards. Is this work still a priority for CSIRO?

As well as the investment in the standards process, CSIRO, through the AuScope project, has made a significant investment in improving the quality of and enhancing some open-source software solutions that implement some key parts of the OGC stack – in particular GeoServer (WFS & WMS) and GeoNetwork (OGC Catalog Services – Web (CSW) Interface Standard). Both of these are continuing. In our work with the Bureau of Meteorology, we are developing tools and methods for managing interoperability between information systems based on OGC standards. Not only is this work still a priority, it is increasingly so.

LM: Has CSIRO's commitment to OGC standards encouraged other producers and users of geospatial information to commit to OGC standards?

DL: CSIRO uses a number of routes to influence potential users of OGC standards. The Australian public sector has received the message through projects and workshops. This is best evidenced in our work in the minerals and water sectors. The academic sector hears about our OGC involvement through presentations at conferences, both domestic and international.

LM: David, thanks for all that CSIRO is doing in the spatial standards area and thank you for sharing this information in an interview!

Note: On Tuesday 20th September in Boulder Colorado, co-located with the OGC's Technical Committee meetings, an international group of hydrology decision makers convened in a daylong Hydrology Ad Hoc meeting to discuss data sharing policy issues and WaterML 2.0. Also, on Wednesday 21st September, there was a one-day Oceans/Meteorology/Hydrology Water Cycle Summit ( These events were organized by the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Hydrology Domain Working Group and the OGC Meteorology and Oceanography Domain Working Group, both of which are Joint Working Groups of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the OGC.