A linked GeoData map for enabling information access

Open-File Report 2017-1150




The Geospatial Semantic Web (GSW) is an emerging technology that uses the Internet for more effective knowledge engineering and information extraction. Among the aims of the GSW are to structure the semantic specifications of data to reduce ambiguity and to link those data more efficiently. The data are stored as triples, the basic data unit in graph databases, which are similar to the vector data model of geographic information systems (GIS); that is, a node-edge-node model that forms a graph of semantically related information. The GSW is supported by emerging technologies such as linked geospatial data, described below, that enable it to store and manage geographical data that require new cartographic methods for visualization. This report describes a map that can interact with linked geospatial data using a simulation of a data query approach called the browsable graph to find information that is semantically related to a subject of interest, visualized using the Data Driven Documents (D3) library. Such a semantically enabled map functions as a map knowledge base (MKB) (Varanka and Usery, 2017).

A MKB differs from a database in an important way. The central element of a triple, alternatively called the edge or property, is composed of a logic formalization that structures the relation between the first and third parts, the nodes or objects. Node-edge-node represents the graphic form of the triple, and the subject-property-object terms represent the data structure. Object classes connect to build a federated graph, similar to a network in visual form. Because the triple property is a logical statement (a predicate), the data graph represents logical propositions or assertions accepted to be true about the subject matter. These logical formalizations can be manipulated to calculate new triples, representing inferred logical assertions, from the existing data.

To demonstrate a MKB system, a technical proof-of-concept is developed that uses geographically attributed Resource Description Framework (RDF) serializations of linked data for mapping. The proof-of-concept focuses on accessing triple data from visual elements of a geographic map as the interface to the MKB. The map interface is embedded with other essential functions such as SPARQL Protocol and RDF Query Language (SPARQL) data query endpoint services and reasoning capabilities of Apache Marmotta (Apache Software Foundation, 2017). An RDF database of the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS), which contains official names of domestic feature in the United States, was linked to a county data layer from The National Map of the U.S. Geological Survey. The county data are part of a broader Government Units theme offered to the public as Esri shapefiles. The shapefile used to draw the map itself was converted to a geographic-oriented JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) (GeoJSON) format and linked through various properties with a linked geodata version of the GNIS database called “GNIS–LD” (Butler and others, 2016; B. Regalia and others, University of California-Santa Barbara, written commun., 2017). The GNIS–LD files originated in Terse RDF Triple Language (Turtle) format but were converted to a JSON format specialized in linked data, “JSON–LD” (Beckett and Berners-Lee, 2011; Sorny and others, 2014). The GNIS–LD database is composed of roughly three predominant triple data graphs: Features, Names, and History. The graphs include a set of namespace prefixes used by each of the attributes. Predefining the prefixes made the conversion to the JSON–LD format simple to complete because Turtle and JSON–LD are variant specifications of the basic RDF concept.

To convert a shapefile into GeoJSON format to capture the geospatial coordinate geometry objects, an online converter, Mapshaper, was used (Bloch, 2013). To convert the Turtle files, a custom converter written in Java reconstructs the files by parsing each grouping of attributes belonging to one subject and pasting the data into a new file that follows the syntax of JSON–LD. Additionally, the Features file contained its own set of geometries, which was exported into a separate JSON–LD file along with its elevation value to form a fourth file, named “features-geo.json.” Extracted data from external files can be represented in HyperText Markup Language (HTML) path objects. The goal was to import multiple JSON–LD files using this approach.

Suggested Citation

​Powell, L.J., and Varanka, D.E., 2018, A linked GeoData map for enabling information access: U.S. Geological Survey Open–File Report 2017–1150, 6 p,

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Table of Contents

  • Overview
  • Linking Data for Mapping
  • Graphic Presentation
  • Conclusions
  • References Cited

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
A linked GeoData map for enabling information access
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Center for Geospatial Information Science (CEGIS)
iv, 6 p.
Online Only (Y/N):