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We propose to convene a workshop to bring together one or two representatives of each of the self-defined subdisciplines of the earth sciences community and representatives of other scientific disciplines including ocean sciences, biodiversity, and atmospheric sciences, who are organizing to pursue development of their own aspects of the environmental cyberinfrastructure (ECI). The primary goal of the workshop is to establish the framework for a sustained effort to coordinate and facilitate community-wide collaboration in planning a geoinformatics system. Through the workshop, participants will identify the systemic and organizational issues necessary for the earth sciences community to start design of the system envisioned in the report of the "National Science Foundation Blue-Ribbon Advisory Panel on Cyberinfrastructure" and in the workshop recently completed at NCAR in Boulder, Colorado.

The workshop will examine the needs of all areas of the earth sciences as well as how the ultimate GeoInformatics system will interact with similar efforts in other disciplines. By establishing a list of primary end-user needs as well as major issues facing each subdiscipline, we hope to prepare an effective plan for a coordinated GeoInformatics system.

Building on the results already achieved by the preceding activities, there appears to be consensus on many of the GeoInformatics elements and the desire to build such a system. The next step is to discuss how the community wants to proceed organizationally.

We expect about 25 participants to attend the workshop, which is planned for the San Diego Supercomputing Center, May 14-15, 2003.

The workshop will produce by August 2003, a framework document that (i) outlines a structure for the geoinformatics system, (ii) identifies a process to achieve community-based participation, and (iii) recommends a strategy for further organizational activities.


"We generate data faster than we can interpret it." Rita Colwell, National Science Foundation, November 2001.
"We need a common way for everybody to communicate with information and knowledge." John Scully, formerly of Apple Computer, December 2001.
"We also believe that supporting an ongoing series of cyberinfrastructure workshops would facilitate discussion, cooperation, and community building..." Draft report, Boulder NSF workshop on environmental cyber-infrastructure, January 2003.
The revolution is already underway

The report of the Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel on Environmental Cyberinfrastructure (2003) outlines a vision for the infrastructure necessary to support the revolution in how science is done. This revolution is already underway but like most revolutions in their early stages, it is scattered and disorganized.

There is already a significant level of cyberinfrastructure-relevant activity underway in both the environmental and computer science domains, but such efforts are currently proceeding in a largely uncoordinated fashion.

A generation of access to the internet/worldwide web and powerful low-cost computing has fostered hundreds and perhaps thousands of innovative projects. The revolution can continue, unfocused and uncoordinated, in a slow, inefficient process. Or, we can provide coordination and incentives for cooperation and collaboration, with the intent of enabling as quickly as possible a comprehensive integrated system that enhances and facilitates scientific inquiry.

Geoinformatics: activation of the ECI

The environmental cyberinfrastructure is under construction in the earth sciences under the rubric of "geoinformatics." GeoInformatics defines the integration of computer technology to scientific activities with geospatial coordinates. It is becoming the theme unifying activities among a growing set of collaborating subdisciplinary groups in the earth sciences. The recently funded GEON project is building a cross-disciplinary network of demonstration projects across the nation in a variety of earth science fields.

Many of the subdisciplines are organizing for improved coordination within their fields. Members of the chronostratigraphic community have been organizing for more than a year, with support from NSF, resulting in a broad consensus-forming coalition. The hydrogeologic community, through the CUAHSI (Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of the Hydrologic Sciences, Inc.) Hydrologic Information Systems (HIS) committee, has an aggressive plan they are pursuing for geoinformatics. The geophysics community, through the Earthscope initiative, has been a leader in planning for a broad-based earth science information system. At the fall 2002 annual meeting of the Geological Society of America, leaders in the tectonics and geochemistry fields formed a steering committee to start similar efforts in their areas. The GEON (Geoinformatics Network) and DLESE (Digital Library for Earth Science Education) projects are recognized as influential coordinating forces already.

Each of these initiatives adds one or more critical components to the cyberinfrastructure. However, each of these initiatives is moving ahead independently, with only limited and anecdotal collaboration amongst them.

Prior Developments and Current Status

Historical imperative

Just as during the development of the Internet, industry is establishing its own proprietary systems that focus on commercial profitability.

Just as during the development of the Internet, government (via the Federal Geographic Data Committee and the National Spatial Data Infrastructure) is creating a top-down system of standards that address agency concerns.

The academic/research community needs to design a geoinformatics system that meets its needs and one that encourages and sustains continuous creative innovation in the design and operation of that system.

To try to replicate the success of the Internet and the WWW, the scientific community must take the initiative in the creation of an open source, free geoinformatics system.

The WWW grew out of the combination of URLs, HTTP, HTML, and access to the Internet (Gillies and Cailliau, 2000). It is a system designed and built initially by combining existing components. Subsequent development came from users creating application and implementation software and processes to enhance the system. Geoinformatics would balance this bottom up approach with a more rigid top-down one.

NSF-ERE initiative

NSF's leadership is promoting cross-disciplinary collaboration through the foundation-wide Environmental Research and Education panel (NSF, 2002), which serves as the parent to the ECI effort. It is clear that ECI will be a core component of a successful ERE initiative.

Blue Ribbon Panel

The Atkins report (2003) laid out the agenda for the ECI from the technology side, in a compelling explanation of what can be achieved in science and engineering as a result. This report prepared the foundation for the domain sciences to build upon.

ECI workshop Boulder--the emerging consensus

The NSF-sponsored workshop on environmental cyberinfrastructure held in Boulder, Colorado last October, brought together almost 90 scientists representing the environmentally-based sciences (solid earth sciences, biodiversity, oceanography, atmospherics, environmental engineering) plus the information technology community.

Collaborators and external resources

GeoInformatics is also intended to provide a system that will allow and facilitate interoperability among the varying activities underway. Each of the other activities will ultimately be more successful if they are part of a larger coordinated and synergistic approach. We need to avoid development of parallel and possibly non-interoperable systems. The leaders include:

Professional society journal aggregates: Three of the leading geoscience societies (Geological Society of America, American Association of Petroleum Geologists, and Society of Exploration Geophysicists) have recently agreed to collaborate on creating an electronic journal aggregate involving 35 of the leading scientific journals.

Earthscope: The anticipated Earthscope initiative requires an extensive Earth Science Information System in order to take best advantage of the opportunities. Geophysicists will want to use access to integrated earth science data to help configure their geophysical arrays. Both geologists and geophysicists will want to integrate the newly acquired geophysical results from Earthscope with existing geological data to better characterize and understand the 4-dimensional nature of the earth.

National Spatial Data Infrastructure: The federal government's Federal Geographic Data Committee is responding to the recognition that 85% of government data have a spatial location associated with them. FGDC is enabling the NSDI by establishing system-wide standards in order to disseminate government data uniformly. State GIS centers want input into the system to ensure it is appropriate for state needs and interests. An early emphasis of the FGDC has been promulgation and implementation of metadata standards.

National Geoscience Data Repository System (NGDRS): The NGDRS is a system of geoscience data repositories, providing information about their respective holdings accessible through a web-based supercatalog. The catalog lists the holdings of participating public and private geoscience data repositories. Much of the data provided through the catalog is metadata, however, where the participating repository sees fit, online data access is possible. The goal of the supercatalog is to provide users information about the vast holdings of geoscience data, the quality, quantity, and location of that data, as well as general information about the attribute fields of the data.

The NGDRS project is jointly sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the petroleum industry and operated by the American Geological Institute (AGI). The supercatalog is accessed through a web-based graphical geographical browser. Users may browse and select data visually or through searches on specific criteria.

For info about the workshop, contact Lee Allison, Chaitan Baru, or Tom Jordan.
For info on workshop logistics, contact Nancy Jensen.
For info about travel, contact Debbie Douglass.
Page updated March 31, 2003.
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