Open geo-data platform corrects for plate tectonics

April 11th, 2017, Published in Articles: PositionIT


OpenStreetMap is set to offer a world-wide geo-database that actively tracks plate tectonics. The OSM Foundation board has given the green light for tectonic correction to be applied to the OSM database, starting in April. Users will not notice it immediately – the changes are minuscule enough to be laughed at by some. But the effects are undeniable, and the sysadmin team has been working to devise queries against the database that correct for plate tectonics.

With OSM using the WGS84 coordinate reference system (as opposed to e.g. ETRS89, which also has latitudes and longitudes but defines them relative to fixed markers), the coordinates change with time. This movement can amount to up to 10 cm per year. Luckily, models exist that indicate how much the Earth is moving at any given location. Since the OSM data model provides the latitude and longitude of a point as well as the time when it was entered, assuming the data was correct at the time of entry, movment of that particular point can be computed exactly and updated accordingly. (Where aerial imagery has been used to trace data, the team relies on correct source tagging to automatically determine the date when the images were taken, to compute the applicable tectonic correction.)

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