Public Release: 

Earth to data: Making sense of environmental observations

National Science Foundation awards $15 million to environmental science data project

National Science Foundation

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IMAGE: This is a male scarlet tanager (Piranga olivacea). The scarlet tanager is a vibrant songster of eastern hardwood forests. Widespread breeders in the East, they are long-distance migrants that move... view more

Credit: Kelly Colgan Azar

As with the proverbial canary in the coal mine, birds serve as an indicator of the health of our environment. Many common species have experienced significant population declines within the last 40 years. Suggested causes include habitat loss and climate change, however to fully understand bird distribution relative to the environment, extensive data are needed.

Through a collaboration of DataONE and multiple partners, bird occurrence data collected by citizen scientists has been combined with land use data to allow researchers to map over 300 bird species against important environmental factors. With this information, they were able to more accurately assess the degree of protection required for each species and the responsibility of public land agencies.

This effort is one example of DataONE's accomplishments, which will continue to expand through a $15 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), part of an accomplishment based renewal.

DataONE: the Data Observation Network for Earth is a distributed cyberinfrastructure that meets the needs of science and society for open, persistent, robust and accessible Earth observational data. DataONE has dramatically increased the discoverability and accessibility of diverse yet interrelated Earth and environmental science data. In doing so, it has enhanced the efficiency of research and enabled scientists, policy makers and others to more easily address complex questions about the environment and our role within it.

"DataONE is excited to be working with our many collaborators to develop a network of data repositories that makes it easy for researchers to preserve, discover, access and use valuable scientific data," said Bill Michener from University of New Mexico, the principal investigator of DataONE. "We recognize that the value of data will only be realized when scientists and decision makers can easily discover and use the data to create new knowledge--data that have historically been 'hidden' in a myriad of institutional repositories, laboratories, and universities."

Increasingly, people around the world are facing social, technological and environmental challenges associated with climate variability, altered land use, population shifts and changes in resource availability. Earth and environmental scientists are concerned with understanding the interactions of organisms with one another and with their physical and chemical environment. The work is interdisciplinary by nature and researchers integrate information from multiple fields to explore questions and propose solutions to an array of environmental problems.

Researchers, policy-makers and others need access to well-described and easily discovered Earth observational data. These data form the basis for informed decision-making and wise management of resources. As Ecology evolves into a more data-intensive science, the ability to discover, integrate and analyze massive amounts of disparate information becomes critical, alongside a requirement to equip researchers with the skills necessary to manage data effectively.

"How does one find the data that are the best available data, the most current, most appropriate data for the work that one does?" asked Frank Davis, Director, National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, a DataONE partner organization. "Finding the right data can take a lot of time. The best solution would be to have a service or set of services that would make that kind of data discovery and appropriate reuse as easy as possible."

Founded by NSF in 2009, ONE was designed to provide both the tools and infrastructure for organizing and serving up vast amounts of scientific data, in addition to building an engaged community and developing openly available educational resources.

Accomplishments from the last five years include a growing network of 22 national and international data repositories, more than 74 published papers, over 2,000 individuals reached via direct training events and workshops and more than 60,000 visitors reached annually via the website.

DataONE provides scientists with tools that support activities across the full research data life cycle; a dynamic in-person and web-based education program comprising workshops, online best practices, curricula, training modules and other resources; and an engaged community of users via the DataONE Users Group and through collaboration with other national and international initiatives.

During the second phase of the project, DataONE will target goals that enable scientific innovation and discovery while increasing the scope, interoperability and accessibility of data. These efforts help address one of NSF's priority goals: To improve the nation's capacity in data science by investing in the development of infrastructure, building multi-institutional partnerships to increase the number of U.S. data scientists and augmenting the usefulness and ease of using data.

In particular DataONE will:

significantly expand the volume and diversity of data available to researchers for large-scale scientific discovery; incorporate innovative features to improve data discovery and further support reproducible and open science; and establish an openly accessible online education series to support global participation and training in current data techniques and perspectives. DataONE will continue to engage, educate and grow the DataONE community; seek user input to ensure intuitive, user-friendly products and services and work to ensure the long term sustainability of DataONE services so they continue to evolve and meet needs of researchers and other stakeholders for decades to come.

"NSF has an ambitious vision for advancing scientific frontiers through an enabling and collaborative data infrastructure," said Irene Qualters, division director of advanced cyberinfrastructure at NSF. "This award recognizes the accomplishments and future plans of DataONE, which, with its growing list of partners, has formed an open, distributed framework of Earth observation data to inform both research and society overall."

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