The challenge

Enabling fast and free discovery of historical aerial photography

There are over 1.2 million historical aerial photographs that visually record Australia's changing landscape in Geoscience Australia's archives. The collection is a mix of digitalised and non-digitalised media that's essential for mapping the development of the nation, with the majority of images pre-dating high-resolution satellite imagery or more recent digital aerial photography.

Without an effective system to find specific images, users occasionally struggle to find what they're looking for, leading them to purchase images on other visual asset platforms. Another challenge was to raise awareness of the archive in government and the general public to help attract funding to complete digitisation.

Our response

Developing an API

The Web Geospatial team at CSIRO's Data61 collaborated with Geoscience Australia to develop an API (Application Programming Interface) to facilitate the search and retrieval of specific imagery in the digital database, ultimately enhance the data retrieval workflow for the custodian.

This was achieved through the development of:

  • a web interface to discover and access data
  • an API that was deployed as open-source software on Geoscience Australia's Bitbucket platform
  • database and cloud infrastructure developed in Geoscience Australia's system (this includes data files, cloud infrastructure, etc).

The results

Free and easy-to-access historical imagery available to the public

Geoscience Australia users are now able to rapidly and effectively search for cost-free images via a digitised archive. By using open standards and specifications such as STAC (Spatio Temporal Asset Catalogue) and making the code available as open source, any jurisdiction in Australia or internationally can use this suite of tools to make its historical imagery available to the public.

Having a non-vendor lock-in approach not only enabled the open sharing of essential data, but also improved the code base over time through community contributions.

The web discovery interface is progressing from beta to production, with another stage of API development ongoing to support data updates to the Geoscience Australia site. Future collaboration with the New Zealand Government could be possible after an expression of interest.

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