Since there are no currently active contests, we have switched Climate CoLab to read-only mode.
Learn more at
Skip navigation
Share via:


Integrate all available data about the earths surface and map it onto areas defined by a grid so that land use can be optimised locally.



The earth is in a substantial state of disrepair and in need of urgent action to improve its condition. There are many substantial projects in place attacking specific problems. However, there are also opportunities for individuals, communities, educational and scientific organisations, commercial enterprises and governments at all levels to become involved in many modest restorative or adaptive activities, operating at local levels. For these to be effective, knowledge, information, people, methods, money and resources must be accumulated and shared. Documented successful projects may act as templates for future projects.

At the core of this proposal is a public domain database that is an audit of the entire land surface of the earth, divided into basic earth units (BEUs), varying in area from about 12 sq. km. to about 25 sq. km., defined by GPS co-ordinates. Its function is to aggregate and localise all available land data to support large and small projects for land improvement or repair. The initial physical information may be collected at a number of levels; satellite imagery, airborne vehicles and people or robots on the ground. Internal structures, such as rivers and lakes, will also be defined by GPS co-ordinates. Additional qualitative information may either be donated to the public database, or retained on the contributor's server, with appropriate links to the public database.

All of the information on the database relating to a specific BEU will be used to define optimal or acceptable suboptimal usages for the BEU or specified areas within it. Usages may include settlements, agriculture, industrial activity, carbon sequestration, biodiversity protection, mining, power supply, land recovery and many others.

Projects for optimising the function of large or small areas of land may then be initiated by individuals or entities of all kinds ranging in size from modest activist groups through to national governments and international organisations. 

Category of the action

Mitigation/Adaptation, Changing public attitudes about climate change

What actions do you propose?


This proposal is based on an earlier proposal which I submitted as an entry in the Adaptation contest recently completed. It did not get very far as, in retrospect, it was somewhat off topic. However, the judges were kind enough to suggest that I move my proposal to the 2015 Proposal Workspace and develop it further with the intention of either entering it in a future contest or making it available to other contestants who could possibly use it to facilitate their own proposals.


The intention is to provide a service whereby all data that is stored in multiple government, public and private databases under appropriate terms of access and is relevant to a nominated area of land anywhere in the world can be accessed, accumulated and processed in order to reach the best possible outcome for a problem under study. My original proposal focussed on optimising land usage for climate change amelioration, but it is capable of being used for a much wider array of activities related to the public good. Information may be aggregated on a one-time only basis or at regular intervals as part of an ongoing monitoring process.

At the core of my proposal is a public domain database that contains an audit of the entire surface of the earth, divided into a grid of rectangular basic earth units (BEUs), bounded by lines of latitude and longitude and identified by the GPS co-ordinates of the corners. The datum of the grid will be the intersection point of the Prime Meridian and the Equator (i.e. 0:0:0 for each of the NW, NE, SW and SE quadrants). As no BEUs will cross these lines, all positional references will be positive, but BEUs must be identified as residing in the northern or southern hemisphere and to the east or the west of the Prime Meridian. The dimensions of the BEUs are expressed in minutes of arc, with 2, 3, 6 or 12 minutes fitting within the mathematical model for identification and analysis.

Looking at land below the equator, the latitudinal boundaries (parallel to the equator) should be a standard distance apart (3 min or 5.8 km is proposed), while the longitudinal boundaries start at 3 min. (also 5.8 km) but will, as one moves south, reach a point (at 60 degrees south) where 3 min. represents only about half of the equatorial dimension, or 2.9 km. At this point the longitudinal boundary will change to 6 min. (back to 5.8 km), with two northerly BEUs matching one southerly BEU. This manoeuvre may be repeated each time the longitudinal boundary halves in length. The fact that all corners of one northerly BEU will either have exactly the same GPS co-ordinates as the corners of adjacent BEUs or will be exactly half-way between the corners of a southerly BEU will greatly simplify the computation of which BEU will be the home of any arbitrarily selected set of GPS co-ordinates. This pattern will result in about 9 million BEUs south of the equator and the same number north of the equator. This number will be reduced if BEUs over oceans are excluded.

The proposed size of the BEUs is not mandatory, but is suggested as being appropriate to oversight by one person or a small group of people. The other dimensions (quoted above) may be used, because they all fit exactly into the 360 degree, 60 minutes, 60 seconds GPS structure, but may result in a certain loss of detail.

 Adjacent BEUs can be assembled into extended earth units (XEUs) for convenience as required, identified simply by the co-ordinates of the BEUs at the corners of the XEUs. Internal areas and structures, such as mountains, rivers and lakes, will be defined by points, chains or loops of GPS co-ordinates. Where these structures are larger than a BEU, they can be contained within an XEU, with the part within an individual BEU appearing as a smaller structure attached to the BEU boundary. This implies that the chain or loop must contain points on the BEU boundaries indicating where the crossover between BEUs takes place.

The choice of GPS co-ordinates was prompted by their universal nature and the ability to relate to similarly defined structures through very straightforward mathematical processing, as I will now demonstrate.

The Mathematics Of BEUs And XEUs.

The earth's surface is divided into four quadrants. For each quadrant, its origin lies at the intersection of the Equator and the Prime Meridian, which has the longitude and latitude value 0:0:0, with values increasing for any trajectory into the quadrant.

Each BEU is located inside a quadrant and is identified by the GPS co-ordinates of two diagonal corners, referred to as Anchor1 and Anchor2 respectively. Anchor1 is always the one nearest to the quadrant origin. Hence, its GPS values in latitude or longitude are always less than those of Anchor2.

The following rules apply to determine which BEU houses a nominated point, defined by its GPS values:

The quadrant identifiers (N,S,E,W) must match for all GPS values of anchors and nominated point.

  1. The degrees component of all of the GPS values (nominated point and anchors) must be the same.

  2. The latitude of Anchor1 must be equal to or less than that of the nominated point by an amount less than 3 minutes. If equal, the point resides on the boundary between the BEU and an adjacent one.

  3. The longitude of Anchor1 must be equal to or less than that of the nominated point by an amount less than 3 minutes (or 6 minutes if the latitude is 60 degrees or greater). If equal, the point resides on the boundary between the BEU and an adjacent one.

  4. The latitudinal dimension of the BEU is always the distance represented by an arc of 3 minutes.

  5. The longitudinal dimension of the BEU will be an arc of 3 minutes where the latitude of Anchor1 is less than 60 degrees and an arc of 6 minutes where the latitude of Anchor1 is 60 degrees or greater.

  6. The number of seconds will always be 0 and the value in the nominated point may be ignored for computational purposes.

  7. Where the latitude of Anchor1 is less than 60 degrees, the Anchor2 co-ordinates for the same nominated point will be found by adding 3 minutes to each of longitudinal and latitudinal values of Anchor1. Where the latitude of Anchor1 is 60 degrees or greater, the latitudinal value of Anchor2 will still be found by adding 3 minutes to the latitudinal value of Anchor1, but the longitudinal value will be found by adding 6 minutes. This compensates for the reduction in circumference of the earth as latitude increases.

  8. The longitudinal and latitudinal minute values of Anchor1 are obtained by rounding down the corresponding minute values of the nominated point to the nearest number which is a multiple of 3.

In mathematical terms, the formulation is:

DegA = DegN              MinA = (Int(MinN/3) x 3                       SecA = 0

where DegA, MinA and SecA are the values of the degrees, minutes and seconds in the latitude or longitude of Anchor1 and DegN, MinN and SecN are the values of the degrees, minutes and seconds in the latitude or longitude of the nominated point.

The longitudinal and latitudinal values of Anchor 2 are obtained simply by taking the corresponding values in Anchor1 and adding 3 or 6 to the number of minutes in them, in accordance with the rules set out above.

From these computations it is clear that the BEU in which any nominated point resides is defined entirely by the relationship between the nominated point and the BEU’s Anchor1. Because of the standardised dimensions of all BEUs, Anchor2 plays no role in the identification process. However, it is significant in (a) defining an XEU in terms of the numbers of BEUs in the N-S and E-W directions composing it and (b) determining whether a nominated point resides within a specific XEU. This is because the numbers of BEUs in the N-S and E-W directions are not necessarily the same.

XEUs are defined by Anchor1 in the BEU nearest the quadrant origin and Anchor2 in the BEU furthest away from the quadrant origin. The number of BEUs in either direction can be computed as follows:

BEU count = ((Deg2 – Deg1) x 60 + Min2 – Min1 - 3)/3

Where Deg2 and Min2 refer to Anchor2 and Deg1 and Min1 refer to Anchor1.

This computation holds for XEUs located within 60 degrees of the equator. For XEUs located outside this zone, the formula for the East/West count will be:

BEU count = ((Deg2 – Deg1) x 60 + Min2 – Min1 - 6)/6

The  main reason for computing the number of BEUs in an XEU is that the latter may contain information which is either uniformly distributed across the XEU in which case the amount allocated to any BEU is decided by dividing the total value of the information by the number of BEUs. In cases where the information is not uniform, individual BEUs will be allocated the value pertaining to their location within the XEU.

If it is absolutely necessary, a BEU can be subdivided into SEUs (Small or Sub Earth Units) with a dimension of 1 minute or an even number of seconds in each of the North/South and East/West directions. They are identified by having a minutes value in at least one of their Anchor GPS co-ordinates which is not divisible by 3 and/or a seconds value which is non-zero. This may be useful when it is necessary to carry out mathematical processes with small units of measurement.

Fundamental Database Structure.

The core database will only store locational and structural data relating to BEUs and XEUs. Donated data which is not drawn from a database may be accepted and stored in ancillary on-site databases. However, it is anticipated that most data will be drawn on demand from external databases as part of the aggregation process. The only requirement is that they attach relevant BEU, SEU or XEU identifiers to the data.

GPS co-ordinates are very good identifiers for points on the earth surface, but they are less convenient as keys for searches and other data manipulation processes because each GPS value has eight components, each of which must be tested separately. For this reason, all tables will employ an additional unique numeric record ID (a feature of most SQL engines). The BEU table will be the master table, holding only the Anchor values and the record ID. The XEU tables hold the Anchor values of the defining BEUs  (for referential purposes), but will actually be linked to those BEUs via the numeric IDs. Other subsidiary tables will also hold relevant GPS co-ordinates, but they will be used for record searches only and once identified, links to related tables will be made via the numeric keys.

Natural features of land are listed only for their location and dimensions. Qualitative material will appear in other databases, linked to the records in the core database via GPS values or numeric IDs, and hence to relevant BEUs and XEUs. They are portrayed as single GPS points, lines of GPS points (where the first and last in the line are different) and chains of GPS points, where the last point has the same GPS values as the first. They may be contained entirely within one BEU (e.g. a mountain) or may spread across multiple BEUs (e.g. a river).   In the latter case, points indicating a passage from one BEU to another must be included in the list of points and the entry and exit BEUs must be identified by numeric ID. At a lower level, information specific to a specific kind of natural feature (e.g. height of a mountain) may be stored in separate tables.

A link table between BEUs and XEUs will consist of a list of all XEUs, and for each XEU, a list of BEUs within it, ordered by row and column. This link table may be used (a) to identify all BEUs within an XEU and (b) all XEUs which feature a nominated BEU, as BEUs may appear in multiple XEUs, depending upon the usage of the latter.

SEUs are associated only with the BEU that contains them, so the link table for SEUs will be related only to the BEU master table.

To be continued.




Who will take these actions?

Operations will be tiered to optimise the quality of data as presented to the public and the processes used to facilitate public access and understanding. Below the management level, there will be several tiers of technical expertise, organised into teams with expertise in specific areas.

The management  tier will look after business, legal, security and other aspects, as well as the day-to-day operation of the core databases. It will include technical departments which will review the structural data derived from satellite imagery, aerial scanning and ground inspection and design, build and maintain the core database. Because data may be restricted, commercial-in-confidence or in conflict with other data, negotiating teams may be required to determine the terms under which it may be made available. It is suggested that this tier be staffed by members of professional IT societies (to assure independence of operation).

The second tier will review material being made available from external sources and will design and manage the interfaces which will receive or read incoming data and present the outgoing data to the public.

The third tier will analyse the data and create the functions which will populate the usage and material codes and use this information to generate characteristics and usages for specified BEUs and XEUs.

The fourth tier will develop functions which will utilise the usage information to develop formulae and processes to define optimal and suboptimal rankings for BEUs and XEUs as required for different kinds of operation. This section will be customer-facing, offering advice to and dealing with approaches from the public. It may also be involved in training those involved in remedial or conversion works or in future maintenance

Note that the word tier in this sense does not imply any ranking of skills or experience. Rather it reflects the structure of the database and its appended information and the specialist skills required at different levels.



Where will these actions be taken?

What are other key benefits?

What are the proposal’s costs?

Time line

Related proposals