Sitemap Contact Events New Home

Database of research projects FEDRA


Research actions



Research and applications > Projectendatabanken > Database of research projects FEDRA

GNOSIS – Generalized Natural sciences Online Spatial Information System

Research project I2/2F/213 (Research action I2)

Contract I2/2F/213 :

Duration of the contract :


Partners :

  • Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (Coordinator of the project)
  • Royal Museum for Central Africa 
  • Royal Meteorological Institute 
  • Geographic Information management NV 

Description :


The recent advent of Web Services and Open Standards is changing the way in which geo-referenced information is being exchanged. Maps, images, geographical features and metadata can now all be remotely accessed across the WWW using standardised protocols. GNOSIS, a collaborative project of the Belgian Federal Scientific Institutes, is an innovative example of such an Open Web Services based architecture. Its mission is to make the data collections of the participating institutes accessible to scientists and the general public. This is realised by the implementation of a decentralised and open architecture that is built around the emerging Open web service standards within the “geo-community”. Such a decentralised Web Service oriented approach allows each institute to keep control of its own data at its own premises whilst offering a single combined catalog Web portal. After identifying an interesting dataset by browsing its metadata within this catalog, a user can bind to the associated Web Service for displaying the data in map form or for querying the associated database. The use of Open Standard-based interfaces makes the system open for other scientific institutes to join in as it does not enforce the use of a particular software product.

Natural sciences cover a wide range of domains, and so does GNOSIS. GNOSIS joins three Belgian Federal Scientific Institutes: the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, the Royal Meteorological Institute and the Royal Museum for Central Africa. These institutes are the custodian and maintainer of large collections and databases in the fields of zoology, geology, mineralogy and meteorology, covering locations all over the world.
The study of many actual problems, such as sustainable development, biodiversity or global change require a multi-disciplinary approach and thus access to many different data sources, over the different domains. Traditionally natural scientists remain in their own field and their databases are often built around one single topic. GNOSIS wants to bridge the gap between these different domains, enabling combined access to these multiple information sources. GNOSIS realises its aim by following an interoperable approach and by using the common denominator between the different fields: the location or geo-reference of the objects.

Through the GNOSIS portal you can get access to various valuable datasets that range from meteorological or oceanographic data and zoological collections to geological datasets covering Belgium, Central Africa or the world. The GNOSIS offering will continuously be extended, as more archive material at the participating institutes will be digitised.

The GNOSIS Web Portal consists of two main components:
• A catalogue that allows you to search for data sets that cover both your region of interest and the subject of your choice. Based on these geographical and textual search criteria, a summary list of matching datasets is produced. For each of these datasets you can study the metadata, visualise its spatial extent or visualise the entire datasets on a map within the WebMapViewer application. The catalogue search page is the central entry point into the Web Portal.
• The WebMapViewer is the tool that allows you to visualise the datasets on a geographical map and allows you to query each individual dataset using a query form that is specific for each dataset. You can navigate around the map and identify objects. You can also visualise the map legends, switch co-ordinate reference system and export the data. Contrary to the catalogue that shows only the high level metadata, within the WebMapViewer you can really access the data itself.

The two main design constraints of the GNOSIS system are decentralisation and an open architecture.
• Decentralisation is of primordial importance within a system as GNOSIS that offers data from a number of different institutes that are not physically located in the same building and with data sets that will continually be evolving as digitisation proceeds. The data stores of each of the participating organisations need to be kept under the responsibility of the individual institutes and be maintained by the data custodians whilst offering the data of all the institutes through a common Web Portal. With a decentralised set-up, the principle of subsidiarity is implemented whereby each organisation remains in charge of access to and presentation and distribution of its own data.
• Openness or having the ability to easily integrate datasets of other departments or institutes is also a key consideration. Hence the decision to use Open Standards for all interfaces within the system. Open Standards having the advantage of being vendor-independent allow other data holders to easily join into GNOSIS while still allowing freedom with respect to the brand of geographical server software that is used. The open approach does also allow access to the information in different ways, via a central Web-portal, but also via direct access.

- Contact person (project's coordinator):

Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (IRSNB-KBIN)
Jan Govaere
rue Vautier 29 / Vautierstraat
1000 Buxelles / Brussel
Phone : 02 627 42 83
Fax : 02 627 45 93


Coördinator Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (IRSNB-KBIN)

Partner 1 Royal Museum for Central Africa (MRAC-KMMA)
Sections Geology en Zoology

Partner 2 Royal Meteorological Institute of Belgium (IRM-KMI)

Partner 3 Geographic Information Management

About this website


© 2017 Science Policy PPS