Spatial Center Receives NSF Grant

Center for Spatial Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara participating in NSF C-Accel Pilot

View the complete news release at:

The Center of Spatial Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara is receiving research funding under the Open Knowledge Network track of the new Convergence Accelerator Pilot (C-Accel) by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Prof. Krzysztof Janowicz leads a diverse team of partners from academia, industry, and federal agencies. The team will develop Artificial Intelligence based models, methods, and services for representing,  retrieving, linking, and predicting spatial and temporal data from a highly diverse set of public knowledge graphs that range across topics such as soil health and the historic slave trade. 

This new NSF Convergence Accelerator Pilot program is set to “bring teams together to focus on grand challenges of national importance that require a convergence approach […] and have a high probability of resulting in deliverables that will benefit society within a fixed term.” NSF is funding several teams under this program in an effort that will lead to the development of public knowledge graphs which in turn have “the potential to drive innovation across all areas of science and engineering, and unleash the power of data and artificial intelligence to achieve scientific discovery and economic growth.” The funding program is highly competitive and had an acceptance rate of only 8.5%.

Spatial discovery and the research library

A paper co-authored by spatial@ucsb’s Sara Lafia and Werner Kuhn, along with the Map and Imagery Laboratory’s Jon Jablonski and Spatial affiliates Antonio Medrano and Savannah Cooley was published in Transactions in GIS:

Lafia, S., Jablonski, J., Kuhn, W., Cooley, S., & Medrano, F. A. (2016). Spatial discovery and the research library. Transactions in GIS, 20(3), 399-412.

Abstract: Academic libraries have always supported research across disciplines by integrating access to diverse contents and resources. They now have the opportunity to reinvent their role in facilitating interdisciplinary work by offering researchers new ways of sharing, curating, discovering, and linking research data. Spatial data and metadata support this process because location often integrates disciplinary perspectives, enabling researchers to make their own research data more discoverable, to discover data of other researchers, and to integrate data from multiple sources. The Center for Spatial Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and the UCSB Library are undertaking joint research to better enable the discovery of research data and publications. The research addresses the question of how to spatially enable data discovery in a setting that allows for mapping and analysis in a GIS while connecting the data to publications about them. It suggests a framework for an integrated data discovery mechanism and shows how publications may be linked to associated data sets exposed either directly or through metadata on Esri’s Open Data platform. The results demonstrate a simple form of linking data to publications through spatially referenced metadata and persistent identifiers. This linking adds value to research products and increases their discoverability across disciplinary boundaries.

Core Concepts of Spatial Information


The Core Concepts of Spatial Information are designed to facilitate spatial computing and reduce its complexity. They also serve as conceptual lenses on environments, allowing for different perspectives on them, fed by data with any sort of spatial reference. We specify the Core Concepts as Abstract Data Types (ADT), defining a set of core computations for each concept, through which users can ask spatial questions (Kuhn & Ballatore, 2015). The ultimate goal is a generic Application Programming Interface (API) for spatial computing.


The main motivation of this project is to promote transdisciplinary research through a more intuitive access to spatial data and computing (Kuhn, 2012). Spatial computing is seen as an enabler, but remains notoriously complex, especially for those without expertise in GIS. A large part of this complexity results from historically grown command sets rather than from inherent difficulties. The Core Concepts and Computations constitute a high-level language that allows for question-based spatial computing across disciplines. Spatial computations get organized around questions, instead of being accessed through procedural commands, limited to certain file formats, and requiring frequent format conversions.

Case Study

A case study (Vahedi et. al, 2016) exemplifies the gain from applying the Core Concepts to spatial analysis. An economist studying economic activity in China decides to use nighttime light as an indicator. His goal is to quantify nighttime light within a 50-kilometer buffer around Chinese road networks and excluding gas flares. He develops a lengthy ArcPy script solving the problem in around 10 steps (see To answer the same question through the Core Concepts, one conceptualizes nighttime luminosity as a field. In a single computational step, one restricts the field domain to a 50-Kilometer buffer around roads excluding gas flares, and coarsens the granularity of the field.


The Core Concepts get developed and tested through a four-layer architecture. We assume (and willhave to test) that domain specialists from any discipline can usefully express their spatial questions (Domain questions layer) in terms of Core Concepts (Core Concepts layer). A Mediation layer then automatically translates the results into commands of existing spatial technologies (Technological layer). Together, the Core Concepts and Mediation layers act as a wrapper around existing spatial computing technologies, such as GIS or statistical packages with spatial data structures and analysis functions.

Current Status

As of now, the set of Core Concepts consists of seven concepts, namely,

    – One Base Concept: Location

    – Four Content Concepts: Field, Object, Network, Event

    – Two Quality Concepts: Granularity, Accuracy

It appears likely that the Base and Content Concepts are sufficiently complete to cover the scope of most GIS analyses. The number of Quality Concepts, on the other hand, is likely to grow to include such ideas as the provenance of spatial data.

The Core Concepts and their operations are specified in Haskell. The mediation layer is currently being implemented using Python and GDAL, generating wrappers for translating spatial questions into existing spatial technologies. The latest status of implementation is always accessible as a generic API programming library with Haskell and Python implementations.

Validation and Future Work

We validate the Core Concepts, testing their domain neutrality and suitability by systematically redoing GIS analyses (such as bird flu risk assessment, solar panel placement, industrial activity monitoring etc.).

The challenges we are addressing include:

  • Determining the necessity of other concepts (e.g., provenance);
  • Completing the set of operations associated with each concept;
  • Using core concept lenses to design data products;
  • Re-designing the teaching of GIS around the Core Concepts;

Challenges to address in the future include:

  • Understanding spatial intuition and assessing the concepts’ effectiveness in aiding this intuition;
  • Assessing the potential impact on end user interfaces of GIS;
  • Implementing the Core Concept API in the form of cloud services;
  • Designing RDF vocabularies to represent core concept instances as linked data;


This work started with the observation that Geographic Information Science lacks a set of core concepts (cf. the ideas of a cell in biology or of value in economics). A sequence of early publications (Kuhn 2011, Kuhn 2012) proposed slightly different lists of Core Concepts, with subsequent research leading to the current list. The reason to eliminate the concept of neighborhood (contained in these publications) was that it cuts across the other content concepts and is part of the idea of location. The reason to eliminate meaning and value is that there are no solid theories for them yet to make them
“core” to spatial analysis.

Period: 2012—now

Contact: Werner Kuhn (Center for Spatial Studies)

Researchers: Thomas Hervey, Sara Lafia, Behzad Vahedi


    Publications (including links to slides):

  • Allen, C., Hervey, T., Lafia, S., Phillips, D., Vahedi, B., Kuhn, W. (2016). Exploring the Notion of Spatial Data Lenses. Ninth International Conference on Geographic Information Science. (accepted)
  • Kuhn, W. (2012). Core concepts of spatial information for transdisciplinary research. International Journal of Geographical Information Science, 26(12), 2267-2276.
  • Kuhn, W. (2011). Core Concepts of Spatial Information: A First Selection. XII GEOINFO, November 27-29, 2011, Campos do Jordão, Brazil (pp. 13–26).
  • Kuhn, W. & Ballatore, A. (2015). Designing a Language for Spatial Computing. Lecture Notes in Geoinformation and Cartography 2015, AGILE, Lisbon, Portugal, pp 309-326. Best Paper Award. PDF
  • Vahedi, B., Kuhn, W., Ballatore A. (2016). Question-Based Spatial Computing – A Case Study. Lecture Notes in Geoinformation and Cartography (AGILE 2016) (pp. 37 – 50). Berlin: Springer. PDF


The Center for Spatial Studies promotes excellence in interdisciplinary research, supporting spatial thinking in a variety of ways. We organize research-oriented events, such as the ongoing ThinkSpatial Brown Bag presentations for the local community and our annual Specialist Meetings. Learn more about our Research Resources.

Our current research projects are described below.

Core Concepts of Spatial Information


The Core Concepts of Spatial Information are designed to facilitate spatial computing and reduce its
complexity. They also serve as conceptual lenses on environments, allowing for different perspectives
on them, fed by data with any sort of spatial reference. We specify the Core Concepts as Abstract Data
Types (ADT)
, defining a set of core computations for each concept, through which users can ask spatial
questions (Kuhn & Ballatore, 2015). The ultimate goal is a generic Application Programming Interface
for spatial computing. Read more…

Spatial Discovery
Website: Spatial Discovery Project Website

Period: 2015–active

Co-PI’s: UCSB Library and Werner Kuhn (Center for Spatial Studies)

Researchers: Sara Lafia

This research is studying the challenges and strategies that libraries and researchers face in trying to discover linked spatial data via metadata on diverse platforms and in a variety of environments. The research is being carried out in a collaboration between the UCSB Library and the Center for Spatial Studies.

Contact: Werner Kuhn

Tags: spatial discovery, library, metadata, spatial search

Energy Challenges: Development and Climate Change in Global Perspective
Location: Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies Research Cluster Award

PI: Javiera Barandiaran (Global & International Studies)

Co-PI’s: Werner Kuhn (Center for Spatial Studies), Lisa Parks (Film & Media Studies), Paul Amar (Global & International Studies), Stephan Miescher (History), Corey Byrnes (East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies).

What are developing countries doing to switch to cleaner energies and with what effects? How are they participating in the rise of new energy challenges? Can they benefit from new energy sources, such as lithium used in electric cars? Or are fossil fuels still black gold, as Brazil’s recent oil discoveries suggest? Orfalea Research Cluster funds are creating a cluster around humanities approaches to energy issues, focused on the intersecting challenges of development and climate change. Participating faculty bring expertise from around the world, with on-going or planned research projects in Ghana, Brazil, Bolivia and China, and from a range of energy technologies: oil, lithium, hydroelectric, and mobile energy sources. We create cross-departmental collaborations that will inform our research and teaching efforts. The result will be the improved academic capacity to discuss energy choices in environmental, social, and political contexts, as well as in economic and engineering concerns. We will learn about and explore ways in which mapping technologies and spatial data can support humanities-based research on energy issues, and vice versa. These efforts are carried out at a series of cluster meetings in various educational and research settings and will culminate in a conference showcasing a leading researcher in this field that will attract students and faculty from across campus.

Contact: Werner Kuhn

Tags: clean energy, sustainability, humanities

Modeling, Display, and Understanding Uncertainty
modeling-projectThe Center for Spatial Studies is collaborating with researchers at the University of Utah, Clemson University, and Texas A&M University to establish the foundations for capturing the uncertainty associated with predictive simulations for policy decision making.

Aspects of the project include simulation and uncertainty quantification, developing methods of visualizing uncertainty, and evaluating these visualizations by examining perception, cognition, and decision making in the presence of visualizations of uncertainty. This project is supported by the National Science Foundation.

Contact: Mary Hegarty

Home page:

Tags: uncertainty, visualization, perception, decision making

I/UCRC for Spatiotemporal Thinking, Computing, and Applications
nsf_stc_logoMany 21st century challenges, such as natural disasters and climate change, happen in space and time. Most scholarship assumes a single static timeslice, and fails to explore the true dynamics of social and physical phenomena. Spatio-temporal principles are rarely utilized to optimize and enable relevant science discovery and engineering advancements. A systematic investigation of exploring and utilizing the principles will advance human knowledge in providing a trailblazer thinking methodology and exploring the next-generation computing for addressing the challenges. This I/UCRC for spatio-temporal thinking, computing, and applications was established as a collaboration platform among academia, industry, government agencies, and other organizations to advance this domain of knowledge. The center is established on the previous success of three sites, including a) Center for Intelligent Spatial Computing (CISC) at GMU for computing/software development, b) the National Center for Geographic Information Analysis (NCGIA) and the Center for Spatial Studies (spatial@ucsb) at UCSB for spatial thinking, and c) the Center for Geographic Analysis (CGA) at Harvard for applications.

Contact: Keith Clarke

Home pages:,

Tags: Spatiotemporal analysis, spatial thinking, spatial computing

A Generic API for Geographic Information
To validate research on spatial questions, we design a generic Application Programming Interface (API) for computations on geographic information. The API methods map to various existing spatial computing environments and are made accessible as web services. The longer-term goal is to first map from domain API’s to this generic spatial computing interface.

Contact: Werner Kuhn

Tags: geographic information, API

Individual Differences in Large-Scale Spatial Cognition
The Center for Spatial Studies conducts research on Large-Scale or Environmental Spatial Cognitive Processes, including learning the layout of new environments, wayfinding and navigation in known environments, and representing and communicating spatial information. Much of our work in this area has involved collaboration between Mary Hegarty (Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences) and Daniel R. Montello (Department of Geography). This research has contributed new measures, such as the Santa Barbara Sense of Direction Scale, and basic research on the nature of individual differences in large-scale spatial cognition. Current research, funded by a seed grant from the UCSB Center for Creative Biotechnologies, is focused on identifying fundamental differences in neurological and cognitive processes that differentiate people with a good vs. poor sense of direction.

Home page:…

Contact: Mary Hegarty

Tags: sense of direction, spatial cognition

Transdisciplinary Knowledge Infrastructures for Linked Science
Linked data and related semantic web technologies have the potential to break up and connect information silos. Based on these, we build infrastructures for searching and linking scientific data spatially and semantically. The results are tested in transdisciplinary projects on, for example, energy, public health, and urban history. The LIFE project at the University of Münster develops pilot services and applications that inform a follow-up effort now being initiated at UCSB. The emphasis is on developing and testing tools for future library users, pursuing the broader vision of interconnecting scientific knowledge.

Home page:

Contact: Werner Kuhn

Tags: linked data, eScience, semantic web

Detecting and Theorizing Place Sentiment in Big Data
The area of sentiment analysis aims at extracting and summarizing writers’ feelings from raw text. Knowing what people think about a given object has a wide range of scientific and commercial applications. This project investigates sentiment analysis focused on places, tapping a variety of novel digitized data sources, including travel blog, travel literature, and social media. Tailoring data mining and natural language processing techniques to geographic objects can provide insights about the complex relationship between places and humans.

Contact: Andrea Ballatore

Tags: sentiment analysis, opinion mining, place, natural language processing

See also the archive of our former research projects.

Architecture and Mind Research Focus Group

The UCSB Architecture and Mind Research Focus Group (RFG) is a forum comprised of faculty, graduate students, and design practitioners. Convened for the 2015-2016 academic year by Professors Volker Welter (History of Art and Architecture), Mary Hegarty (Psychological and Brain Sciences), and Daniel Montello (Geography), the group discusses design, aesthetics, and human experience.

The group is dedicated to readings about and discussions of the various ways in which the humanities, cognitive psychology, and behavioral/cognitive geography examine and think about human comprehension of space and place, orientation within a designed environment, perception of architectural and aesthetic details, and architecture’s relations to both the human body and mind.

During a recent visit to Los Angeles, the group enjoyed an exploration of the Schindler House, in West Hollywood, and the Eames House, in Pacific Palisades, taking a break for lunch at the L.A. Farmers Market at 3rd and Fairfax. Experiencing these homes and public spaces brought this year’s readings on spatial orientation, social interaction, and perception to life.


The Schindler House, constructed in 1922, is notable for its extension of indoor space to outdoor living areas and is one of Rudolph Schindler’s most important surviving works. It also notable for its experimental domestic design, intended to support the co-habitation of two married couples, Rudolph and Pauline Schindler, and Clyde and Marian Chace. The research group engaged with the home by writing their impressions of the physical spaces within the home. The group also learned about preservation efforts during a tour of the home.


Following the visit to the Schindler House, the group toured another experiment in domestic dwelling. The Eames House, finished in 1949, was part of the The Case Study House Program, constructed with modular industrial-grade materials and intended to serve as both a home and an artists’ studio. The theme of transparency, extending interior space to the exterior, was reinforced by the house’s characteristic glass walls.

At the next Architecture and Mind meeting, members of the RFG look forward to assessing the group’s reactions to the spaces, and discussing the role that these homes played as microcosms of greater social shifts revolutionizing the modern domestic sphere.

The Interdisciplinary Humanities Center (IHC) supports this research group, and the Center for Spatial Studies subsidized the cost of the field trip.

For more information about the RFG, please see:

ACM video: Andrea Ballatore on map personalization

Andrea Ballatore (UCSB) and Michela Bertolotto (University College Dublin) published an article entitled “Personalizing Maps” in the December issue of Communications of the ACM. To accompany it, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) has produced a video documentary featuring the Center for Spatial Studies and Andrea Ballatore:

Article in Communications of the ACM  –  Open Access author copy

Abstract: Geographic maps constitute a ubiquitous medium through which we understand, construct, and navigate our natural and built surroundings. At the intersection of the explosion of geographic information online, data-mining techniques, and the increasing popularity of Web maps, a novel possibility has emerged: Instead of generating one map for large numbers of users, user profiling and implicit feedback analysis can support creation of a different map for each person. The automated personalization of the map-making process is still in its infancy but has the potential to provide more relevant maps to millions of users worldwide.


Workshop on Spatial Thinking CFP @ COSIT

The Center for Spatial Studies invites you to participate in the

Workshop on Teaching Spatial Thinking from Interdisciplinary Perspectives (SPATIALTHINKING2015)


When: October 12, 2015
Where: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
Collocated with Conference on Spatial Information Theory XII (COSIT 2015)
Workshop URI:
Hashtag: #SpatialThinking2015

Spatial Discovery Expert Meeting: Final Report

Final Report on our 2015 Specialist Meeting on Spatial Discovery

Editors: Savannah Cooley,  Sara LafiaAntonio Medrano, Denise Stephens, and Werner Kuhn

This report summarizes a two-day expert meeting on “Spatial Discovery,” organized jointly by the Library and the Center for Spatial Studies of the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), and held on June 16–17, 2015 at the Upham Hotel, in Santa Barbara. The 24 participants contributed expertise in Library Science, as well as knowledge pertaining to spatial information and relevant research on data-seeking behavior. Five keynote addresses as well as several plenary and break-out discussions explored the challenges, best practices, and potential strategies associated with the cross-platform discovery of spatial data in the context of modern libraries.

Spatial Search – Final Report


Spatial Approaches to Information Search CFP

coverCall for Papers: Spatial Cognition & Computation

Special Issue on

Spatial Approaches to Information Search

[button link=”” type=”icon” icon=”paper” newwindow=”yes”] Call for Papers[/button]

Guest editors

  • Andrea Ballatore, Center for Spatial Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB)
  • Werner Kuhn, Geography/Center for Spatial Studies, UCSB
  • Mary Hegarty, Psychological and Brain Sciences/Center for Spatial Studies, UCSB
  • Ed Parsons, Google

We invite papers to be submitted to a special issue in the journal Spatial Cognition & Computation on spatial approaches to information search. Information search has become an enabler across the spectrum of human activity. Search engines process billions of queries each day and influence the visibility and accessibility of online content. Scientists search for meaningful patterns in massive data sets, while consumers search for products and services in a growing pool of options.

Operating at two levels, there is a spatial component at the core of search. On one hand, search technologies rely on a spatial metaphor: We talk about going to our favorite web sites to help search for fragments in an overwhelmingly large space of documents, images, and videos. On the other hand, geographic space indexes information and refines search strategies, relying on the geo-location of entities to assess their relevance. While the spatial dimension of search is pervasive and foundational to many disciplines, it has not been adequately analyzed.

The goal of this special issue is to fill this research gap by attracting contributions from disciplines such as cognitive psychology, geographic information science, linguistics, information science, and computer science. Topics of interest include:

  • geographic information retrieval
  • spatial search and uncertainty
  • search models and algorithms for spatial information
  • semantics of spatial search
  • cognitive models for spatial information search
  • human-computer interaction for spatial search
  • visual search in spatial interfaces
  • information foraging for spatial search

All papers should lie within the scope of the journal (as defined on the journal’s website: In particular, papers must address issues which are essentially spatial in nature, rather than general issues in information retrieval and search. 

Important dates

  • Expression of interest, including a 120 word abstract, should be sent to by March 31, 2015
  • Submission of full papers: July 31, 2015
  • Completion of review process (estimate): January 31, 2016

Submission instructions

Submitted papers will be refereed by the usual standards of Spatial Cognition and Computation. Instructions for submitting a manuscript can be found on the journal’s website ( Submissions will be handled through the submission system, Manuscript Central (, and should not exceed 6000 words.