A semantic and agent-based approach to support information retrieval, interoperability and multi-lateral viewpoints for heterogeneous environmental databases
Data stored in individual autonomous databases often needs to be combined and interrelated. For example, in the Inland Water (IW) environment monitoring domain, the spatial and temporal variation of measurements of different water quality indicators stored in different databases are of interest. Data from multiple data sources is more complex to combine when there is a lack of metadata in a computation forin and when the syntax and semantics of the stored data models are heterogeneous. The main types of information retrieval (IR) requirements are query transparency and data harmonisation for data interoperability and support for multiple user views. A combined Semantic Web based and Agent based distributed system framework has been developed to support the above IR requirements. It has been implemented using the Jena ontology and JADE agent toolkits. The semantic part supports the interoperability of autonomous data sources by merging their intensional data, using a Global-As-View or GAV approach, into a global semantic model, represented in DAML+OIL and in OWL. This is used to mediate between different local database views. The agent part provides the semantic services to import, align and parse semantic metadata instances, to support data mediation and to reason about data mappings during alignment. The framework has applied to support information retrieval, interoperability and multi-lateral viewpoints for four European environmental agency databases. An extended GAV approach has been developed and applied to handle queries that can be reformulated over multiple user views of the stored data. This allows users to retrieve data in a conceptualisation that is better suited to them rather than to have to understand the entire detailed global view conceptualisation. User viewpoints are derived from the global ontology or existing viewpoints of it. This has the advantage that it reduces the number of potential conceptualisations and their associated mappings to be more computationally manageable. Whereas an ad hoc framework based upon conventional distributed programming language and a rule framework could be used to support user views and adaptation to user views, a more formal framework has the benefit in that it can support reasoning about the consistency, equivalence, containment and conflict resolution when traversing data models. A preliminary formulation of the formal model has been undertaken and is based upon extending a Datalog type algebra with hierarchical, attribute and instance value operators. These operators can be applied to support compositional mapping and consistency checking of data views. The multiple viewpoint system was implemented as a Java-based application consisting of two sub-systems, one for viewpoint adaptation and management, the other for query processing and query result adjustment.