[tdwg-content] Inclusion of geo:lat, geo:long, geo:alt in Darwin Core unresolved

John Wieczorek tuco at berkeley.edu
Wed Sep 7 00:49:18 CEST 2011

Dear all,

I have reviewed both the recent and ancient discussions regarding the
proposal to include geo:lat, geo:long, and geo:alt among the
recommended terms from Darwin Core. This particular proposal is not
being voted on for inclusion by the TAG at this point, because further
research has revealed some issues that need to be addressed. I'll
include here the issues I raised to the TAG in the hope of stimulating
further discussion in pursuit of a public consensus.

The proposal is to recommend the
inclusion of the terms from the geo: namespace

Support in tdwg-content for this request comes from multiple
independent sources. There has been a long history of discussion
beginning in anticipation of the 2010 TDWG BioBlitz. The proposal has
gone through the minimum 30-day public review and discussion on the
forum tdwg-content at lists.tdwg.org:


There seems to be general support for the additions. However, after
reviewing the discussions and the references. I have the following

1) The discussions presented geo:lat and geo:long as W3C standards.
This is not actually the case. These terms were created by the W3C
Semantic Web Interest Group in 2003. The documentation for these terms
(http://www.w3.org/2003/01/geo/) states:

"This document was created as an informal collaboration within W3C's
Semantic Web Interest Group. This work is not currently on the W3C
recommendation track for standardization, and has not been subject to
the associated review process, quality assurance, etc. If there is
interest amongst the W3C membership in standards work on a
location/mapping RDF vocabulary, this current work may inform any more
formal efforts to follow."

These terms do seem to have widespread usage in the semantic web.
Should we be concerned that they are not part of a standard?

2) geo:lat and geo:long are not semantically equivalent to the existing
Darwin Core terms decimalLatitude and decimalLongitude, which have
been a part of the Darwin Core since it 2003 (or before, if we ignore
the missing Datum term in earlier versions). The addition of the geo:
terms as a third set of geolocation terms for Darwin Core raised
concerns about confusion, having so many spatially-related terms.
I share this concern. An option would be to
adopt these terms and deprecate dwc:decimalLatitude, dwc:Longitude,
and dwc:geodeticDatum. Data that would have occupied these terms would
go instead to dwc:verbatimLatitude dwc:verbatimLongitude, and
dwc:verbatimSRS. I see a couple of problems with this. First, most of
the time the data in the decimal coordinate fields are not the
verbatim originals, so this would be a misuse of the Darwin Core
terms. Second, this change would make it more difficult for data
consumer’s to use existing georeferences. Here’s how. Right now the
verbatim fields are meant to hold the original coordinate information,
which means they have a wide variety of content - everything from UTMs
to custom-encoded coordinates, in any conceivable format. Meanwhile,
the data in the decimal coordinates fields can be much more readily
transformed into the desired standardized spatial reference system
afforded by the geo: terms, because the values are at least
standardized on geographic coordinates in decimal degrees and only a
datum transformation has to be done on them to get geo_lat and geo:long.

Do we abandon the dwc: terms decimalLatitude, decimalLongitude, and
geodeticDatum? Do we abandon them now? Do we build the simplest
possible tools necessary for anyone to do the transformations so that
these terms are no longer needed? If so, do we wait until those tools
exist before we abandon the terms and make millions of georeferenced
records less readily usable?

3) A request was expressed by one reviewer that the term geo:alt should
be added. No one has made a formal request for this. However, if the
other geo: terms were adopted, it might be silly not to adopt this one
as well. Doing so would raise a host of issues similar to those raised
for lat and lng, but related to the Darwin Core elevation terms. No discussion
of these issues has yet taken place.



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