How to use the term hydrospatial?

Mathias Jonas, Secretary General of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), was forced to question the term “hydrospatial” and its place in the language of the hydrographic community.

During a roundtable at the Canadian Hydrographic Conference in Quebec in February 2020, I was faced with the question of whether the term “hydrospatial” should be formally introduced into everyday language. The first part of my response was rather bureaucratic: “… To adopt a new word and an official definition in the IHO Hydrographic Dictionary S-32, a formal proposal must be submitted to the relevant experts of the Hydrographic Dictionary Working Group. of the IHO.

While this statement is correct, it does not really answer the essence of the question. More diplomatically, I therefore continued with a “maybe statement: “Hydrography is clearly going through major changes that require an expanded role to serve a growing number of actors interested in the blue economy … If that requires a new word to express this expanded scope and to address the full description of the characteristics of the oceans and the prediction of their change over time, “hydrospatial” will find its place in our spoken and written language. “

This response was accepted by the conference audience and seemed to answer the problem for now. However, for me the question was not fully answered. I asked myself: what is hydrospatial really means, and is it not covered by an already existing hydrographic term? As I searched for answers, I tried to understand who coined the term and who actually uses “hydrospatial”.

The answer to the first part was somewhat surprising. Gyula Kosice, a Slovak-Argentinian artist created a work of art named The Hydrospatial City between 1946 and 1972, which consisted of 19 three-dimensional space habitats and 7 two-dimensional light boxes brought together in an immersive one-room installation.

I’m not sure if those who use the term today were inspired by Kosice’s awe-inspiring masterpiece. I’m inclined to think that they took more inspiration from the term “geospatial infrastructure”, than they applied to the hydrosphere. “Geospatial infrastructure” was first introduced by Jack Dangermond, founder of Esri, in 2011. According to him, geospatial infrastructure consisted of data, data models, workflow, positioning, GIS and Maps – all items related to geospatial information. Proponents of “hydrospace infrastructure” have broadened this term to the maritime domain. According to them, it covers all the building blocks necessary for the dissemination of marine data in order to interconnect the individuals, teams, services, organizations and communities that need this data. This is technically supported by complex GIS projects, mapping and data visualization, which in turn facilitate field operations. In doing so, it integrates specialized workflows and applications on automated nautical cartography, coastal planning, emergency management and ocean analysis. It is revolutionizing spatial analysis and data science through the application of artificial intelligence and machine learning to marine geodata.

The term “hydrographic”, which we usually use to refer to these disciplines, clearly does not adequately express their full scope. I am now in a better position to answer the question on “hydrospatial”. In my opinion, this term should not be used alone, but in combination to assign common georeferenced terms. This leads to pairs such as “hydrospatial information”, “hydrospatial data” and “hydrospatial infrastructure”. These combinations evoke all the disciplines that today process hydrographic information, transforming it into data in order to generate, evaluate, correlate and present hydrographic knowledge to visualize the oceans in a new way.

The Hydrospatial City. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Purchase of the museum financed by the Caroline Wiess Law Accessions Endowment Fund, 2009.29.1-.26 (Courtesy: Museo Kosice, Buenos Aires)


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