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Higher Geography

Higher Geography is “assertable” spatial geography and will be limited to:


As of October 12, 2022, only those GADM Levels 0, 1 or 2 that were in use were added to Arctos. Note that they will contain “spatial data source GADM” in remarks.GitHub

To request addition of new GADM Level 0, 1 or 2 geography, please file an issue.

Level 0 or Country

GADM Level 0 or Country is the familiar concept of first-level political entity and will exist in Arctos globally.

Level 1 or State / Province

GADM Level 1 or State/Province is a primary subdivision of a country, be it state, province, department, or okrug and will exist in Arctos globally.

Level 2 or County

GADM Level 2 is a second-level political subdivision of a country, regardless of local labels. level 2 divisions will be created by Community approval only when there is a special need and a significant history of stability. The following are the only entities approved for this treatment:

IHO World Seas

As of October 12, 2022, all IHO Seas should now be in Arctos and have spatial data. Note that they will contain “spatial data source iho_world_seas” in remarks. GitHub

Other Options

There will also be options when geography should or cannot be asserted:

Unassertable Higher Geography

Anything will be eligible to be “unassertable” geography or spatially aware features, including but in no way limited to

Search will use intersections of geography and locality in addition to asserted geography. That is, a record which maps to Yosemite will be findable by:

Making the record also discoverable by region (“The West”) or ecoregion (Sierras) or WHATEVER will involve only creating a spatially-aware feature.

Note that no search functionality hinges on what’s asserted. Asserting Mariposa County and “we refuse to say” are functionally equivalent when the locality maps to the bits of Mariposa County that are within Yosemite.


How do I record the locality “Africa”?

Continents are not assertable geography. If the only locality information available is a continent, use the following:

Community Discussion

Suggest removing everything below except guideline stuff and some might be useful for eventual locality attributes

is a combination of terms delineating geopolitical units and it includes many imprecise regions. These terms are descriptively applied to Localities. In so far as counties occur within states, states within countries, and countries within continents, these data are approximately hierarchical, but only approximately. For example, a state park or national forest may be comprised of segments from two or more counties. Columns in the Higher Geography table are concatenated into the column higher geography which is uniquely indexed. The concatenated string “higher geography” is the only column displayed and used in data entry. Unfortunately, you cannot assume that any locality or area is listed under only one higher geography. The guidelines below are intended to prevent (and even remedy) such inconsistencies.

Continent / Ocean

Geo_Auth_Rec . Continent_Ocean VARCHAR(50) not null

All records in Higher Geography have a value in this field. A record with the value “no higher geography recorded” is applied to specimens with no geographic data. Western Russia is in Europe, eastern Russia is in Asia. Both are sometimes in Eurasia.

Terrestrial Marine
North America North Pacific Ocean (Area D)
Central America South Pacific Ocean (Area E)
South America Arctic Ocean (Area A)
Europe South Atlantic Ocean (Area C)
Asia North Atlantic Ocean (Area B)
Africa Indian Ocean (Area F)
Antarctica missing data: “no higher geography recorded”

Map Name (Quad)

Geo_Auth_Rec . Quad VARCHAR(30) null

The name of the U. S. Geological Survey topographic map quadrangle. The name of the quad should include the map scale. Ex. ‘Ambler River 1:250,000’. The 1:250,000 series has been used because Alaska lacks anything as inclusive counties; “quads” have been used extensively in organizing collections and interrogating data (Although note that a combination of Borough and Census Area is all-inclusive and mutually exclusive and therefore serves as a suitable if large-scale “county substitute.”). Finer scale quads are used by other collections as sub-county level geography.

Geographic Feature

Geo_Auth_Rec . Feature VARCHAR(50) null

Features include named entities such as parks, preserves, refuges, and other delineated geo-political features. Feature may also be used to describe recognized sub-groups of islands. Many administrative units included in Feature have ephemeral boundaries, if not an ephemeral existence. Their past and future use may be inconsistent. Therefore, avoid using Feature if the locality is well georeferenced and/or unequivocal in the absence of Feature.

Island Group

Geo_Auth_Rec . Island_Group VARCHAR(50) null

is defined as the largest island group or Archipelago to which an island belongs. Island groups within island groups should be indicated in Geographic Feature.

Sea Island Group Feature Island
Bering Sea Aleutian Islands Andreaonof Islands Adak Island


Geo_Auth_Rec . Island VARCHAR(50) null

When a locality includes an island name, and the locality is on or near an island, then the name of the island should be included in this field. An island is included in this field if a locality has the word “island” in its proper name even though (depending on the tides) it may be a peninsula. (Rhode Island is nevertheless a state.) An offshore locality that is associated with, and near, an island should include the island. For example, if the Verbatim Locality is “100 yds off of the beach, Bay Farm Island, Alameda Co., California”, then the Higher Geography record should include:

Country State County Island Specific Locality
United States California Alameda County Bay Farm Island 100 yds off of the beach, Bay Farm Island

On the other hand, a locality description may include an island only as a point of reference, e.g.,“456 nautical miles SSE of Midway Island.” In this case, inclusion of data in the island field is inappropriate. The island name should be included in the island field even though it may be the same as the specific locality, e.g.,

Country State County Island Specific Locality
United States California Alameda County Pin Head Island Pin Head Island

Names should be spelled out, including the word “island” when it is part of the name. Some valid island names:


Source is limited to the URL of a page on Wikipedia. English is strongly preferred; Spanish is acceptable. (Contact us with other needs.) If such a page does not exist, it should usually be created. However, in some instances such a page would be overly redundant or conflict with Wikipedia guidelines, in which case the next-most-specific entry is appropriate. Examples follow.

Geography Source Explanation
North America, United States, Alaska Well-defined unambiguous entity – yay us!
North America, United States, Alaska, Ambler River Quad There is no Wiki page for USGS quad maps. The data are unambiguous (there is or is not an appropriate USGS quad map) and mostly internal, so a general citation is tolerable, if not entirely appropriate.
North America, Beaufort Sea, United States, Alaska This is “Arctos shorthand” for “Beaufort, probably West of the Canandian border.” The relevant Wikipedia article is the Sea. Note also that a geospatial search on this general area finds 7 geography entries; georeferencing is critical when geographic data is ambiguous. Best practice would be to avoid this sort of undefinable geography altogether.
North America, United States, Alaska, Mt. McKinley Quad, Denali National Park and Preserve There is no Wikipedia entry for the area of Alaska that’s within both DNP and a USGS quad, so pick the most specific available.

Start Date and Stop Date

Start Date and Stop Date must be given as an ordered pair or not at all. These are parenthetically included in the higher_geography concatenation.

For Geography Admins

Dates are often not known to even year precision. Elaborate on any assumptions or guesses in remarks. Delete any unused geography records with dates as you encounter them.

For Catalog Records

Dates signify less-than-ideal geography, often without spatial data. Do not use these data if it is possible to avoid them, and “upgrade” any catalog records to avoid these data as resources permit.

Higher Geography

Geo_Auth_Rec . Higher_Geog VARCHAR(255) not null

(as a specific data field) is a the actual concatenation of the subdivisions described above. This is the value that is displayed in most applications.

Field Summary

Category Examples Short Definition
Continent/Ocean North America, Arctic Ocean An all-inclusive set of divisions of the globe.
Country United States, Iraq, Tibet The primary political entity.
State/Province Florida, Magadanskaya oblast Primary subdivision of a country, whatever its formal rank.
Sea Bering Sea, Gulf of Mexico A subdivision of an ocean. (See chart.)
County Lincoln County, Cajun Parish County, parish, or equivalent subdivision of a state or province.
Map Name (Quad) Fairbanks, Beaver Names of quadrangles delineated by USGS 1:250,00 map series.
Feature Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Anza Borrego State Park Miscellaneous named and delineated entities below the level of state.
Island Group Alexander Archipelago, Franz Joseph Land A named (but sometimes poorly defined) group of islands. These data are often replicated in Feature.
Island Kodiak Island, Svalbard A single island.

Additional Data

In addition to the “formal” fields, the Edit Geography form provides for any number of UTF-encoded additional identifiers. These should not be considered “formal”

terms, but as search aids. The “any geography” specimen search field will consider these data, and they will be displayed on Specimen Detail.

Usage Example:


A remarks field is also provided. Information in this field is intended to provide guidance and clarification in future geography creation or merge events, and is not searchable nor intended for public display.

Guidelines for Geographic terms in Arctos

Geographic terms are difficult to standardize because:

Scrupulous consistency is essential. With inconsistent data, users will not find what they’re looking for, and operators will not be able to use import tools. The primary function of these guidelines is to promote consistent, predictable data across Arctos; while proper data in a single record is important, more important is being consistent at scale (across states, islands or island groups, countries, and ultimately all of Arctos). These guidelines have been developed to facilitate consistency, and to allow tools which facilitate consistency to exist. Do not deviate from the Guidelines without contacting the AWG.

Guidelines for assigning geography to specimens.

A primary purpose of Higher Geography is to facilitate finding specimens, and so a primary curatorial goal should be to facilitate that usage. Arbitrarily or improperly linking geography to specimens WILL result in users not finding what they’re looking for. For example, if point X, Y is described by both Geography A and B, queries for either “A” or “B” will find some unknowable subset of the intended specimens, and provide no clue to the user that there are additional suitable specimens assigned to another geography entry, thereby failing to provide the user with an accurate answer and decreasing the overall value of the specimens and their associated data.

Specimens should be linked to their geographical origin. Do NOT use geography as a reference. A specimen with specific locality “20 miles west of Monterey, CA” should be linked to Pacific Ocean, not California.

  1. Geography is not a replacement for Agents. Use accession roles, projects, etc., to e.g., recognize contributions from the National Park Service.
  2. Whenever possible, georeference localities, even crudely. Geographic terms in Arctos are a mess, but georeferenced specimens can pull geographic data from webservices or GIS at will.
  3. A huge number of specimens say “Bla County” but have a geospatial error that extends well beyond Bla County. Consider error when determining geography from coordinates and when determining coordinates from geography.
  4. The Edit Locality form will detect variation of geography used in nearby georeferences and in identical specific locality strings. Unify these data when possible.
  5. Localities should link to the most specific Higher Geography possible.

Special Use Cases

There are two special use cases where assigning a single administrative geography to a record is not possible. For example, legacy records may not have complete or have missing locality information, in which case the locality is simply “no specific locality”. For those records, “no higher geography recorded” is appropriate. The second example is for records which do have locality information but are not limited to a single site and single administrative geography. For example, an archival or cultural record may be an item with entries or components spanning several locations on more than one continent, in which case, using “no specific higher geography” is appropriate. (We do assume it’s from planet Earth.)

Searching Guidelines

Higher Geography should be viewed as “semi-arbitrary curatorially-assigned string” rather than “singular definitive placename.” A specimen with a very precise and accurate georeference might be assigned to a state, state+USGS map quadrangle, state+county, state+feature (e.g., military reservation), or any combination of these and more. These assignments depend on collection-specific curatorial practices, the information available when a specimen was cataloged, and various other factors. Especially for cross-collection queries, it is often advisable to search “Any Geographic Element” (which considers webservice-derived data) or to search using the “Select on Google Map” option. Both of these methods work best with georeferenced specimens; additional or exploratory queries may be necessary to find all relevant specimens. Use the contact link at the bottom of any Arctos page for assistance.

Terrestrial versus marine descriptors

Coastal localities should be described with terrestrial descriptors. For offshore localities, the Higher Geography should include at least the ocean in Continent/Ocean and, if applicable, it should also include Sea. (Therefore, “coastal” specimens are often impossible to location by descriptive geography queries.)

Webservice Data

In addition to curatorially-asserted data, Arctos also uses data from various web services to:

This often adds searchable standardized data, but sometimes results in erroneous results. Service-derived data are viewable under Edit Locality, and searchable through “Any Geographic Element.” Use more precise terms (Continent, Feature, etc.) to avoid the inclusion of these secondary data. See also Additional Data.

Edit this Documentation

If you see something that needs to be edited in this document, you can create an issue using the link under the search widget at the top left side of this page, or you can edit directly here.