Earth System Atlas promotes access to research data
The International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) has long recognized the challenge of sustaining, and ensuring continued access to, the numerous data bases being generated by researchers. One of the most active spin-offs from the IGBP’s early efforts in this field is the Earth System Atlas.
Developed by a team of part-time volunteers under the guidance of a project director, the Earth System Atlas aims to promote broader access to databases generated by researchers who study global change. To achieve this, the team has developed a data management and visualization engine (DMVE) that makes it easier to view and manipulate data. The engine includes a suite of tools for generating maps on the fly and performing complex data manipulation functions – such as producing “animation” loops of time series or enabling user-defined overlaps – all via a web browser.
Earth System Atlas world map showing precipitation (based on NCEP model) in mm/day
To gain a useful introduction to the portal’s data tools and functionalities, users can start by viewing a demonstration movie and a guided demonstration that are posted on the site. They can also review the explanatory texts that target specific user groups; additional documentation will be added as the number of data sets grows.
As of today, the portal contains around 55 different data sets. Rather than giving direct access to the original data sets, which are often large and unwieldy, the portal serves up a more manageable subset of each one. Users interested in accessing the complete data sets in order to create higher resolution products are guided to the original source of the data.
A key ambition for the site is to ensure that all featured data sets are peer reviewed for reliability. The development team is therefore developing a review process and a list of reviewers. A related goal is make it possible for scientific articles to cite the data bases they use via Digital Objective Identifiers (DOI), which will allow other researchers to search for the data in various indices.
Although the current portal does not require users to have programming skills or to confront potentially complex data formatting issues, it does require some understanding of statistics to make full use of the site’s functionality. The development team therefore aims to build a new and more user-friendly interface.
The site targets professional researchers as well as school and university students and policy makers. The next steps will be to formalize the site and obtain funding for upgrading the web design and hiring a data manager to ensure quality control.
The Earth System Atlas is being developed by the Environmental Initiative at Lehigh University in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Bristol, the Complex Systems Research Center at the University Of New Hampshire, and the e-Science Centre at the University of Reading.