The rise of digitalisation in our personal and professional lives has resulted in an increasing amount of data, which we not only assess but eventually need to process. Biologists and environmental scientists, in particular, are shifting towards becoming glorified data scientists , a profession featuring a skill set requiring substantial expertise, traditional statistics as well as a critical calling for advanced computer skills to analyse this so-called ‘Big Data’. So as biologists what are our options and opportunities to approach this shift in our field?
It was the Open Geospatial Consortium (the premier organisation dealing with standards for spatial data), which tackled this issue in 2007 by releasing their first version of the Web Processing Service (WPS) Interface Standard  to simplify remote analysis. In summary, the WPS standard provides information on how to process spatial data remotely on a web server in a standardised manner while handling inputs and outputs via a network or the internet. How can this help to address the common issues of handling and processing data as a biologist?
Web processing comes with a variety of advantages compared to traditional GIS analysis of spatial data on a local desktop computer, for both WPS users and developers . These include enhanced and simplified usability, as well as platform and hardware independence for the user, while development can be refined for handling and processing data. All this is highly adaptable and can be achieved using free and open-source software, which can be adapted to fit a variety of individual requirements without the use of expensive and proprietary software.
Replacing traditional analysing methods with WPS is a possible approach, allowing us to reduce the time spent combating our computers (to create that perfect map layout for a publication or trying to find and understand that Python code, R script or the GIS analysis a colleague shared with you). Hence, it might simplify not only the processing of data, but also the comparison and exchange of results, and by that allow us to make more efficient use of our time.
In the research group of Applied Geography and Environmental Planning at the University of Oldenburg, we are currently using WPS within the Macroplastics project  to receive cluster maps of wooden-drifter reports from citizen scientists in near-real-time, in order to estimate possible hotspots of litter accumulation at the coastline of the North Sea. Other WPS were implemented to perform geostatistical analyses, e.g. interpolations on environmental data assessed by volunteers and scientists in various projects. Additionally, we’ll be aiming to apply WPS on live sensor processing to enable complete real-time monitoring.
About the Author:
Anna Charlotte Kirchner is a Masters student at the Marine Environmental Sciences program of the Institute for Chemistry and Biology of the Marine Environment (ICBM) at the University of Oldenburg, Germany. With a background in Biosciences and a passion for GIS and programming, she is trying to build bridges between these two disciplines. For her Master thesis at the research group of Applied Geography and Environmental Planning, she is currently using a combination of open data and OGC standards to implement a Web Processing service for predicting species distribution.
References & Further Reading
Wageningen University and Research Centre. "Biologist are increasingly becoming data scientists, expert says." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 May 2015. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/05/150506120452.htm
OpenGIS Web Processing Service (WPS) Standard, Version 1.0.0 http://www.opengeospatial.org/standards/wps
Christopher Michael, Daniel P. Ames: Evaluation of the OGC Web Processing Service for Use in a Client-Side GIS. OSGeo Journal, Vol. 1, Mai 2007, S. 1-8 http://www.osgeo.org/files/journal/final_pdfs/OSGeo_vol1_OGC.pdf
Research Project Macroplastics in the North Sea (University of Oldenburg) http://www.macroplastics.de