[Tagging] Are we mapping ground on OSM?

Michael Montani michael.montani at un.org
Sun Jul 5 09:25:21 UTC 2020

Dear all,

when mapping landcover and landuse in OSM, it may be possible sometimes to find areas in which ground is compacted without any vegetation like in these pictures [1]<https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/File:Groundy_area1_1_100.png>, [2]<https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/File:Groundy_area2_1_20.png>, [3]<https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/File:Groundy_area3_1_20.png>, [4]<https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/File:Groundy_area4_1_100.png> (scale in filename). We have some doubts on how to approach those areas for several reasons:

  *   It doesn't seem to us that universally accepted or even proposed tag of groundy places exists. By the way it may be useful to know where an area is groundy e.g. for off-road navigation. Some illegal natural=land<https://taginfo.openstreetmap.org/tags/natural=land> seems to be there, but maybe it could be worth considering to do a tag proposal of
     *   Key: natural or landcover
     *   Values: ground, bare_ground, soil, bare_soil, land
     *   Frankly, a natural=ground seems the most reasonable to me
  *   It doesn't seem reasonable to consider default ground a blank map, otherwise many areas of the world would be bare ground, or we should cope with the idea that this is necessary otherwise.
  *   We would feel unconfident to use natural=scrub<https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Tag:natural%3Dscrub> or natural=grassland<https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Tag:natural%3Dgrassland> in those areas...
  *   Some areas as these pictures<https://www.google.com/search?q=sterile+ground&tbm=isch&ved=2ahUKEwiYrNi_7bDqAhWZNewKHf_QD6UQ2-cCegQIABAA&oq=sterile+ground&gs_lcp=CgNpbWcQAzoCCAA6BAgAEB46BAgAEBM6CAgAEAUQHhATOggIABAIEB4QE1CepQFY9awBYJuyAWgAcAB4AIABcIgB3QSSAQMyLjSYAQCgAQGqAQtnd3Mtd2l6LWltZw&sclient=img&ei=6QX_XtiTHpnrsAf_ob-oCg&bih=762&biw=1536&client=firefox-b-d> could be tagged as intermittent wetlands, which makes sense in some particular areas with rainy and dry seasons in Africa. But not all the groundy places without vegetation are wetlands, like deserts. Actually an abandoned tag proposal natural=desert<https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Proposed_features/Deserts> is there, but I think most of the sandy deserts are mapped with natural=sand<https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Tag:natural%3Dsand> and natural=dune<https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Tag:natural%3Ddune> even though other materials are there for deserts.
  *   Another way worth considering could be to use surface=*<https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Key:surface> which is 'Originally concerned about the surface in relation to transport and sports and more commonly used on linear features it is now increasingly used with certain areas of type natural<https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Key:natural>=*' according to the wiki. By the way this is an additional tag, so I think it can be dirty to use it to map ground.

What are you thoughts? Have you ever needed or thought about how to address this issue? Which tags would you use / propose (if needed) to map ground?


Michael Montani
GIS Consultant, Client Solutions Delivery Section
Service for Geospatial Information and Telecommunications Technologies
United Nations Global Service Centre
United Nations Department of Operational Support

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