Upcoming webinars

Hi folks, we have planned a series of webinars in April and May.

Webinars are free to attend. They are open to all schools subscribed to Digimap for Schools  and anyone interested in learning more about the service. To join a webinar, you must register to book your place.

To see more details on the webinar content and register, click the link after the webinar of interest to you.

Hope to see you there!

If you have any questions about attending a webinar, or would like to suggest topics for future webinars, please comment below or get in touch with the Digimap for Schools Helpdesk – digimap.schools@ed.ac.uk

Updated maps

In addition to the new MasterMap styling released yesterday updated mapping also went live.  Updates to MasterMap, VectorMap Local raster, 1:25,ooo scale raster, 1:50,000 scale raster, and 1:250,000 scale raster were released.

This brings the mapping up to date with the latest available from Ordnance Survey.  Dates of the map data are:

  • MasterMap – 11th June 2015 (detailed mapping)
  • VectorMap Local Raster – July 2015 (street level mapping)
  • 1:25,000 scale raster – June 2015
  • 1:50,000 scale raster – June 2015
  • 1:250,00 scale raster – June 2015 (road atlas style mapping)

Have a go at playing spot the difference and see if you can find changes that have appeared on the maps!

updated 250k raster example

The new Borders Railway route shown on the updated 1:250,00 scale raster


New and improved styling for detailed maps

A new and improved styling for MasterMap, the most detailed mapping in Digimap for Schools has been release. The previous colours have been replaced with more subtle and contemporary tones. The styling has been inspired by the simpler palate used in the VectorMap Local product which makes up the street view level mapping.

Bold greens and yellows have been replaced with white and pastel greens. Man-made surfaces (roads, pavements, surfaces, railways etc) have been brought together and a wide range of greys applied. Pavements are a more realistic light grey instead of khaki green used in the old styling. Unclassified areas (generally areas under construction) are shown with a light hatching now making them easier to identify but without dominating other features.

Example of old MasterMap styling.

Example of old MasterMap styling. Ordnance Survey © Crown Copyright and Database Right 2015. An Ordnance Survey/EDINA supplied service.

The biggest change and improvement is in the vegetation styling. Different shades of greens with clearer vegetation symbols have been used to help identification of different vegetation types. The new styling also makes it easier to see any annotations added to the map, the more subtle colours and tones allow annotations to stand out more.

A great deal of time and effort has been taken to carefully craft this new styling and we hope you find it a significant improvement over the old styling. We would love to hear your thoughts and any suggestions for improvements. Please contact the EDINA Digimap for Schools helpdesk with comments edina@ed.ac.uk


Example of new MasterMap styling.

Example of new MasterMap styling. Ordnance Survey © Crown Copyright and Database Right 2015. An Ordnance Survey/EDINA supplied service.



NLS publishes new 1840s-1950s Ordnance Survey detailed maps for London and South-East England

National Library of ScotlandThe National Library of Scotland has just made freely available online 16,865 historic Ordnance Survey maps covering Greater London and the south-east of England. The Ordnance Survey 25 inch to the mile (1:2,500) maps were the most detailed series covering both urban and rural areas in the 19th century, and date between the 1840s and the 1950s. The maps are immensely valuable for local history, allowing practically every feature in the landscape to be shown. They provide good detail of all buildings, streets, railways, industrial premises, parkland, farms, woodland, and rivers.

At present, coverage is of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Kent, London, Middlesex, Surrey and Sussex. The scanning of this series is underway and will expand geographically over the next couple of years.

NLS has also georeferenced a layer of these maps dating between the 1890s-1920s, allowing them to be compared directly to modern day maps and satellite images with a transparency slider, as well as compared side by side on screen.

NLS OS 25 inch London side by side

New GB map and updated mapping

Coming very soon we will be releasing a new GB map in Digimap for Schools.  In December, Ordnance Survey released a new GB Overview map as part of their OS Open Data products.  It’s a nice and clear map with GB country boundaries and capital cities marked.  We hope that you like the new map and find it useful.

New GB map view

Also being released are updates to the mid and small scale mapping products.  These maps are being updated to the most recent versions made available to us by Ordnance Survey.  Maps that will be updated are:

  • Miniscale (January 2015)
  • 1:50 000 Raster (December 2014)
  • 1:25 000 Raster (December 2014)
  • VML Colour Raster (January 2015)

New detailed online maps covering post-War Edinburgh and London

Tony and I were contacted yesterday by our colleague Chris Fleet, Senior Map Curator at the National Library of Scotland with the exciting news that NLS have made freely available their earliest editions of Ordnance Survey National Grid maps at 1:1250 scale covering Edinburgh and London.  These were Ordnance Survey’s most detailed maps in the 20th century, and they show nearly all permanent features of over 1 square metre in size. They show excellent detail of commercial and residential buildings, railway stations, pubs, hotels, docks, factories and parks, as well as house names and numbers.

The maps can be viewed as a georeferenced overlay and as a dual-map / side-by-side viewer, allowing direct comparison with modern Google or Bing maps:

Edinburgh   georeferenced overlay    side-by-side viewer

London         georeferenced overlay    side-by-side viewer

Chris tells us this mapping layer will expand geographically over the next year as NLS continue to scan more OS National Grid post-War mapping.  To whet your appetite we’ve added a few sample London maps below.

King's Cross and St Pancras Stations

King’s Cross and St Pancras Stations

Isle of Dogs docks

Isle of Dogs docks

South Bank Festival of Britain site

South Bank Festival of Britain site

Chris would love you to come and visit the NLS site and browse through these fantastic 1940s-1960s maps for Edinburgh and London.

New term, new mapping data

Over summer, the Digimap for Schools team have been beavering away processing updated Ordnance Survey mapping for the annual data update.   Every year, we take updates from Ordnance Survey and put them into Digimap for Schools, so recent changes in your area may now be on the maps.

The mapping is all 2014 data, the specific month for each product is:

MasterMap May 2014
VectorMap Local Raster July 2014
1:25 000 Raster April 2014
1:50 000 Raster June 2014
1:250 000 Raster June 2014
MiniScale January 2014

Telling Stories with Maps

But she said, sitting on the bus going up Shaftesbury Avenue, she felt herself everywhere; not ‘here, here, here’; and she tapped the back of the seat; but everywhere. She waved her hand, going up Shaftesbury Avenue.  She was all that.

How then to map that? Mrs Dalloway’s words reflect the fact that in literary narratives the sense of where one is may seem to have little to do with physical geography. While Virginia Woolf herself argued against attempting to physically locate a place an author mentions in a novel, since she believed that ‘[a] writer’s country is a territory within his own brain’, our project is based on the idea that the act of mentioning real-world place-names is in itself significant.[1] Woolf’s own liberal use of real-world place-names, albeit used with license, undermines her claims and indicate the broader basis of literary tradition and places in the world that provide a graspable structure to the reader of a literary work. Indeed, at least in terms of the significance of places the passage in Mrs Dalloway concurs, for it continues:  ‘So that to know her, or any one, one must seek out the people who completed them; even the places.’[2]

Hestia image

At the Hestia 2 Project symposium, Telling stories with maps, we found ourselves surrounded by scholars from diverse disciplines (including archaeology, history, political ecology, geography, philology, and international law) who were encountering similar theoretical and technological issues and questions concerning exactly what one is doing when one attempts to map qualitative narratives. Considerations of what is lost in translation from narrative to map or map to narrative form recurred throughout the day. Nonetheless, as Øyvind Eide stressed, such media differences can be productive, as long as the limits of the media are acknowledged.

There are also limits caused by availability of media platforms. Agnieszka Leszczynski and Sarah Elwood explored the ways in which hegemonic narratives of spaces and places are being contested through the wider accessibility of GIS media platforms; although in closing Leszczynski noted that nonetheless the majority of such platforms were still being created by tall, white, alpha males. Akiyoshi Suzuki explored the ways in which in Haruki Murakami’s works the dead, the lost and the forgotten are evoked as underlying human relations, for example, the circuitous walk taken by Naoko and Watanabe in Norwegian Wood follows the edges of where the land meets the water in ancient maps of Japan and passes through places relating to spirits of the dead.

Ian Gregory tackled the issue of the unmentioned places in works on the Lake District, by creating maps that make visible when places are mentioned only contingently in order to represent an otherwise indistinctly identified place or path, for example, by showing the likely path taken (from x to y) or place only indirectly mentioned (near x). Their use of the Edinburgh Geoparser to study place-name collocations is confirming the opposing nature of notions of the beautiful and the sublime in Romantic sentiment, since the places to which such epithets are applied do not tend to coincide in the text and, therefore, on the map.

This relates to the question asked of us after our presentation: whether we were not concerned that we would simply be reifying existing concepts of literary Edinburgh. In fact, as we explained, part of the aim of our project is that by uncovering thousands of works that have sunk into obscurity and by tracing the narratives told of place-names in Edinburgh across time we will be able to reflect on existing critical paradigms, such as the dual nature of Edinburgh and its literature, with its old and new town, its anglification and the demotic, and its enlightenment and the repression of the religious reformation. Uta Hinrichs on our visualisation team presented some of the ways in which we hope to bring the texts to life and provide multiple perspectives on the city and its literature (on which more to follow). For the aim of Palimpsest is to provide a new means to reflect on, excavate, and – indeed – celebrate the sedimentary processes which have given our city its literary shape.

– Miranda Anderson and James Loxley

Update: A version of this post can also be read at the Hestia project blog.

[1] Virginia Woolf. 1986. Literary geography. In The Essays of Virginia Woolf. Ed. A. McNeillie. Vol. I. London: Hogarth Press, 35.

[2] Virginia Woolf. Mrs Dalloway, 129.

Official Launch of historical maps in Digimap for Schools

Today sees the official launch of historical maps  in Digimap for Schools.  The formal launch of this fantastic new addition to Digimap for Schools, made possible by the generosity of the National Library of Scotland, will be celebrated at the annual Geography Association conference taking place on the 14th and 15th April at the University of Surrey.  It was at this same event, at the same venue in 2011 that Digimap for Schools received the Geographical Association Publisher’s Gold Award for making a significant contribution to geographical education and professional development.

The service has grown in popularity since 2011 with over 20% of secondary schools in England and over 30% in Scotland now using the service. Dr Vanessa Lawrence CB, Director General and Chief Executive, Ordnance Survey will mark the launch during her conference lecture this afternoon.  Chris Fleet, Senior Map Curator at NLS says ‘Old maps present our history in one of its most enthralling forms.  We are delighted to be collaborating with Ordnance Survey and EDINA in delivering our historic maps to schools through the Digimap for Schools application.’  Peter Burnhill, Director of EDINA says ‘Students, pupils and their teachers now have unrivalled access to the very best maps to gain rich understanding of how Britain’s landscape has changed in over a century.  The result is endlessly fascinating, the skill and generosity of staff at the National Library of Scotland have enabled a real sense of place when combined with the Ordnance Survey maps of today’s Britain’.

Full press release can be read here http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/about/news/2014/digimap-for-schools-launches-historic-maps-of-great-britain.html

The search for Flight 370


courtesy of Wayan Vota (https://www.flickr.com/photos/dcmetroblogger/)

As the search for missing Malaysian Airways Flight 370 approaches it’s 5th week, the reliance of Geospatial technology and the skills to analyse large volumes of data are becoming increasingly clear. In this post we will look at some of the geospatial technology and techniques that have been used in the search for Flight 370.


Flight-370 disappeared on the 8th of March 2014 having left Kuala Lumpur en-route for Beijing. There was simply no trace of it. Communications were lost somewhere over the Gulf of Thailand. Speculation quickly rose as to the fate of the aircraft with hijack and rouge pilots being muted as possible explanations.  A catastrophic break-up of the aircraft through an explosion was not ruled out but looked unlikely as this would generally be noticed. Furthermore, there was no sign of debris in the area of Flight 370 last known position.

Data feeds and extrapolation

After a few days, data started turning up that suggested that the plane had stayed aloft for several hours after all communication was lost.  Equipment onboard transmits information such as status updates and diagnostics.  The engineering teams can then monitor the health and performance of components while they are in use.

The engines had sent burst of data every hour and these had been picked up by a satellite operated by Inmarsat. By monitoring the Doppler effect in the received data, Inmarsat was able to chart 2 possible paths; one to the north and the other to the south.  This had never been done before and the innovative use of this data by Inmarsat allowed the rescue effort to be concentrated in 2 distinct areas.

After a bit of tweaking and refining, the Inmarsat scientists were able to discount the Northern corridor and the search re-focused on the Southern corridor, a vast expanse of ocean west of Australia with no suitable landing site.  How they achieved this was really quite clever. They used “truthing data” from other aircraft to monitor the Doppler effect and therefore refine their estimates for Flight 370. They then calculated the speed and altitude of the aircraft and were able to work out roughly where it would have run out of fuel and ditched into the ocean.  This greatly reduced the search area.

Satellite analysis

The search area had been focused to a small section of ocean (ok, so small in this case means the size of Western Europe, but given the size of the Southern Indian Ocean this can be considered to be small).  It was now feasible to start analysing aerial imagery to try and identify debris (given that there was nowhere for the plane to land, on the 24th March Malaysian officials announced that it was beyond reasonable doubt that the plane was lost after ditching in the Southern Indian Ocean). Trawling around to find out what satellites were used was harder than i thought it would be.  Below is a summary of what i found:

  • GAOFEN-1 – a high-resolution optical sensor run by CNSA (Chinese National Space Administration) which was launched in April 2013. Gaofen-1 is equipped with a 2 metre resolution CCD (Charge-Coupled Device), an 8 metre resolution multi-spectral scanner and 16 meter resolution wide-field multi-spectral imager. It is difficult to tell which sensor produced the image below, but from the resolution it looks like it was the 8m res multi-spectral scanner.
chinese satellite

Chinese satellite image of possible debris – Pic from The Guardian/Reuters

  • A French satellite operated by Airbus Defense and Space spotted 122 objects in a cluster. The objects were up to 23m in length and in a cluster. (image released by MOSTI). Airbus Defense and space have a host of satellites run through their Astrium including EnviSAT, CryoSAT, Copernicus, ELISA and Helios 2.

Airbus Defence Image

  • Australian AP-3C Orion – Orion aircraft were deployed to likely search areas and scanned the area.  It is likely that the crew were using a combination of electronic surveillance system and just their eyes. This might seem like old-school, but it is an effective method of verification as trained operators can discount or confirm sightings from remote sensing. The aircraft has a long-range and can fly low making it ideal for searching.

Ocean Currents

Why has it taken so long to refine the search area?  Well there are lots of satellites, but only a few of them would have had suitable sensors on-board. Data is collected and beamed back to a receiving centre. The raw data will most probably have to be processed before it can be used for anything.  This takes time.  The search area may well have been narrowed to a chunk of the southern Indian Ocean, but this still represents a huge area, not dissimilar to the size of Western Europe.  Processing and analysing data for such a large area is not easy and will rely on a degree of automation followed by humba verification.

The southern Ocean is a wild place with frequent storms. We can see from above the at optical sensors have been used and these will be unable to penetrate cloud cover. Scientists would have to wait for the satellite to pass over the same area to try and get a better, cloud-free image. The repeat cycle may be anything from 1 day to 10 days or more.

Then you add in the ocean currents.  Anything object floating in the ocean will not be static and could drift by 10′s of kilometres a day. Given that the plane is likely to have crashed 15 days previously, debris could be 100′s of kilometers from the crash site. That is, if it has not already broken up and sunk.  But we can at least model the ocean currents and estimate the potential dispersal of the debris.  The NY Times have some excellent visualisations of both the currents and the wave heights in the southern Indian Ocean during March.  These have been produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Centers for Environmental Prediction through remote sensing data, in-situ data (buoys) and models.  While never 100% accurate, they provide an indication and convey the uncertainty involved in determining a search area.

Locating flight recorders

Once a search area has been identified, the searchers are able to deploy listening devices which locate “pings” emitted by Flight 370′s black box. This is achieved by towing a listening device (TLP-25) back and forth across a wide area.  Pings should be received periodically and the position and strength of these should triangulate the position of the black box. But the sea floor is not flat in this area. It is around 4500m deep with mountains up to 2500m high.  We actually know very little about remote ocean sea beds.  We have limited data collected by ships and most representations come from spaceborne remote sensing data. These are not very accurate and may “miss” large structures (1-2km high) such as seamounts. There is nice overview of ocean mapping on the BBC website.

The difficulties of retrieving debris from deep, remote oceans was highlighted by the search for French Airlines flight 447.  In this case, both black box transmitters failed.

A Chinese ship detected a ping on the 5th April and a day later an Australian ship detected a ping.  But the pings were quite far apart.  The Australian ships detection seemed more consistent and stronger and this was backed up by more detections in the same area on the 8th. It is a slow process, but each detection should help reduce the uncertainty.  The question is, will the batteries in the transponders last much longer?  They are already at the limit of what is expected so time is running out.

Remote Sensing Critical

It is clear that remote sensing technology has been critical in every stage of the search for Flight 370.  It will continue to be so until the plane is found.  It has been used effectively to narrow search areas and discount blind alleys. It is also interesting to note how associated data has been used in ways that it was not intended to locate the plane and praise should be given to the Inmarsat scientists who came up with a novel solution when data and information was scarce.


  • The search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 – a great article in the New York Times that focuses on the remote sensing data that is being used now that search teams have identified a “likely” crash site in the Southern Indian Ocean.
  • Wikipedia – a growing resource for information about Flight 370
  • Wikipedia – French Airways flight 447
  • NY Times – nice collection of visualisations of ocean conditions in the search area