Building a comprehensive environmental geodatabase, the challenge
and the solutions
Ahmed Wagih Abdel
Mostafa AbouGhanem, M.Sc.
The challenge of designing and implementing a geographic database for a single aspect of
environmental protection is
huge undertaking, however, this task is dwarfed by the task of designing a
aspect environmental geographic database.
In this paper,
the authors are reviewing the challenges
posed by the task of designing and implementing a comprehensive geographic database for
environmental protection covering
Air, Water, Groundwater, Waste,
Marine, Radiation and other
how they managed to overcome these
reach a design that satisf
the needs of Saudi Aramco’s Environmental Protection groups. The authors
provide a roadmap for designing similar systems with multi
objectives, where objectives mi
: Geodatabase, GIS System Design, CASE Tools
The protection of the environment has become a major component in all human undertakings since it
became clear that any human
on life on the planet. In its
quest to satisfy the Kingdom’s obligations as well as its own, Saudi Aramco (SA) has placed great
importance on the protection of the environment of its areas of operations as well as the
kingdom of Saudi
The task of monitoring all aspects of the environment
areas of operations, which amounts to a
significant percentage of the entire country
area, requires dealing with huge amounts of data. The vast
majorities of these data are either spati
or have a strong spatial aspect in them. The best
possible scenario is to create an enterprise Geographic Information System (GIS) for
that would house all available data
Environmental Protection Department, Saudi Aramco.
eMap Division, Saudi Aramco.
There are m
any challenges to make all these data available through such a system. The first challenge is
about the volume of these data
including historic data. Huge
sized reports will have to be entered into
the system, readings from real
time sensors, and field d
ata to name a few.
In addition to the volume challenge, there is also the issue of sources; these data c
ome from different
internal and external.
pose compatibility issues because of the various
coordinate system, scale, accuracy, precision and other data
The task is even more challeng
by the fact that constructing a comprehensive
environmental GIS Geodatabase has the inherent problems caused by the very nature of environmental
data which cover aspects that not necessarily coherent ranging from marine, radiation, air quality, to
inspection sheets filled by site scientists
Having said that, the prospect of creating one single stop shop where all environmental data could be
available to query, analyze, map, and report, is a huge
that needs to be leveraged
of the newly designed system.
the remainder of
paper, the authors discuss how the challenges mentioned above were
to produce a harmonious environmental GIS database that fulfill
of supporting the
mission statement of environment
al protection as mandated by Saudi Aramco.
intends to build a comprehensive
GIS to help manag
its mandate of
monitoring the environmental aspects of
operations. In order to do that,
r system analysis, design, implementation, and support was devised.
part of the GIS portal of the company. In order to achieve that, the following steps were
comprehensive assessment of the existing business
l information flow in and among different
and external stakeholders;
Complete inventory and assessment of the current technical
at the stakeholders premises
Design and build a comprehensive
data model based on best
international and local practices and standards;
Set the data and metadata standards, procedures, rules, sharing, accessibility, etc.
based on requirements and according to best practices;
Design and develop a web
ed GIS application that would allow for data browsing,
viewing, querying, editing
Implement a detailed staff development, capacity building, and knowledge
plan to selected personnel
who will be tasked to maintain the system
in the future
ecommend the best alternative
for system configuration and setup in terms of
software, hardware, networking, etc. that meet the current and future requirements,
which will be based on the available and potential server capacity hosted at
The design and implementation of an Enterprise GIS requires the development of five aspects
Software, Hardware, People, and Methods (ESRI, 1999).
The development of each of these components
is done by one of the tasks shown in
. This paper only discusses the development of the
geographic database which is covered by the System Design and Data Conversion tasks.
: Components of GIS I
The Design of the Geodatabase went through the following six steps:
User needs assessment
Logical System Design
Physical System Design
Data Conversion, QA/QC,
Metadata and Procedure Docu
In order to paint a complete picture of
the design team conducted a thorough user
needs assessment study, which included conducting an awareness seminar, the design and distribution
of questionnaire forms, and
face interviews with the stakeholders.
User Needs Assessment
While this was not the only type of data to be collected during this phase, it certainly was an important
component to build the complete picture of the
essential parts of the database to be created. The
in addition to the questionnaire survey
specific data inventory forms, and follow
interviews to make sure that all aspects
of data used
were captured including types, sources,
modality, frequency, custodianship,
Other aspects of the system were also collected during the user
Training & Support Requirements
Software & Hardware Requirements
team was also involved in this process to provide information on standards and guidelines utilized at
Saudi Aramco and to determine the data naming conventions, coordinate system and projection,
coordinate domains and finally data security requir
System Analysis & Conceptual Design
The process of system analysis started with the categorization of the results of the questionnaire survey,
and interviews. These were then compared to industry standard data models extracted from ESRI’s Data
standard data models were researched. These were the Marine,
Groundwater, Basemap, Atmospheric, Hearth, Hydro,
Environmental Regulated Facilities.
At the end of the analysis, the design team divided the GIS data which constitute the Environmental
three main groups: Basemap Data, Framework Data, and Group Specific
data as shown in
These components will be discussed at length in the next section.
: Structure of the Environmental Geodatabase
Logical & Physical System Design
During the System An
alysis phase, the design
the early conceptual data model which
contained three components; Basemap data entities, Framework data entities, and Environmental
specific data entities.
The first task in designing the database was to examine
models that have
been prepared for different aspects of the data model
have supposedly gone through extensive review efforts by the industry, and are available
download on the company’s web site.
illustrates the Arc Hydro Ground
ater data model used
partly as a model to produce and enhance Saudi Aramco’s Environmental Geodatabase Data Model.
database was placed on the ArcSDE/Oracle development servers to link it to the application to
support the different functionalities by group for user testing. This step is crucial part as it helps
determine if the data model does support the business func
tions of the user and whether it requires
further tuning. Following the approval of the development phase the data model will be deployed into
QA/QC environment and then production of Aramco IT.
: Arc Hydro Ground
as an example of Industry Standard data models examined
The industry standard data models were subjected to gap analysis in order to adopt them or use them
partially in the creation of SA Environmental Data Model.
To further the design objecti
ves, the project
design team used CASE tools (MS Visio) to model and represent the geodatabase design. The produced
model in Unified Modeling Language (UML) during the logical design phase represented the entities,
attributes, relationships, and behavior o
f the different elements of the geodatabase. This was converted
into physical tables in the enterprise geodatabase on the test server, and then
using Oracle 11g.
model is composed of three main entities as follows:
These are not actually environmental data, but rather
that would provide context to the
database such as the roads network, airports,
areas, places, etc
This dataset is read directly
from the company’
s main digital basemap dat
abase, and task of maintaining the data is not linked to the
maintenance of the main environmental geodatabase, which makes the task of
environmental data easier.
2. Framework Data
These are data that
used by more than one environment
al group. They include three entities as
a simplistic representation showing geometric entities in
; these are the Facility
dataset, which holds the
location and attributes of Saudi Aramco Facilities, the Weather Station entity
which holds the geometry and attributes of weather stations throughout the kingdom, and the last
entity is called the Environmental Impact Assessment entity, which is an entity
that covers the location
and area coverage of EIA reports and data produced for different projects.
: Components of
the framework data
It has to be said that the actual model for the framework dataset contains about 20 entities (including
tabular data) in addition to 15 relationships to meet the demands collected in the user requirements
analysis. This is shown in the logical design repre
: Logical design of the Framework dataset
3. Group Specific data
The third dataset is the group specific datase
t which contains different entities relating to the different
needs for each group; the Air
will be mostly interested in managing air related
datasets, while the marine group will be interested mostly in marine datasets, and so on. Th
prompted the design team to create different views for common entities in the same way that was done
with framework data, but this time the separation is less obvious.
illustrates the conceptual
geodatabase design for the environmental protection group
specific data within the overall model.
Some of the
A. Air Quality data
This dataset includes mainly emission sources and the tables relating to these emission sources. The
entities, and seven relationships
illustrates the logical design of the
air quality data.
: Air Quality dataset entities and relationships
B. Environmental Health Data
The next dataset
in the database is the environmental health dataset which basically document the
records of different installations and their inspection results for compliance with health regulations. The
dataset includes one geometrical entity, and fou
r tabular entities,
in addition, the dataset includes four
relationship entities as well.
illustrates the Environmental Health entities within that
: Environmental Health Dataset
The third dataset
represents the groundwater entities. The main entity in this dataset is the Well entity
t has six tabular entities in addition to six relationship
illustrates the entities making
the Groundwater dataset.
ater Data Entities
D. Marine Dataset
This dataset has its main entity as the Habitat enti
ty; it has four entities
describing different aspects of
the marine environment.
illustrates the marine entities dataset.
: Marine Dataset
D. Radiation Dataset
This dataset has
entities, including seven geometrical entities,
eleven tabular entities
eleven relationship entities
The geometrical entities included representation of the different types of
ation sources, license areas, incident locations etc.., while the tabular part included the detailed
information about these geometrical entities.
: Radiation Dataset
E. Waste Management Dataset
This dataset has six geometrical entities including the spatial representation of landfills, containment
, hazardous contentment sites, and one tabular entity, and one relationship entity.
illustrates the waste management dataset entities.
: Waste Management Dataset
E. Wastewater Dataset
Wastewater dataset is composed of four entities including two geometric, one tabular, and one
relationship. Most of the data in this area are related to either sampling points or treatment plants.
illustrates the entities of the wastewater dataset.
: Wastewater dataset entities
Using ArcCatalog, the project design team converted the logical system design in
representation in the enterprise geodatabase.
illustrates the environmental geodatabase in
Making separate views for different groups lumping their respective data sets was achieved
in two different ways; the first is through the use of different views to the same dataset, while the
second way was through the application interface which limited
access to users based on their interest.
Geodatabase physical design
Data Conversion, QA/QC,
Data was converted from different forms,
including coordinate lists, reports, GIS file
well as specialized data such as real
although these are read through intermediate
software, and fed into the
enterprise database before being re
d into the environmental
geodatabase. The basemap data were read a
nd integrated into the final geodatabase, and into the
The resulting data were then tested using QA/QC procedures, and uploaded into the
Metadata and Procedure Documentation
The project design team used the ISO
represent the geodatabase metadata.
These represented descriptive data about the database elements. Some of the data are collected
automatically from the system, such as the spatial characteristics of the dataset, and others were
entered by the t
eam including source, reliability, scale, currency, frequency of update, operator, terms
of use, ownership, custodianship, etc
Once the geodatabase was designed, implemented, populated, and tested, the system was ready to
start showing results using the w
based mapping application.
the spatial query widget
of the environmental
which enables end users to formulate complex queries to
support their day
on top of the map of the site.
different aspects of the environmental
This paper presented the methodology followed by the project design team to design and implement an
environmental geodatabase covering different aspects of the environment
Aramco areas of operations, to support the company in
protection and prevention
. The design and implementation followed a six
step process, that culminated in the uploading,
checking, and testing the geodatabase, and making sure that it can be served through
designed for that purpose. CASE Tools were instrumental in modeling and
designing this fairly sophisticated
“Arc Hydro Groundwater Data Model”
on January 10,
ESRI, 1999, “ESRI Data Models Repository”,
consulted on December 21, 2010.
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Thinking about GIS: geographic information system planning for managers
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Redlands, CA: ESRI Press
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, Michael, 1999, “Modeling Our World: The ESRI Guide to Geodatabase Design", Environmental
Systems Research Institute, Inc.,
Redlands, CA: ESRI Press