New documents support improved georeferencing practices

Set of three guides provide theory, methods and advice on spatial interpretation of locations

Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), Monterey Bay, California, USA. Photo 2020 Robin Gwen Agarwal via iNaturalist Research-grade Observations, licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.

The GBIF Secretariat has published "first final" versions of three documents on georeferencing that, taken together, provide an essential set of tools for improving the practice of spatially representing and interpreting location information.

Georeferencing Best Practices by Arthur Chapman and John Wieczorek offers theoretical background and methods for georeferencing descriptive localities. The document updates best practices, recommendations, and common terms and technologies developed and refined since publication of the same authors' 2006 Guide to Best Practices for Georeferencing.

The Georeferencing Quick Reference Guide by Paula Zermoglio, Arthur Chapman, John Wieczorek, Maria Celeste Luna and David Bloom provides a citable protocol in the form of a practical how-to guide with rules and procedures for determining the shapes of geospatial features and using their outcomes as the basis for georeferencing.

The Georeferencing Calculator Manual by David Bloom, John Wieczorek and Paula Zermoglio lays out instructions for the Georeferencing Calculator. This browser-based tool works both online and offline, helping users georeference descriptive localities using the point-radius method based on the theory given in Georeferencing Best Practices.

"It is an honor to have had the opportunity to update these documents, to make them more flexible and dynamic, and to open them more readily to contributions from the community," said John Wieczorek of VertNet. "It is to GBIF's credit to make documentation like this more relevant and to increase its potential impact."

The concepts and methods presented in these documents have a long history of development by the VertNet team in the broad context of biological occurrence data. However, the fundamental principles and practices are suitable for application in any other disciplines that rely on spatial interpretation of descriptive locations.

"Accurate biodiversity assessments at any scale rely on three key pieces of information: what (taxonomic identifications), when (date and time) and where (location)," said Niels Raes, node manager for NLBIF, the Netherlands Bidiversity Information Facility. "By providing the essential tools and guidance for accurately deriving coordinates and uncertainty from locality descriptions, these materials can help researchers and collection managers increase the quality, usefulness and precision of biodiversity data, both inside and outside of the GBIF network."

The three documents represent the centerpiece in the digital-first documentation that the GBIF Secretariat commissioned from VertNet to fulfill a commitment made in the 2019 GBIF work programme. As with the recently published guide for publishing data on sensitive species and the forthcoming Spanish-language guide for using OpenRefine, the aim of this effort is to provide technical guidance in support of skills development and training across GBIF's communities of practice while improving the processes for updating and maintaining guidance over time.

The programme's systems and processes are intended to be as transparent, open and self-policing as possible. Prior to the release of "first final" versions, community members review draft documents maintained in open GitHub repositories and published into HTML and PDF formats using an open-source publishing toolchain called AsciiDoctor. GBIF's vibrant volunteer translator community can easily contribute alternate language versions of any document using CrowdIn, which provides a free non-commercial licence to support their efforts.

Those interested in future publications, peer review and translation opportunities within this programme should consider subscribe to the dedicated digital documentation mailing list.